Last weekend, I watched “Maleficent,” the Disney live action movie starring Angelina Jolie. It purports to tell the tale of Sleeping Beauty’s villainess. There wasn’t much I could complain about concerning the performances or the visual effects or the high fantasy gloss over the whole thing. Okay, maybe except for the annoying faux British-y accents and turning the fairy godmothers into ditzes.
But there was something about the film that nagged me on a deeper level and it’s surprising I haven’t seen very many critics really call the film out on it. It’s not so much a movie that glamorizes evil as it as a movie that chooses to dodge it, at least in regard to Maleficent herself. It’s a movie that suffers from the “Wicked” effect , where “evil” is redefined and deconstructed as a just a role for some unfortunate misunderstood soul to play. Like “Oz The Great And Powerful,” Maleficent’s entire motivation is being the victim of some caddish man. In “Oz,” the future Wicked Witch of the West is jilted by a deceptive future Wizard of Oz. In this flick, Maleficent’s love ends in her precious wings getting hacked off by her crush as a grown up, because of some Game Of Thrones power contest to succeed the dying king. The young man turns out to be Sleeping Beauty’s father and the actual villain of the film. But at least “Oz”’s witch stays bad. Here, Maleficent is bad for about ten seconds, when in a fit of revenge she places a curse on Aurora, aka Sleeping Beauty, to fall into a coma by way of a spindle and can only be awakened by true love’s kiss. In the original story, Maleficent (the evil witch) cursed Sleeping Beauty to death and it was fairy godmother #3 who ameliorated the curse to a deep sleep broken only by the kiss of a handsome prince. In this movie Maleficent cynically doesn’t believe in love anymore, so the chances of Aurora being revived in her book aren’t too good.
But Maleficent immediately regrets her curse and decides to take over as Aurora’s unofficial nanny when the kid is in hiding. They take a shine to each other and have many happy times in fairy land. She even tries to reverse the curse but it doesn’t work and her efforts to stop Aurora from touching that spindle fail. But it’s the love of a surrogate parent (guess who) who awakens Aurora, not a potential suitor. (Come on, that’s a variation of “Frozen.”) The whole thing would’ve been great had at the end it’s revealed Maleficent was writing a self-serving screenplay to make herself look good, but alas that’s not the case.
Fairy tales and myths are valuable tools in teaching young people about the nature of good and evil, as well as giving them hope that monsters can be overcome. But today’s entertainment industry has become so relativistic and so enamored of anti-heroes, it has a hard time calling evil for what it is, except for a select few stereotypical strawmen. This is not a good or healthy thing, especially in fairy tales and mythology. Kids who never learn the difference between good and bad become cynical and self-serving, where good is reduced to whatever one wants and can get away with at any given time. Given how in today’s world there’s way too much of that going on, I sincerely hope this is trend that ends soon.