“Fractured” fairy tales have a long history in American popular culture. Jay Ward was noted for a segment with precisely that title in his Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon shows. Even in the small doses provided by Ward, fairy stories stripped of their original drama with winks, nods, popular references and, of course, colloquial language, came off as both trivial and trivializing. They often seemed to be saying “hey, you’ve nothing better to do? Well, I guess I’ve got some kind of story for you, here, just don’t expect too much, okay?”
As with all things trivial, Hollywood has taken the fractured fairy tale and expanded it to colossal proportions. Sadly, the proportions only emphasize how intrinsically meaningless the product, and how condescending producers’ view of the audience, have become. Some film student eventually may write a thesis on the deeper meanings of Dreamworks’ Shrek, or Disney’s Emperor’s New Groove, for example—for all I know someone already may have done so—but the result would be intellectual vacuum.
And now we have Maleficent. This is the reductio ad nauseum, to “fracture” a phrase, of fairy tales. The movie (to call it a film would be to overstate its importance) is “produced” by as well as “starring” Angelina Jolie—a once attractive anorexic who remains consistent in her lack of discernible talent as an actress. Maleficent does not even bother noting its various fractures—winks and nods would require too much effort. It is, in fact, such an off-hand affair, so contemptuous of its audience as well as the Sleeping Beauty tale it corrupts, that one wonders how the writers stayed awake during their own labors. It is extremely ironic, in fact, that the film went through so many rewrites and even re-shoots. One can only guess that the results would have been such an odd, convoluted, and uninteresting story that the producers felt it better to simply cut out anything beyond the barest bones of a story “correcting” the original tale.
This is not a “comic” story, so we are spared (mostly) any attempt at humor by Jolie or the props surrounding her on screen. Instead we get a “morality tale” that is so ham-fisted as to be incapable of even raising the ire of any thinking adult (or adolescent) who might find himself in the theater.
Certainly, we are shown that Sleeping Beauty (Princess Aurora) was cursed, not by an evil black fairy, but by a Strong Female Lead who was not only scorned but betrayed and maimed by a lying oaf of a man determined to use her for power and wealth. Lulled into a false sense of security by declarations of affection, Maleficent falls asleep and has her (black) wings cut off. Certainly, the perpetrator is incapable of true remorse, instead using his treachery to gain the throne of his own land and seeking to destroy the magical land Maleficent rules. Just as certainly (may one say “predictably?”) the good fairy (and Strong Female Lead) Maleficent is driven to near madness and to a rash, hostile act she soon regrets. Having cursed the king’s daughter to fall into a perpetual sleep by the end of her sixteenth birthday (unless saved by Love’s True Kiss, in which she no longer believes) Maleficent predictably softens. While her subjects suffer, she (of course) watches over the child and comes to love her. And, certainly, our heroine redeems herself in the end, showing her own strength, the ultimate weakness of the greedy man who, ultimately, is acting from fear and guilt, re-establishing peace and well-being for herself, her land, and the beautiful stage prop that is Sleeping Beauty.
Maleficent even treats us to a scene in which a handsome prince proves powerless to awaken Sleeping Beauty when he attempts to bestow on her the healing, Love’s True Kiss. No doubt this last touch was thought capable of surprising the audience. But there is no tension in the scene. We all know by this time that, in this world, men have little to offer but pain. And it all is so offhand and drearily pat that the politically correct messaging is incapable of moving anyone.
In the end, of course, we are treated to a victory scene, with the Prince safely in the background, and Maleficent reunited with the Sleeping Beauty whom she herself awoke with her own kiss. Perhaps, had the producers waited another year or two to make this movie, the gals would have married each other. But it does not matter. In fact, none of this film matters. It is merely spectacle. A collection of special effects (really cool dragon!) and rather clumsy fight scenes are meant to keep our attention long enough to eat the popcorn and drink the soda. Beyond that, and the desire to “make a statement” by the very fact of having a dominant, Strong Female Lead, there is nothing here even worth intense dislike. Perhaps if the producers had kept in the odd additional characters the movie would at least have been unlikeable, but it fails even in that.
Some time ago I wrote a fulsome appreciation of another Disney movie, Frozen. I stand behind my praise of that film, which was less a fractured fairy tale than an original story inspired by some wonderful Hans Christian Anderson storytelling. But, in Frozen, there is narrative and normative coherence. Victory is won through the love of one sister for another and the heroine gains, not just familial love, but also a more mature openness to the possibility of genuine romantic love. The writers of Frozen crafted a beautiful story intended to show real virtue. In Maleficent we see Disney at its increasingly common worst. Envisaged, no doubt, as yet another “subversive film” (like Pocahontas) undercutting traditional norms, the bottom line won out even over the shallow political correctness.
Maleficent is literally degrading to all. And its attitude has become so common as to evidence a degraded culture. The view of the movie’s makers seems to be that they have a right, so long as they preach the “right” attitudes, and have a Strong Female Lead, to dispense with any actual, crafted story showing real emotions and motivations evincing real virtues as well as vices.
As for the Strong Female Lead, it has become all too common in our society that we all claim to demand that all women be “strong” in the very narrow, limited sense that they be capable of strenuous action, strong emotion, and bashing things about. Sadly, for too many (especially men) in our culture, “strong” women are women who can be used and thrown away without remorse because they are “equal” and “responsible for their own lives,” as if we are not all, in the end, responsible for one another. The truly strong woman in our society today is the one capable of seeing such pedantic drivel for what it is: propaganda intended to strip them of their humanity and turn them away from higher callings, lowering them to the level of the degraded males who also are told, now, that strength means nothing more than rejecting traditional roles, converging into sexual ambiguity, then following their desires of the moment. Oh, and going to see vapid movies on a regular basis.
Thanks for nothing, Disney.
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