Monday, June 02, 2014

SHORT FEATURE: FRACTURED FAIRY TALES – SLEEPING BEAUTY

Once upon a time there was a movie named Maleficent, and I reviewed it for Aleteia this week. We are not living happily ever after together. Angelina Jolie was good, but everything around her was plain awful. Of course, I might just be one of those idiot know-nothing movie critics, because a lot of folks over at IMDb seem to love it. So far. Oh well, it happens. For my tastes, if you’re going to try and turn a fairy tale on its head, this is the way you should go about it…

See, that’s how it’s done. As I noted in my review at Aleteia, one of Maleficent’s big takeaways is that the hearts of all mankind (emphasis on the man part) are consumed with greed. Well, this short implies the exact same thing, but does so in a light hearted way without tossing misguided nature worship and warmed over third wave feminism into the mix. Oh, and there’s no allegorical rape either.

Still, what does it matter if Disney has turned Sleeping Beauty into its own PG-rated version of I Spit On Your Grave? It’s just a kids movie right, just a modernized fairy tale? Well, as J. R. R. Tolkien suggested in his essay, On Fairy Stories, one of the important aspects of a true fairy tale is that, by the end of the story, no matter what tragedy has befallen the characters, the denouement reestablishes the moral order. Fanciful though they may be, fairy tales explain the real world to us and how it should be. Children may not be able to articulate this particular truth about such stories, but they inherently understand it.

And so does the writer of Maleficent. She basically has her narrator state that all the previous versions of the tale you’ve heard were a lie and now you’ll learn the true story. Tweaking the narrative wouldn’t really be a problem in and of itself, except that she goes one step further and changes the moral order the tale establishes at the end. You see, in the writer’s view of our universe, mankind is a blight on the natural world, all males are useless or evil, and most (if not all) women are victims of a cruel patriarchal society who need to rise up and seize control from their masculine overlords. That’s what she wants her fairy tale to explain to us about the real world.

Now, to be honest, this bleak world view isn’t overly blatant in the film. You can probably watch Maleficent and not be too bothered by it. But it’s definitely there if you take the time to think about it. That’s one of the reasons I believe there’s currently a disconnect between critics (which I suppose includes me) and general audiences over the film. Critics (in theory) try to consider such things while they’re watching a movie, and once you do think about Maleficent, it’s pretty hard to miss its underlying themes. Still, if you turn your brain off, it’s an okay fantasy movie. Who knows, it just might be the Mickey Mouse approved rape-revenge movie you never knew you wanted.

10 comments:

Cari said...

The "still, if you turn your brain off" form of entertainment kills me. And troubles me. And confuses me.
My mom is a big fan of "turn your brain off" entertainment. Example- she loves zombie novels. Loves. Them. She is probably the biggest financial supporter of Permuted Press on the planet. But she just consumes them mindlessly. How do I know this? Because she once handed me one book she'd finished and told me to read it. It contained the homosexual rape of a young boy in it.
When I asked her what her thoughts were about the book, and how she could enthusiastically consume such plot points, she looked at me blankly. "THAT was in there? Huh. I don't even remember that part!"
Whether you remember it or not, whether you think about it or not, things like that affect (effect? Whatevs, I'll leave it up to the grammar police to correct me) your soul. So you really need to be mindful about what you're letting in.

Anyway, shorter: I think "turn your mind off" entertainment is a terrible, terrible thing.

EegahInc said...

Well, since Maleficent is rated PG, the "rape" is presented symbolically, but adults will get the message if they're paying attention. I probably made the movie sound more preachy than it is. It's more akin to Tolkien, actually, in the way that his Catholicism isn't overtly stated in his works, but permeates them nonetheless. That's how it is in Maleficent. You can watch the movie and not notice its philosophy (not too much anyway), but if you're of the mind to look for such things, it's there under the surface informing the story.

Foxfier said...

Thinking. Sure way to be hated in your reviews.

...

Well, except for by others who also look at what the stuff MEANS!

Thanks for the warning. (not that I was excited to see it anyways, since "the villain is really the hero" got old in the 90s, but some of the commercials were pretty enough I considered it)

EegahInc said...

Well, nothing has generated hate for worse than when I said I didn't enjoy a Johnny Depp movie, but yeah, I don't think my take on Maleficent was too popular.

thehouseofnonsense said...

I wish I'd ready your review before forking over the money for the matinee today. (I would have seen the SF Tom Cruise film instead.) I almost walked out after the de-winging scene, but after the curse scene, I thought it would get better because the king seemed to care about his daughter and his wife looked like she might be an interesting character... but nevermind.

And if they really wanted to be transgressive, then the CROW should have been the one to break the curse. You know, grow a human heart and become a real boy.

MissJean said...

Also, having read your review now, I'm afraid you missed a few plot holes:
1. What was the third fairy's gift? (She didn't say anything.)
2. What was so valuable in the moors? Young Stefan stole a piece of QUARTZ, and the magical economy seemed to consist of flying around all day or - if you were one of the wingless people, making mudball weapons.
3. If the people of the magical land were so good and cooperative etc., then why did Maleficent immediately subjugate them with the help of the Not-Ents?
4. There were the ruins of a small palace in the magical kingdom, so CLEARLY Humans used to live there. So maybe this is just a revisionist history by the conquerors, eh?
5. Finally, if Maleficent is really a good person, why does she help the forces of evil in Kingdom Hearts. (This last one is a deal-breaker!)

EegahInc said...

house,

That's true about the crow, but since he was a HE, that would go against the movie's philosophy by having a decent man in a useful role.

MissJean,

In my defense, I have a word limit on my reviews. They originally wanted 800-1000, but I pushed and got a few hundred more. That still doesn't let me cover everything, though.

1. In any other film the third wish would have been a plot hole, but I think it's purposeful here. Since they were acting in support of man's kingdom, they couldn't possibly have anything of value to contribute. I mean, Aurora would have been dead 20 times over if left solely to their care.

2. I think they might have tossed off a line about hidden treasures, but really, I think it was an unspoiled nature thing.

3. I think the general line from the movie's defenders is that, as a trauma victim, she was adopting the attitudes of those who harmed her, playing roles to see if they fit. Eventually she returns to her normal good self.

4. Unless it was a magical castle destroyed by greedy humans sometime in the past.

5. Okay, you win :)

Rocket Scientist said...

Re Cari about ' "turn your mind off" entertainment is a terrible, terrible thing.' In the twelfth Dorothy Sayers mystery novel Thrones and Dominations: "It’s only detective stories. You only read them and write them for fun,” crime writer Harriet Vane says to her husband, Lord Peter Wimsey. He replies, “You seem not to appreciate the importance of your special form. Detective stories contain a dream of justice. They project a vision of a world in which wrongs are righted…murderers are caught and hanged, innocent victims are avenged and future murder is deterred.” And goes on to say that if the reader knew he was being instructed, might never read them. Most movies reviewed here are the same; they are still morality plays. Well, maybe not Manos Hands of Fate.

Rocket Scientist said...

And speaking of summer movies, we have decided this summers' movies are a bust and are going to see the RiffTrax of Sharknado.

EegahInc said...

If work allows it, I will be at the Sharknade Rifftrax myself. And they just got the rights to Riff the Matthew Broderick Godzilla later this year, so it's a good time for MST3K fans :)