The “True Story” Behind Sleeping Beauty

More or less. Oh, the problems with Maleficent.

By - Jun 2nd, 2014 01:25 pm
Angelina Jolie in Maleficent . © 2013 - Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Angelina Jolie in Maleficent . © 2013 – Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Rated PG, 97 min. Directed by Robert Stromberg. Starring Angelina Jolie, Elie Fanning, Imelda Staunton, Sharito Copley, Sam Riley, Juno Temple.

Beware, children, when attempting to rehabilitate a cartoon villain. Or when updating a fairy tale or beloved classic fantasy story. For you tread on treacherous ground, and a successful completion of your quest is far from certain.

As a warning to you all, behold Maleficent, the “true story” behind Disney’s 1959 Sleeping Beauty, and the lesson not learned from Disney’s previous similar outings, Oz the Great and Powerful and Alice in Wonderland. Unless the lesson is: Throw enough theme-park spectacle at audiences and you don’t need to bother with any of that “character” or “story” nonsense, and defo spin it in 3D so you can tack a premium on the ticket price. Though, like Alice and Oz, Maleficent — the first film from visual effects artist turned director Robert Stromberg — seems primarily concerned with being its own popup coffee-table book of production design than anything approaching satisfying fantasy drama, it has more in lamented common with the non-Disney Snow White and the Huntsman, in that it feels like the highlight reel from a three-movie epic.

Check out all the “good parts”! Without any of that tedious motivation and character development getting in the way. That epic battle that comes about 15 minutes into the film? I presume that was intended to be the dramatic and exciting climax of the first film in a Maleficent trilogy, once we understood the beef between humans and fairies. Instead, there’s a random human king about whom we know nothing leading an attack against the fairy realm. Why? Something something about ancient hatreds. Humans are just terrible creatures, greedy and envious, and their king is a meanie. The fairies are kind and gentle and trust one another and don’t even need anyone to rule them, they live in such easy, wondrous harmony.

That lazy simplicity — of which that is only a tiny hint — is supposed to be excusable, I guess, because this is “for kids.” But I suspect even “the kids” will notice such muddled world building and the confused motives, on both the human and fairy side, that follow. If the fairies don’t need a leader, why don’t they seem to care when Maleficent sets herself up as their queen? (Angelina Jolie is fab as the vampy witch fairy. It’s a shame the movie lets her down.) Why is human Stefan (Sharlto Copley) so horrifically awful to his fairy friend Maleficent after being so nice to her? (Surely there must be more to it than Human = Bad.) Why do three “nice” fairies (Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton and Juno Temple) turn their backs on their homeland in order to raise little human baby Aurora, apparently as a favor to the cruel Stefan? How come, if Maleficent casts a nasty revenge spell on the baby — the eternal-sleep thing — but later casts another spell to revoke it when she learns the error of her vindictive ways, it doesn’t stay revoked?

Scratch the rushed, addled surface, and it all gets weirder and more disturbing, and reeks of an homage to 1950s attitudes that we should not be nostalgic about. Stefan becomes the human king when he betrays Maleficent. The previous king (Kenneth Cranham) has a daughter (Hannah New), but she doesn’t get to be queen in her own right, but only by being married off to Stefan. Ugh. Contrast dutiful daughter and wife, though, with spurned lover… which is what Maleficent was to Stefan, who had claimed to be her true love before he variously abandoned her and — more ugh — tortured her. Instead of boiling a bunny, Maleficent turns her rage on Stefan’s daughter when she should have cursed him, the bastard. Disney’s most popular villain — and I imagine, its new Princess of Darkness — doesn’t warrant *much* of a feminist sort of vindication, it would seem.

And don’t get me started on the ending, which is some fairy-ist bigotry that should make anyone who cares about magical folk really really angry– Oooo! Look! A dragon!

Maleficent is playing at the Oriental, Rosebud, Ipic, Southgate, Mayfair, Fox-Bay, South Shore and Show Time theaters.

0 thoughts on “Movies: The “True Story” Behind Sleeping Beauty”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Sometimes I think that my life is a fairy tale (but one from, say, The Brothers Grimm), and certainly not like what you mention above!

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