I do an entire one-hour film talk about Disney and the way it uses and promotes the myth of redemptive violence. One example of this is the way, since its first animated feature film (Snow White) in 1937, Disney has been killing off the irredeemable ‘baddie’ at the end of the film, usually by letting him/her fall to his/her death. Often the villain isn’t killed by the hero (sometimes the hero even tries to save him/her) but by ‘God’ or by the villain’s refusal to accept mercy from the hero, resulting in one attack too many against the hero, followed by the inevitable fall. So pervasive are these scenes in Disney films that some of us (well, at least Janelle and I) watch Disney films just to see if, by a miracle (surely the writer would get fired if such a miracle took place!), a fatal fall by the villain can be avoided. I understand last year’s Frozen avoided the fatal fall because of a song that made it impossible for the writers to kill off an irredeemable nasty baddie. If that’s what it takes, I’ll go with it, though I didn’t like the song very much and felt the plot in that animated blockbuster was rather weak. But never mind, I was talking about Maleficent.
Robert Stromberg’s Maleficent is a re-telling of Disney’s own Sleeping Beauty, an animated film from the 1950’s that gave us a very nasty villain by the name of Maleficent and turned her into a monstrous dragon at the end so that our hero (Prince Phillip) could kill her, stabbing her with his enchanted sword before she plunges to her doom. (spoiler alert) In an act of awesome and courageous originality, Maleficent gives us not only a redeemable Maleficent but makes her a well-developed character who becomes the film’s protagonist and even the film’s only real hero. Wow! As a crusader against simplistic black and white villains in films, I can only applaud this bold re-telling of Maleficent’s story. Indeed, I was so impressed by it (and by Angelina Jolie’s magnificent performance - it turns out she was perfectly cast), that I could overlook the otherwise poorly-developed characters, the flaws in the plot and even the ugly 3D cinematography (a few scenes were almost beautiful and, apart from the 3D ugliness, the film as a whole features gorgeous cinematography).
What I could not overlook, however, was the possibility that Disney would create a different villain for its revision of Sleeping Beauty and have that villain fall to his/her death at the end. I know, I know, how paranoid can you get, right? As if Disney could be so original as to make Maleficent the hero of the story and yet so incredibly unoriginal as to fall back on the same old same old falling-baddie routine at the film’s climax. Only a studio which is so completely sold on the idea that this routine is what audiences are expecting, and desiring to see, could be that appallingly stupid. Surely the many geniuses at Disney are incapable of that level of stupidity and only Janelle and I would dare to suspect otherwise. So of course our paranoia was unfounded - in your dreams!!! Unbelievable stupidity reigns!
Until the film’s climax, I enjoyed Maleficent so much more than I had expected that, in spite of an ending that made me (and Janelle, who was quietly weeping beside me) want to stand up and scream in agonized frustration , I am going to give it ***+ in the hope that one day Disney will wake up and allow originality to extend as far as changing its most hideous trademark. My mug is up.