Magnificent Maleficent?

It’s no secret that I love a good fairy tale, especially when it promises a kickass female protagonist. Or antagonist.

I couldn’t stop raving about Brave, and Princess Merida wasn’t half as tantalising as the combination of a Lana Del Rey soundtrack and Angelina Jolie lead promised to be.

To say I had high expectations is a bit of an understatement. So now you get to suffer the fallout of my utter disappointment.

My second nephew is also into scary fantasy films, and given he’s had a love for Jurassic Park since the age of six, I thought he might enjoy this for his 10th birthday.

Really?

Really?

But the day before its release, Australia’s classification board slapped on an M rating, and being a responsible aunt, I thought I better check it out first.

Lucky I did, because there turned out to be multiple reasons I wouldn’t take my nephew to see that film, and none of them have do to with the rating.

As you would expect from the trailers, Maleficent is a feminist reworking of an old beauty myth.

At this point, I would say * SPOILER ALERT *, except that by the end of the film the only thing I can honestly say I didn’t expect was to be unafraid, underwhelmed and uninspired.

(Having said that, if you would rather find that out for yourself, skip The Gory Details and move on to The Monstrous Truth.)


The Gory Details

The narrative follows a linear trajectory, blandly filling us in on the backstory of a young, powerful yet benevolent fairy and the bitter rivalry between her woodland paradise and the neighbouring kingdom ruled by greedy men.

Despite the rivalry, an innocent romance blooms between the fairy girl and a young boy, and from here on you know more or less exactly how this story will play out.

Young Romance

  • Boy grows into a power hungry man, commits a hideous betrayal against his one true love and wins the throne. Check.
  • Birth of Princess Aurora. Check.
  • Vengeance in the form of a curse exacted by justifiably embittered Fairy Queen. Check.

From here, the narrative starts to look familiar, except for some troubling bumps in the plot.

For her own protection, baby Aurora is sent off to a hideaway in the forest, under the guardianship of three pixies until her sixteenth year. Fine.

PixiesOnly the pixies are so dim witted that they can’t even feed her proper food, let alone instruct her in the ways of the world.

Instead, her care falls to Maleficent, who watches from the shadows and, with begrudging curiosity, keeps her from harm’s way.

The result is a girl who grows up sheltered and naïve, as unaware of who she is or the fate that awaits her, as she is unafraid of horns that lurk in the dark.

It’s not a good outlook for female empowerment.

With a mother almost completely absent from the plot, pixie nannies who are both clueless and neglectful, the only source of female strength in Aurora’s life is one that sought her harm.

Of course, by the time Maleficent reveals herself to Aurora, she is genuinely attached to the girl and regretful of her actions. But since she fails to tell her the truth, Aurora has nothing really to be afraid about, and the moment of reckoning anticipated by the appropriately named ‘teaser‘ is a horrific anti-climax.

AuroraWhen Aurora finally does learn the truth, she naturally runs off to the castle and gets her finger pricked, invoking the curse and landing in a coma.

At this point, the outlook for male empowerment is similarly grim. The only men in Aurora’s life are a vindictive, power hungry father, and a Prince with a flaccid kiss.

By now it’s pretty obvious who will deliver the awakening kiss, and from there it’s just a matter of magic and a few convenient plot holes before the evil king is done away with and women get to rule the world.


The Monstrous Truth

As sympathetic as I might be to the idea of women taking over for a change, this film was nothing but a tease.

  • The only sign of Lana Del Rey is a single rendition of “Once Upon a Dream” over the credits.
  • Though everything looks pretty, the 3D goes in and out of focus with nasty double edge effect. It is only in the credits that we learn the film was not shot in 3D, but instead, badly converted.
  • The characters are similarly two dimensional and the plot is full of holes.

Instead of a tale of female empowerment, we find the old gender divisions alive and well.

All we have, in the end, is a Disney branding exercise of a horny goat woman in latex and leather who inspires us to maybe want to look like that.

Maleficent

Seeing this through my nephew’s eyes, if he took away any message at all, it would be this:

  • Men are either ruthless or weak.
  • Women are either neglectful and stupid, or vengeful, somehow all powerful but not very scary, sometimes sorry but always right.
  • Don’t trust anybody.
  • Definitely don’t fall in love.

To be fair to the creators, maybe their point was that powerful women don’t have to be scary. But that seems unlikely, since she lets the king fall to his death.

At any rate, I doubt my nephew would care enough to notice any of that, which is why the reviews seem to be putting it all down to a bit of harmless family fun.

And why I remain perplexed about Australia’s M rating.

Magnificent Maleficent? Meh.

Have you seen it? Will you see it? How do your expectations measure up?

Once Upon a Child…

Until I was about twenty one, I spent most of my life without television.  Growing up, I was convinced this was a form of child abuse.

Though we did have a black and white TV for a few years when I was a kid, it sat in the corner with a cloth over it – a mostly forbidden delight.

My entertainment came in the form of records and books, and even then, the repertoire was limited to a revolving loop of favourites.

There were Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime and Bible stories and the Little Golden Books.

Songs, like This Old Man and The Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly, that are still burned in my brain.

As I grew older, I practically learned by heart The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  Devoured my way through Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and the Famous Five.  Read, on repeat, a few classics, like Jane Eyre.

On the odd occasion, when the folks weren’t home, I’d sneak a peak at Disney’s cartoons.  Though my favourite forbidden pleasure was those little possessed puppets down at Fraggle Rock.

Instead of wide, I learned to read deep – and, perhaps because my influences were so few, their impact stands out vividly.

As an adult, I’m clearly not over it.  Ever since I became an aunt, I’ve found myself indulging my inner deprived child with things meant for much younger minds.

I spend hours in the kids’ section of bookstores, utterly breath taken and unable to choose.

Wall-E and Fraggle Rock  have somehow made it into my private DVD collection.

Then there are those CDs I meant to give my nephews and niece – Pure Imagination, by Michael Feinstein and, ahem, Schnappi und Seine Freunde.

People think I’m strange.  Adults aren’t supposed to like this stuff.  Right?

As we get older, we learn to put things in their place.  Categorise and label our lives into neat unrelated boxes.  Kids.  Grownups.  Play.  Work.  Fantasy.  Reality.

There’s this prevailing view that to understand children, you must be a parent.  As though adulthood automatically divorces us from our past.

When Maurice Sendak died, I read an article about his life and work.  Of course, I can’t find the exact one now, but the part that struck me was the motivation behind his writing.

He never forgot what it was like to be a child.

Pop psychology is always urging us to get in touch with our inner child.  So if you ask me, reading children’s books is the perfect self-help therapy.

Allegorical tales cut through all the outer complications and connect with the inner emotional reality of our lives.  They give form to demons that haunt our dreams.  Help us to imagine ways to deal with them.

Pepi's First Things

Mona and Pepi – from Book 2 in the Hello Pepi Series

If in any doubt, do a Google search on ‘Inner Child’.  There’s even an IMDb list made for “people whose inner child still exists”.

This is opposed to a search for ‘Adult Fairy Tales’ that will take the whole topic way beyond PG.  But that’s beside the point.

Since I like to read them, and I also like to write them, in the coming weeks, I’ll be introducing you to some of the children’s stories that captivate my imagination.

I’m calling it self-help.  You can call it research, and use your kids as an excuse if you prefer 😉

Do you like kids’ stories and fairy tales?  What were your favourites as a child?

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If you haven’t already, check out the first three e-books of the Hello Pepi Series – available at Amazon:

Hello PepiPepi's First ThingsPepi Goes Parkies