Friday, November 15, 2013

No, No, No, No, No

Maleficent has always been Disney's best villain, in part because she was so intense. Other villains are villainous, but Maleficent claimed to be the Mistress of All Evil wielding all the powers of hell, enthusiastically aligning herself with the forces of evil, and it didn't seem to be an empty boast. So any major movie trying to depict her had better do a good job of it. It turns out that there is such a movie in the works; the trailer was just released:

That doesn't look awful, although it doesn't look particularly promising, either. However, this is the description:

From Disney comes "Maleficent"—the untold story of Disney's most iconic villain from the 1959 classic "Sleeping Beauty." A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman, Maleficent has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land's fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal—an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces an epic battle with the invading king's successor and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Maleficent realizes that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom—and perhaps to Maleficent's true happiness as well.

Ack, no. What is that? That verges on abomination. The whole force of Maleficent's actions was that she cursed a girl to die and doomed a kingdom to the disaster of having no succession simply because she wasn't invited to a celebration, and then vanished laughing with delight. She was a fairy, in the old-school sense, in the sense that Susanna Clarke captured in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, in which the fairies have no sense of proportion and are ruthlessly logical in their massively disproportionate responses to everything (and also utterly delighted in the effects of the disproportion; it's notable that Maleficent is constantly laughing in delight at all the very bad things she is doing). Then, and this is in some ways just as evil, she locks Prince Phillip up, shows him the girl he's in love with and who loves him, and taunts him by telling him that she will keep him locked up until he is so old that he is about to die -- when he can finally go and see his true love, who will not have aged a day, and then laughs at him. (It's a remarkable scene: she shows that she knows she's in a fairy tale and she has decided to rewrite it as an anti-fairy-tale.) Then when he escapes, she raises the forest of thorns and, threatening Phillip with all the powers of hell, becomes a dragon like the devil she obviously is standing in for. And, indeed, she is so powerful that nothing can protect you from her except something called the Shield of Virtue, and she can't be killed except by something called the Sword of Truth. ("Sword of Truth, fly swift and sure, that evil die and good endure!")

Remaking that story as an attempt to get revenge as a result of a betrayal is like remaking Paradise Lost as a story about a young man who, protesting what he sees as the mismanagement of his powerful employer, leaves the company and starts his own business, getting involved in some shady dealings along the way. This might make an interesting story, but you don't try to tell it as a retelling of the Fall from Heaven.

And it's a difficult thing to do, already. Angelina Jolie apparently really likes both the original movie and the character, so she might salvage a lot, but it's difficult to see her pulling off the intelligent, gleeful, ruthless elegance with which the incomparable Eleanor Audley conveyed menace and smooth, smiling malice in almost every tone.


  1. MrsDarwin4:54 PM

    Sigh. More with the anti-heroes. Do fairies actually have this kind of character arc? Maleficent's taunting of Prince Philip is a pretty piece of sadism unmatched in more recent Disney flicks. She holds the movie together too; if Aurora isn't the blandest Disney heroine, she's certainly the prize runner-up.

    I've always wondered why, in the versions of the fairy tale in which the king only has twelve gold plates for thirteen fairies, why he neither commissions a new plate (he's got a nine-month lead time, after all) nor chooses not to invite one of the nice fairies who won't be offended. With policy like this, plus the economic catastrophe of destroying all the spinning wheels in the kingdom, it's obvious that the kingdom was probably already on the verge of collapse without Maleficent's tender ministrations.

  2. The point about fairies in the old school sense is something terry pratchett always understood:

    “Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
    Elves are marvellous. They cause marvels.
    Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
    Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
    Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
    Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
    The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.
    No one ever said elves are nice.
    Elves are bad.”


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