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.