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.
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.
- 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.
Only 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.
When 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.
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?