Well, well, well. So now Disney is into strong female characters? Who would have guessed that much say, twenty years ago?
Maleficent, one of their newest productions, is a feminist movie at first glance – the title fairy godmother AND her beautiful human charge, the Sleeping Beauty called Aurora, are females after all. Is it enough? Not really.
In a nutshell the movie tells a story about greed, love, power and revenge but not about emancipation or free choice. Still, my own fairy godmother, who I’ve invited to help me write this review, now is whispering in my ear that I should start at the beginning and be concise or I’ll end up living the rest of my life as a shriveled, barren crone with a predilection for bats and rats. Oh well, here you go.
Maleficent was one powerful but orphaned faerie from the Moors, a magical realm bordering an unspecified, medieval human kingdom. Although she started her life with horns and enormous black wings, her personality was nothing but sunshine and daisies – no sarcasm here (at least not yet). She was ‘good’ as in ‘reasonably cheerful’ and ‘sympathetic towards all creatures, small and big’. Had she been a human girl she could have become a vet or a human rights activist but as a faerie she had just one reason to live – the protection of her magical land. Plus having fun of course.
Her life would still be productive, uneventful and happy if only one pesky human boy, called Stefan, didn’t invade her secret kingdom. He was caught stealing jewels from an enchanted pond, proving that his character could have done with some magical overhaul. Little Stefan, although being a juvenile delinquent in the making, was allowed to play with little Mal. Bad move. After a time they fell in love with each other. Mind you it wasn’t ‘true love’ whatever it means – as such it doesn’t exist, at least not between a man and a woman but my fairy godmother says I can elaborate later and please cut to the chase or your nose will be turned into a beetroot.
Sure, no problem. The old king Henry, a senile idiot with a superiority complex reigning the human realm, finally decided to throw down the gauntlet and conquer the magical kingdom of faerie. I wasn’t told why but I don’t doubt he was heavily indebted and just had to have all those fairy jewels and gold. Or maybe they’ve found oil and gas and wanted to jump into an industrial phase of development, who knows. Anyway his attack was thwarted by Maleficent, now a fully-grown, powerful faerie woman, played very well by Angelina Jolie. Really she could cut bread with her cheekbones – gorgeous! – and those horns, believe it or not, rather added than distracted from her curvaceous beauty. Like a real warrior-queen she led the first charge and vanquished the poor, foolish excuse of a king and his army. Still Henry wouldn’t sit on the throne for so long if he didn’t learn a nasty trick or two. After the defeat he promised the throne and the hand of his only daughter to a man, any man, who can kill Maleficent. (Not a woman, mind you. A man. Now you could throw all the preconceived feminism of this movie into a trash bin). Somehow nobody was very keen on the task. Perhaps the princess was really ugly or maybe, just maybe, the men were overawed by Mal and the span of her wings. If they had a fighter jet or two it would be another matter but with just horses, armours and swords…
Anyway the poor princess would stay unmarried till the end of her life if not for Stefan. That weasel knew a perfect opportunity when he saw it. He decided to renew the acquaintanceship with his teenage crush. After lulling her into a false sense of security with casual chit-chat (‘have you seen that latest ‘Avengers’ flick? No? Oh girlfriend, you should so totally watch it, no s***, it will give you tons of new ideas how to use your magical powers. By the way who is doing your hair? I like it, very sexy.’) he made Mal drink some Rohypnol solution (how come she didn’t sniff anything suspicious despite her magic? How come it worked on a faerie?) and then wanted to kill her with a dagger. The residual attachment prevented him to do so (mind you not true love but still) or the director decided it was time for a coffee break; instead of killing our sleeping fairy he cut off her wings, causing a lot of distress and making Mal seriously incapacitated. No more fighter jet maneuvers in the sky, no more nose-diving, barrel-rolling, spinning and soaring, no more freedom, just plain, human walking. Ugh. Yes girls and ladies, I think it’s well understood that men are no good – you should never trust them with serious matters like your personal pair of wings or your purse. Never.
The anguished, gut-wrenching howl of Maleficent after discovering her handicap was heard for miles and miles away. Honestly it was very close to a rape aftermath scene– as close as Disney ever dared to go anyway. That pain and self-hatred, a sense of utter worthlessness and betrayal were portrayed on our lovely Angelina’s face very vividly. She even had significant walking difficulties, dammit. Small wonder the previously cheerful Mal turned into a faerie monster. She decided to bid her time and take the revenge on the greedy, arrogant, worthless bas***d she used to call her friend (and clearly hoped to call something more but imho they should have cast a handsomer fellow to make it believable even a tiny little bit. I doubt Sharlto Copley, playing Stefan, could charm anybody).
Meanwhile Stefan, now a national hero, duly married the heiress apparent and crowned as a king, became also a father. His wife gave birth to a baby girl, Aurora. Excellent. Maleficent decided to grace Aurora’s christening ceremony (huh? So they were Christians? Really? And nobody bothered to check whether Mal was killed or not? And then nobody called their king a liar? Ok, no matter) with her dark presence and she cursed the little princess: she will grow fair and bonny, she will be very likeable to all creatures but at 16, she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel’s needle and – what a pity, mwhahahahaha- she will die. Oh wait. Because Stefan was begging and groveling so nicelyMal improved it a little bit: after pricking that finger the princess will death-sleep forever unless she is awakened by a true love’s kiss. Mwahahahaha, now go hang yourself, your Majesty, do you believe in life after love? No? Tough luck, me neither, you don’t have to show me the door, I know the way, cheerieo.
However Disney had some surprises in store for our allegedly feministic heroine. No, she didn’t fall in romantic love again. She fell into her own trap. As soon as small Aurora flashed her a smile Mal started to feel distinctively motherly. It was actually a bit strange, even weird – she was falling so hard for that girl that soon in Aurora’s presence she was as soft as butter kept in room temperature for longer than several hours. Motherhood magic, nothing else, combined with your ordinary magic, because Aurora was supposed to be loved by everybody, right? I am not sure it became her. Now if only my fairy godmother (yes, yes, I am continuing, do eat your raspberry jam) weren’t present I would suggest some very adult, very ugly theories to describe such a situation of forced love but I have to restrain myself because, after all, I like my extremities as they are.
The tag line seems to be like this: maybe you can achieve a lot as a warrior-queen/single woman making a career/a hard working professional/ a kick-ass faerie but dear lady, let’s face it: you will feel really happy and fulfilled only with a child by your side. Not necessarily your child, mind you; if you are a hard-core butch freak with wings and horns you can always adopt, we are flexible. True love? Only between a mother and a child. Still, in order to keep up the appearances in the heterosexual environment you might let your sweet angel girl marry an appropriate prince – young, clean, healthy and cute. In other words let her keep a bipedal pet. Of course deep down she and you will know for sure it’s just lust but the human species must be continued so until a clever scientific faerie invents an in vitro fertilization method let him have some fun. Is it feminism though? Only according to some men.
I enjoyed watching Maleficent (those special effects and that dragon!) but then it left me lukewarm and rather sad. So many good ideas, so little sense. In maybe a century or so Disney might discover the perfect formula for a feminist fairy tale movie. Perhaps they are on the right path but their speed is pathetic, they have no sense of direction and their GPS device is broken.