(lots of spoilers throughout this one, if you care)
I don’t want to bust your fuckin bubble man but some of the shit in the Disney movies is kinda dramatized and what not. For example the movie POCAHONTAS and probly also POCAHONTAS II in my opinion is more a cartoon fantasy musical based on the legend of John Smith being rescued by Pocahontas than a legitimate historical document. Well, now the Walt Disney Studios live action division has courageously blown the lid off the old animation studio, accusing them of fudging some of the facts in their classic SLEEPING BEAUTY. Touché. Hats off to Disney for exposing all this before WikiLeaks or somebody did.
If you are not familiar with SLEEPING BEAUTY it is an ironic title in my opinion because it’s the best looking Disney cartoon but also… let’s say, not the least boring one. It’s about a princess cursed by a wicked sorceress so that when she turns 16 she’ll die except a fairy godmother changes it so she’ll only fall asleep. That’s better than dying, but the catch is she can’t ever wake up, except there’s this loophole that a kiss of true love can do it. But how the fuck would that happen oh wait there’s a handsome prince willing to kiss a sleeping gal, so it works out.
If that whole story seemed kinda suspicious to you then you’re gonna see MALEFICENT and you’re gonna be like “I knew it. I fuckin knew it!” This is the story of how that sorceress Maleficent was not really the wicked old bitch who goes around cackling and talking about how evil she is, she’s just a strong woman who got a bum rap from a patriarchal society. After seeing this, SLEEPING BEAUTY will seem like racist anti-fairy propaganda.
See, in this newly unclassified story Maleficent (Angeline Jolie, CYBORG 2) was actually a fairy in a bordering fairy kingdom that the humans were at war with. She had horns – I never took that thing on her head as anything other than a scary hat, but there you go – and also huge bird wings.
It’s kinda like Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN, it starts earlier with our villain as a kid, shows where she’s coming from, then eventually retells the original story in a different way. When she was little she met this human kid named Stefan who wandered over the border. Then they grew up, they weren’t together anymore, and she led the fairies in battle or whatever. Little animated plant gnomes running around and shit. She’s flying around doing awesome poses.
So the king needs to shut her down. To the king Maleficent is like Malcolm X or Martin Luther King or somebody. He’s dying and he says he’ll give his crown to whoever kills her.
Stefan is grown up now and I’m afraid I have some bad news: he’s played by Sharlto Copley. So he’s not gonna sweep her off her feet in my opinion. Instead he (spoiler) is a total creepo who roofies her and cuts off her wings while she’s asleep. Not to jerk off onto or anything, but to bring to the king. Still pretty fucked up.
Man, you know what a popular character King Stefan from SLEEPING BEAUTY was for Disneyphiles, too. The legions of King Stefanmaniacs are gonna be pissed about this movie, but sometimes you gotta tell the hard truths.
Answer this for me, skeptics. Based on your life experience, which of these two scenarios sounds more plausible to you:
1) Maleficent cursed a baby to sleep because she was pissed that the father – her first love – betrayed her, gave her a rape drug and mutilated her for political gain
2) Maleficent cursed a baby to die because she didn’t get invited to a christening
It’s gotta be 1, right? 2 is some sexist shit King Stefan would say while drinking with his poker buddies. “Oh Maleficent, that bitch, you know how they are. I didn’t get invited to the christening, I’ll get you! Yap yap yap. Get back in the kitchen.” Never mentions what he really did to her. I can picture it exactly.
Anyway I like this horrible turn of events because it’s so evil and yet possibly a reference to another fairy tale adapted into Disney animation, Snow White. Remember, the huntsman was supposed to cut out Snow White’s heart as proof that he killed her. (Like he couldn’t carry the whole body. She wasn’t that big.) Stefan is supposed to kill Maleficent but he only cuts off her wings and pretends she’s dead. In his mind he’s probly doing her a favor. He thinks he’s a great guy ’cause he didn’t murder her! He merely cut off the symbol of her freedom, her self expression, her majesty. Also, on a literal level, they are actual useful body parts that he severed. Not cool.
It’s a movie that’s unusually casual about men being a bunch of assholes. The only man she can trust she made out of a bird. Stefan seems like a nice kid when she meets him. He does a sweet thing by throwing away his iron ring when he finds out it burns her. She gets stuck on this as a sign of affection, but he probly never thinks about it again. They fall in love but then it skips over time, they grew apart, now he’s a total scumbag! Most movies would feel there needed to be an explanation for this, a reason why he went bad. I like that this movie doesn’t. It’s just, some guys are scumbags. And what better actor to cast than Copley for a “jesus I can’t believe I used to like that guy” type of role. We know from the remake of OLDBOY that he’s a specialist at playing despicable assholes with weird combo accents.
So it becomes kind of a revenge story. She starts dressing like the black-robed sorceress from the cartoon and does the sleepy curse on the king’s new baby Aurora. See, this was cruel to do to the baby but it had a specific meaning. It was sleep because this motherfucker gave her a sleep drug. Basically he raped her. You can’t deny the symbolism. And she’s throwing it back at him. The fairy with the dragon tattoo.
Then, what the cartoonists didn’t want you to know is that Maleficent spied on Aurora (Elle Fanning, who also helped shed light on NUTCRACKER: THE UNTOLD STORY) so much as she was growing up that the girl noticed her and mistook her for a fairy godmother. And she played along but like in a romantic comedy she actually started to like the girl after a while, and became sincerely protective of her. She felt so bad she tried to undo the curse but she was way too good of a curser, she made it pretty air tight other than that true love’s kiss loophole.
I think this is a clever story, I enjoyed it. In the catalog of modern live action Disney this is not a misunderstood success like THE LONE RANGER, an interestingly ambitious mess like TRON LEGACY or JOHN CARTER. And it’s not quite like the nice looking but crappy ALICE IN WONDERLAND or the pretty fun OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL. It’s more thematically tied with (though not as good as) their run of computer animated reworkings of their old princess formulas (BRAVE, TANGLED, FROZEN – the adjective trilogy).
Take for example how it resolves the matter of this true love business. In SLEEPING BEAUTY this Prince Philip character is not a total plank, he does have a little personality, but he barely knows the girl. He just runs into her one time in the woods and flirts with her briefly. Then he kisses her while she’s asleep and it turns out it was meant to be, they get married and everything. Coincidentally, this turn of events was also what King Stefan and whatever Philip’s dad’s name is decided when Aurora was born. Interesting that an arranged marriage for political gain would happen to also be magical true love destined by fate.
In MALEFICENT Phillip (Brenton Thwaites) seems like he could be a dreamboat from that British boy band they like, and once again they only meet briefly in the woods. When the fairy godmothers try to get him to kiss her while she’s in a coma he responds correctly: I barely know her. Also, she’s asleep. This is fuckin weird you guys. I’m uncomfortable with this. When they get him to do it, it doesn’t work.
(I think you can guess what does wake her up. I certainly saw it coming but it was also a satisfying turn of events I think.)
In the big happy ending, as Aurora is being crowned (in a completely different context from how it happens in the cartoon), Phillip arrives. She looks over at him and smiles. And of course you know he’s gonna come over and they’re gonna embrace and it’s love and they live happily ever after… Except no, it doesn’t happen. He keeps his distance, standing over with a crowd of fairy beings. She probly thinks he’s cute and wants to get to know him or whatever, but this is her moment. He’s just one of the many people there to cheer her on.
(Theory: She never ended up dating him and he turned into an asshole like her old man. After all, somebody had to have spread that story that became SLEEPING BEAUTY. Usually history is written by the winners, but here we have Maleficent winning and still being remembered as the bad guy. Phillip seems like the most likely suspect because he was the one who tried kissing her while she was asleep, therefore he would be the one who would fixate on the “sleeping beauty” aspect of the story, and also make himself out to be the big hero. So FUCK YOU, Prince Phillip. You can’t fool me. I got your number.)
I like how these movies play off of the formulas established in decades worth of previous Disney fairy tales. I got excited when SPOILER Stefan fell to his death, ’cause they shot it like Hans Grueber’s SPOILER FOR DIE HARD death. But then I realized the real reason it was great was because of tradition. Tons of Disney villains die by plunging, going as far back as SNOW WHITE and as recent as TANGLED. King Stefan plummets and Maleficent doesn’t. What more proof do we need that she’s not the bad guy in all this?
To be honest it’s more interesting as Disney revisionism than as art. There are some nice shots in it but it certainly doesn’t compare to how gorgeous the cartoon is, and I think the various creature designs are pretty mediocre. The dragon (which is not Maleficent – you have been lied to, people) could especially stand to take more inspiration from the angular look in the cartoon.
The best thing about it is Jolie. She’s somewhat of a human cartoon anyway, and she knows it. (They still had to put fake cheekbones on her.) I was slow to pick up on it but Jolie is really cool because although she’s an Academy Award winning dramatic actress and renowned humanitarian who probly doesn’t really have to do movies like this anymore, she still likes to bust ’em out every couple years. While her passion may be in playing the wife of a murdered CIA agent or directing the biopic of a WWII P.O.W. I think she has a special talent for playing these larger-than-life characters like Lara Croft, Grendel’s mom and the gal in WANTED. I mean, if she didn’t want to play Maleficent they probly woulda had to shut it down. Rachel McAdams couldn’t’ve done it.
If this movie catches on it’s gonna cause some real confusion in kids who love the character in this movie and then go watch SLEEPING BEAUTY. I’d like to think some little crumbcrushers are gonna learn to question the official stories they hear. They’re gonna be watching that movie saying “what, this is bullshit, she got railroaded by these assholes. They’re gonna blame this on her? And those three fairies are gonna take all the credit? They didn’t know what the fuck they were doing, she woulda starved to death in a house full of squirrel shit if it was up to them. This whole thing is a fraud.” Little Disney truthers out there.
Whatever you believe about Sleeping Beauty you need to make up your own mind man so it can’t hurt to have this out there, it’s just more information for you to consider
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.