So, last weekend, I saw Maleficent because you gotta keep your hand on the pulse of the modern fairy tale if you plan on writing one. And yes, I want to talk about it this week.
This post will have spoilers. You have been warned.
I went in with very low expectations due to the fact that
A) I have opinions about who Maleficent is that spawn from my deep reading of fairy tales, and the blurb about the movie on Google did not meet those opinions.
B) I remember not liking that gritty reboot of Peter Pan that Disney did a while back
C) Angelina Jolee has been in a lot of bad films
B and C turned out to be pretty much unfounded. The movie is beautiful, and considering how often Angelina Jolee stares at something off screen and still manages to convey emotion, her acting is pretty impressive. She does her damnest to sell Maleficent, and she does a good job at it. The score is fine– it’s not obtrusive, if not particularly memorable. At least it isn’t just hours of drumsplosions, which seems to be where Marvel is taking their scores these days.
The writing, however, had problems. There is only one character in Maleficent, guess who. Everyone else in the film is a foil, and an obvious one. Stephan is a foil to Maleficent’s own darkness and rage, Aurora a foil to Maleficent’s carefree childhood. The pixies foil Maleficent’s intellect and prowess. The bird who’s name I don’t remember doesn’t actually make it to foil status, he just sorta wines sometimes and carries out her orders.
No, seriously. He throws a bit of a temper tantrum in the middle of the movie, and I still have no idea why. (Not the “you turned me into a wolf!” one, the “you can turn me into whatever you want, idgaf” one– yes, this character is a bit of a whiner).
So, clearly, this movie was written with one star, and so it is up to Maleficent herself to carry the film. And, as stated before, Angelina does a damn good job of it. But, well…
I don’t agree with this story being a Maleficent tale. It’s a fine story of betrayal in love, and redemption in learning to love again. There is nothing technically wrong with it– hell, the story is not the typical angle of learning to love via romance, but learning to love over (for all intents and purposes) a family member. It’s even very Disney in that aspect, as its Aurora’s goofy enthusiasm that warms Maleficent’s heart.
But, read that sentence again. Warms Maleficent’s heart? Really? We gave the Star Wars prequels shit about Darth Vader, and we’re going to let this one slip by? Look, say what you want, but bad guys are always more badass. And, evil is at it’s most badass when it doesn’t have a reason– I can’t recall the exact source, but Steven King has written about how horror ends the moment you reveal the monster. But, now we’re going a step further– not only are we revealing the monster, but we’re also revealing how it looked when it was 2 years old and slinging oatmeal everywhere.
Maleficent was one evil lady– even in the original fairy tale of Little Briar Rose, she’s just a bad apple. No accounting for it, she just is. Take The Lion King as an example– we know that Scar is ambitious, but we never know why. He’s just an evil lion with dreams for power– he looses that aura of mystique when you reveal that he acted this way because he had to drink after Mufasa at the watering hole. Or something.
But, this is a personal gripe. Learning the background behind a villain can cast them in a sympathetic light, which can also be amazingly powerful. It’s the give and take between Sid in the Toy Story series and Lotso the Hugable Bear. Sid still kinda freaks me out, but Lotso is the more complex villain.
I probably would have been ok with learning about Maleficent’s innocent past if this wasn’t a redemption story, more of a epic “rise of the villain” tale. Like a badass Dr. Horrible. But Maleficent’s wings get restored and I sighed and hey, at least it looked pretty.
So that’s my review… but that’s not what’s really interesting about the film. Essentially, Maleficent is a concept I don’t like executed very well (outside some shoddy writing). Disney actually has the exact opposite hiding under a shelf– Cinderella III.
Yes, I’m going to compare them. Hold on to your hats, people.
Cinderella III asks the question no one else was asking, outside of one really lonely fanfic writer– what if the evil stepmother got a hold of the fairy godmother’s wand? I submit to you, dear reader, that is a ballin’ premise. I want to know more about that story. The evil stepmother is ambitious, cunning and just creepy as all getup. Now, lets give her magic– how the hell is Cinderella gonna win now? Her side levels in druid to charm small animals aren’t going to be much help.
There is even the cool framing device of having the stepmother rewind time back to the point that the slipper didn’t fit one of her children, and then uses magic to make it fit. The prince wasn’t entirely blind, and know’s something is up because an ugly stepsister is not who he danced with. In addition, we get an interesting bit of character focus– what’s life like for an ugly stepsister? We know that her mother dominates all her personal decisions in the name of selfish gain, so what are her ambitions? Aspirations? Who is she?
Does this not sound like an amazing film? I know how this story ends, and I want to re-watch Cinderella III. Sadly, the movie is a goddamn train wreck. This is the title song–
You can see the good movie trying to escape gimmick ridden, bland and sloppy animated nightmare. This is probably the best clip from the film too, outside of the pumpkin sequence, so it really only goes downhill from here. It’s a fantastic movie to watch after a couple of cocktails.
Maleficent is the exact opposite of that– but intention is the smaller of the two sides of the coin. You can go see a movie who’s concept you don’t agree with, but if it’s done well, you can still call it a good time. Sure, the angel symbolism is stupid in Maleficent, but did you hear the prince’s lines in that opening song? “Would my perfectly perfect wife put on her perfectly fitting shoes?”
I feel bad for copying that line. Heaven forbid I actually left it in a script for a movie. Hopefully, enough people are interested in our concept, but the lesson here is this– a good idea is only the start. The real important battle is making that idea so good that the most your haters can say is, “eh. Not the story I wanted, personally”.