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Maleficent: Lessons on Rewriting History

June 24, 2014 by Kiersi

Disney's Maleficent

When I first saw ads for Disney’s Maleficent, my first thought was: Duh. Of course. Disney’s capitalizing on an existing property by retelling it from the villain’s point of view, with the necessary added bonus of lots of expensive special effects! 

So, yeah, I was both super thrilled and totally underwhelmed by the idea of Maleficent. Because, see… I love bad guys.

I mean, boy, do I LOVE bad guys. You have no idea.

I’ve based entire book concepts around idea that “good” and “evil” are relative, and that real, relatable characters occupy the gray space between these two unrealistic extremes, not the far ends.

I figured that in Maleficent, Disney would simply paste a gray-scale filter over the story of Sleeping Beauty; that we’d get a bigger, broader view of Maleficent, and where she comes from, and this would somehow inform and explain what she becomes in the Disney classic movie.

Really, I just wanted to see the part where she learns how to become a fire-breathing dragon. Because, TBH, I’d like that power for myself. And Angelina Jolie looked freakishly appropriate for the role in the movie posters.

So then I dragged my roommate to see it with me. And, let me tell you, were we surprised to discover…

spoiler alert

…that Disney had totally rewritten Sleeping Beauty for the purpose of this movie.

Flabbergasted is one word I would use to describe myself. Another might be: annoyed. And then: less annoyed. And then: a little hopeful. And then: hey, this story is kind of weak, but wow are they actually making one of the most nefarious and unredeemable Disney villains of all time sympathetic?

They totally did. They totally went there. And I think it totally worked. That said, I had plenty of gripes about Maleficent that really prevented it from living up to its potential.

Maleficent’s origin story is weak. We’re told that her human lover, Stefan, by nature of his humanness, grows greedy for power; and by extension, becomes willing to enact fairly senseless violence on someone who has only ever shown him kindness and love. For the life of me, I still can’t understand how it happened. I wanted to see greed take over, not just be told about it. (Though I did really enjoy the “good” human boy becoming such a vile thing later on. Yes, flip some more dynamics for me, Disney. THERE YOU GO.)

But, goodness, did Disney infuse the rest of Maleficent with unexpected joys. Maleficent’s crow henchman, for example, is infinitely lovable. I kept hoping he would wind up being our charming Prince Philip, not the skinny pretty-boy we’re given later on. And of course, I loved the twists that carried us away from the original Sleeping Beauty storyline and into a newer, grander, far more intricate fairytale. A fairytale where heroes become villains, and villains become heroes.

I was pretty skeptical of the notion that Disney could (or should) rewrite its own history. But it’s a great way to breathe new life into a rather dead old story–where the idea of “true love” is updated for our modern era, and anyone can find redemption through action.


5 Comments »

  1. How was Fanning as Sleeping Beauty? I really wasn’t happy with the casting choice at all when I saw the previews, but you can’t tell much in that short trailer.

    • Kiersi says:

      I didn’t even realize that was Dakota Fanning. Wow. She… I dunno. I don’t really find her incredibly beautiful, which is kind of a shallow thing to say except that that is, a little bit, the point of her character. As an actress, though, she did the part quite well. Incredibly innocent and lovable.

  2. It wasn’t Dakota Fanning; it was her younger sister. I couldn’t picture her as Sleeping Beauty. I was disappointed with that casting choice. I’ll definitely see this when it is on DVD, but I’ll wait until then.

  3. Bill says:

    I really loved the way they departed from the original story BUT I found that the majority of my complaints about the story were the places where they deviated. Ok… the changes to the naming ceremony scene were so tellingly wonderful. Like you, I wanted to see her turn into the dragon. My personal head-cannon is that Maleficent IS a dragon, just in human form so I was disappointed by her birdier aspects.

    Complaints aside, it was SO much better than I was expecting. Maleficent has always been my number 1 bad ass and I was scared they were going to ruin her.

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