I Know You, I Walked With You Once Upon a Scene

Posted: May 31, 2014 in Criticism, Literary Criticism, Movies, Reviews, Spoilers

So Friday the husband (that is the StreetWraith for whom the site is named, in case you didn’t know) and I went to see another movie.

So, Disney is on this new kick of twisting around or, in some cases, breaking the standard fairy tale romance trope. This new form of fairy tale storytelling got its start with Brave, and given the positive reception that Merida received, it doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. While it could become its own trope, given time, I like seeing what it is doing until then.

Which brings us to Maleficent and the usual warning. After the cut there be

Oh, and some pretty frank language about some pretty touchy things. Just to warn you.

Maleficent is a new twist on an old story. If you’re a purist, I will warn you. The movie doesn’t just take a single twist on the story. Most aspects of the Sleeping Beauty tale you remember have been changed. On the other hand, if you’re a purist and weren’t a little upset or uneasy about the original Sleeping Beauty movie, shame on you. The original tale of Sleeping Beauty, an Italian fairy tale by Giambattista Basile called Sole, Luna, e Talia, is much darker, full of the worst kind of misogyny, jealousy, apparent cannibalism, and infidelity.

The new movie manages to blend aspects of both the original Disney movie and the original Basile story into a tale that is familiar and original. I won’t even pretend to play games. I enjoyed Maleficent. Angelina Jolie gave a spectacular performance, one that let me forget that she was Angelina Jolie and enjoy the character she brought to life.

And now we get to the spoilers.

Echoes of the Past

Maleficent treats its viewers to both depth of story and nods to previous works. The most obvious nods are in the form of the three colorful pixies that raise Aurora, Flittle, Knotgrass, and Thistletwit. Now, Knotgrass will have you racking your brain a moment, because she is a very different character, but the actress is Imelda Staunton, who portrayed that horrid woman dressed all in pink: Delores Umbridge.

When King Stefan and his queen have a child, they invite everyone for the christening – well almost everyone. Maleficent shows up uninvited, just as she did in the original Disney movie. the entire scene is a brilliant and fun throwback to the Sleeping Beauty movie, including the three pixies being tossed by Maleficent into a box. The biggest difference between the two scenes in Maleficent’s curse. In Sleeping Beauty, the curse is for death upon being pricked by the needle of a spinning wheel. It is Thistletwit’s intervention, in the form of her fairy gift, that lessens the curse, turning it into a sleep that can be awoken by true love’s kiss.

Here, Maleficent’s unbreakable curse is a deep sleep, from which Aurora can only be woken by true love’s kiss. I thought about this for a bit. Why the difference? Maybe it was a last minute change, something to soften the movie a little bit for younger viewers. True, the original Sleeping Beauty had the death curse, but in the new movie Maleficent is not a complete villain. She’s really a kind of anti-hero. And we do treat our children a little differently now in the things we will expose them to.

Who doesn’t remember being terrified by the dragon Maleficent in the original movie … or Night on Bald Mountain in Fantasia.

No. This was not a last minute change.

Stefan. You see, once Stephan had been a childhood friend of the fairy Maleficent and later, her true love. He even gave her true love’s kiss for her sixteenth birthday. Only thier romance was not meant to be. Stefan had
ambitions far greater than his love.

Which brings us to a throwback not to the Sleeping Beauty movie, but to Basile’s story. In Basile’s story, when the sleepy beauty’s “true love” finds her, he does not wake her with true love’s kiss. When he finds her unable to be woken, he takes her up the bedroom of the house he finds her in and proceeds to rape her. As I said, it is a far darker tale.

In Maleficent, when the previous king wants the winged Maleficent dead, Stefan returns to the Moors under the pretense of warning her. While there, he drugs her and attempts to kill her. Unable to do so, he instead cuts her wings off with an iron chain. When he returns the wings, claiming to have avenged the dying king, he is granted his place as heir and the hand of the king’s daughter.

For the younger viewers, the scene is a horrible betrayal. For the adult viewer, who can pick up on the symbolism and actions of the scene, it is quite apparent what Stefan has done. He has misused her trust and physically violated her. The scene harkens back to the darkness of Basile’s story and sets up the “truth” as Maleficent knows it, as she reveals later to Diaval her raven servant, when she fears for Aurora, whom she has become quite fond of, that there is no such thing as “true love”.

The Twist

Maleficent as an anti-hero is not the only change to the Sleeping Beauty story. In keeping with Disney fairy tales of late, the story also has to play around with the “rescue the princess” trope. We meet Prince Phillip. We all remember him. He’s the handsome prince that Aurora met once upon a dream in the original Disney movie. In a way, the character is useless to the story. He is not the Prince who saves the day.

In another way, he is a McGuffin of sorts, creating contrasts in the story. Just as Maleficent is put to sleep and violated, when Aurora falls under the cursed sleep, he is hesitant to even kiss her. “I don’t feel right about it,” he admits to the three pixies. “I hardly know her.” He kisses her only at their increasing urging, showing concern first when they tell her she’s fallen under an enchantment. As villainous as Stefan is, Phillip is not. He is noble, and pained, though you can tell not completely surprised, when his kiss does not wake Aurora. After all, he said it himself. He hardly knows her. What he feels for her is the budding of romance, but hardly love.

No, there is only one kiss that can wake our sleeping princess. The kiss of one who has watched her, cared for her, and protected her for the sixteen years of her life. It is, in a sense, the irony of Maleficent’s curse. You see, Maleficent herself stated that all who looked upon Aurora would love her. She just failed to realize, I suppose, just what the meaning of “all” was.

With that, I’ll leave you with this recommendation: go see the movie. It is a fun movie to watch. I will admit I teared up a little bit. It is touching and sweet. Don’t fear to take your kids. Only the oldest ones, read: pre-teens, will get the darker aspects of the story. They will enjoy the magic of the tale, the fairy creatures of the Moors, and the action and adventure. You will enjoy a family movie with aspects to speak to the adults, which is always good to have.

 

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