Maleficent: Feminist revisionism, with a dragon

I was intrigued when I saw the trailers for Maleficent. The character has always been beloved by Disney fans. Mostly for taking a boring movie and making it memorable by being one of the most epic villains in fairy tale history. Still, I was eager to see it, thinking Angelina Jolie was a good casting choice and the film might add an interesting level of complexity to a two-dimensional villain.

Then I saw the reviews…

Maleficent: Feminist revisionism, with a dragon

I admit, I allowed the critics to worm their way into my head before I saw the film. Their most damning criticism was that the movie degrades Maleficent to little more than a spurned lover. Which was exactly what I was afraid of.

See, there’s this trope known as the Woman Scorned. It’s the tendency in movies for female villains to have origin stories that rest solely on being rejected by a man. Not childhood trauma, not war, not political differences; just dude problems. Why don’t men love me? I kill errbody. It’s a lazy trope that relies heavily on the antiquated notion that women are inherently emotionally unstable. Because hormones or something.

For those critics saying that’s what Maleficent is in this version… I don’t know what movie you saw.

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So here’s what Maleficent is really about. I’ll try to keep the feminist interpretation to a minimum, but this movie is straight up feminist revisionism.

Maleficent is the tale of two kingdoms constantly at odds. One is the peaceful utopia of fairy folk called the Moors. The other is a wang-centric phallocracy populated almost entirely by men. No, seriously; the queen is literally the only woman seen from this kingdom, and she dies unceremoniously off screen.

Maleficent: Feminist revisionism, with a dragon

Maleficent is the mightiest fairy of the Moors, and defends her homeland from the other kingdom trying to invade their lands. In her youth, she falls in love with a boy named Stefan who eventually becomes king. But before he can become king, he must prove his allegiance to the patriarchy—I mean, the king. I mean, the dying king. To do this, he has to betray Maleficent in the most horrific way possible.

I went into this movie having seen some feminist bloggers describe this scene as a metaphor for rape. While I didn’t believe that was outside the realm of possibility, I also knew that sometimes people can get lost down a social justice rabbit hole and start to see rape where no rape was intended.

After seeing it, I can safely say this is as close to date rape as Disney is going to get. It seems it was only put forth as a veiled allegory because the movie is for kids. Had it been for adults, it would have just been rape.

Make no mistake: this point was intentional, and is the key motivation for Maleficent’s character arc. They’re together, and Stefan drugs her in the hopes of killing her and bringing her corpse to the King. Finding he doesn’t have the courage, he cuts off her wings instead and flees. Leaving her shocked, violated, and permanently scarred by someone she trusted. That’s Disney date rape, as plain as the nose on my face.

You can go into an even deeper analysis. Although she’s a fairy, Maleficent has bird wings, like an angel. Angels are a universal symbol of purity. So her purity is taken from her… by the man she loves…while she’s drugged. Get it? That’s not even subtext, that’s just text.

Maleficent: Feminist revisionism, with a dragon

The rest of the film involves her struggle with her grief and the searing fury that she feels for the now King Stefan. This is the turning point that made some critics call her a “woman scorned”. She’s withdrawn, numb, and has an unending wrath for anything and anyone associated with her attacker. She lashes out at those around her, and caught in the crossfire is Stefan’s poor daughter Aurora.

Maleficent: Feminist revisionism, with a dragon

Aurora, played by Elle Fanning, is also in the movie.

Angelina Jolie was born to play Maleficent. Her performance is simply amazing. But every film has flaws, and this one definitely has its fair share. I’ve heard it compared to Frozen for having a not-quite-a-villain villain. And it does, but of course it has a real villain as well, in King Stefan. But the difference is that in Frozen, I loved all the characters. In Maleficent, I love the title character, and that’s about it. Everyone else is pretty forgettable.

It also suffers from abrupt shifts in tone. The Disney date rape takes place in a forest full of cartoony animated trolls. And Aurora frolicking among colorful fairies is set next to King Stefan slowly losing his mind in a dark room. The whole thing feels a bit scattered and stitched together. Not to mention, there’s an abnormal amount of CGI in this movie; in particular, the Bobblehead fairy godmothers are pretty obnoxious.

Maleficent: Feminist revisionism, with a dragon

The film manages to work in every detail about a two-dimensional villain and make it believable. From her staff to her raven to the badass dragon, it’s all there and it all works. But sadly, if it wasn’t for Maleficent as the main focus and Jolie’s performance, this movie would have been awful. As it is, it’s a beautiful tale that adds a complex and heartfelt back story to a character who frankly didn’t need one. But I like the one we got. I highly recommend Maleficent.

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  • $36060516

    For some reason Galadriel in that GIF reminds me of Sursum Ursa. She’s not even wearing glasses, so I’m not sure what crack I’m on.

  • MichaelANovelli

    Oh, I don’t think the original was all that boring. It had amazing artwork, good songs, a strong cast of female characters, and while this is just personal taste, Aurora was always my favorite of the first cycle of Disney Princesses. ^_^

    • Muthsarah

      She WOULD be. Aurora was damn boring. Just a Barbie doll, going through the motions, singing, pining, being dumb, being constantly upstaged by smaller, infinitely more inter…..

      Oh, right, that’s ALL of them. Nevermind. Wait…how do you choose a favorite? They’re the same character. Hair color?

      It WAS the prettiest movie, both in a paper doll/children’s book way with the opening, and the gorgeous flat backgrounds and deep colors. And Malificent/dragon. And Tchaikovsky.

      • MichaelANovelli

        Aurora had subtle flashes of sarcasm that made her appealing. 🙂

        • Muthsarah

          She was apparently also into owls. So…openminded.

          • MichaelANovelli

            Yeah. She had a lot going on, just under the surface.

    • Alexa

      While Aurora is not one of my favorite princesses, I did love Prince Phillip, who when I think about it was the first prince to have not only a personality, a fun one in fact, but an actual name! Seriously when I got older and watched Cinderella, I was shocked to learn that the prince had no name whatsoever…Seriously what? So yeah I get annoyed when people say he’s boring, he did more than just ride around aimlessly like the prince in Snow White, or just was a thing that really did nothing but dance and smile in Cinderella. I mean Phillip had a fun way about him, and he fought a friggin’ dragon! He was the best prince in my opinion. Also yeah the music in that film was a big step up from Snow White and Cinderella, which had good songs but were pretty simple. Also no annoying mouses singing in high pitches. Yeah I think Sleeping Beauty is kind of unfairly judged in many ways when I think about it…

      • MichaelANovelli

        Then again, how could the songs not sound good when they’re based on friggin’ TCHAIKOVSKY? ^_^

        • Alexa

          Yeah excactly, I feel very distinguished when I sing “Hail to Princess Aurora” then “Cinderelly, Cinderelly”

        • Muthsarah

          Mr. Mendo, Tchaikovsky is both popularly-known and highly-regarded. Are you sure you wanna hitch your particular wagon to his name, and not go all hipster and say “beh, Berwald was SO much better….”?

  • Sofie Liv

    I am honestly starting to get really curious about this movie.
    Yeah, I am well aware that the movie isn’t good, but.. the more I hear about it, the more I just want to exsperience what-ever this is for myself.

  • filmguy450

    After reading your review, but having not yet seen the film, I fail to see how your analysis makes it not a ‘Woman Scorned’ pictured. You state it’s not, then talk about the vengeance she lashes out at everyone because of the guy she loved, which makes it a “Woman Scorned” picture. Or at the very least, an extreme “Psycho Ex-Girlfriend” case but since it seems she’s justified, so it’s probably not that. So, this is a date rape revenge film, meaning “Woman Scorned”. What am I missing?

    • Magdalen

      Sure I can elaborate!
      The idea behind a “woman scorned” trope is that the woman is upset because of a problem (or ending) of the relationship. If she was a woman scorned then she would be more upset that he got remarried and had a kid with someone else. It’s more about jealousy, possessiveness and vengeance for ending a relationship.

      He didn’t so much end their relationship as he brutally mutilated her. If they had never had a relationship, or Maleficent had been a man, the betrayl would have been the same. He doesn’t betray her as his love interest, he betrays her as a human being. The fact that they used to be in love is irrelevant.

      • filmguy450

        Awesome, thanks for the clarification! You have certainly given this movie a good argument for it’s darker parts, and I am now quite interested in seeing it sooner than I was expecting to.

  • Immortan Scott

    It’s a meh movie, but Angelina Jolie’s performance is so great that the film is worth seeing for her alone.

    I’m baffled and a little creeped out that so many critics think that this is a “woman scorned” film.

    • Magdalen

      Right? The movie is closer to a rape revenge movie than Fatal Attraction by MILES.

      • The_Stig

        “I Sprinkle Fairy Dust on your Grave”

  • Cristiona

    So instead of “woman scorned”, it’s “let’s use rape”? I’m not sure that’s much of an improvement. It’s not like going to rape when you need a trauma for a female character is especially innovative. I mean, honestly. Can we please have a source of trauma for female characters besides rape?

    • Magdalen

      There’s definitely truth in what you’re saying here. But I would argue that the attack itself wasn’t actually sexual in any way. The point was he took her power from her. The “let’s use rape” trope is shitty for many reasons, one of which being is it works on the assumption that women are sexual objects. How do you hurt a sexual object? You sexually attack it. Derp de derp.

      With the sexual component taken out, it’s more about him overstepping a boundary. The men’s kingdom is trying to annex property that they have no right to. That’s paralleled in Stephan’s attack on Maleficent.

  • filmguy450

    So I stumbled upon this, and after reading, was very curious to see your take on the article: http://film.thetalkhouse.com/talks/josephine-decker-butter-on-the-latch-talks-robert-strombergs-maleficent/

    • Magdalen

      Well I disagree with her almost immediately about what the movie is about. She’s says it’s about “how women are complicated” which…I didn’t get that really. That sounds incredibly patronizing. It’s more about the moral grey area of villany and how women react to having lives intruded on by men who think they can.

      That article was actually really hard to get through, she sounds helplessly up her own ass. She also found herself “dark and critical” of Frozen so… I can’t say I take her opinion very seriously.

  • James Synkgar

    Why must her motivations be revised to vindicate feminists? Why can’t she just be a bad person? Are there no actual female villains? Just another generation of girls being taught only men are bad

    • Kevin Weaver

      Because nobody is “just a bad person”. Look at all the fans of Magneto. Look at Khan in the Star Trek remake. Making the movie about her means she has to be more complex than just “Muwahahaha I am a bad guy.” Which is good.

      • Danielle Osgan

        just because she is bad guy does not mean she is a bad guy

      • CommonSense033

        The producers of Into Darkness also said that they recast Khan as a white man because they “felt uncomfortable vilifying anyone of color.”

        So there it is. All MEN are bad, all WHITE MEN doubly so. People of any color than white are not to be denigrated, and women are always the put-upon misunderstood heroines.

        • mamba

          Actually it’s simpler than that…

          if you vilify a white man, then nobody cares, as white men are socially allowed to be vilified and insulted and degraded in any form. (crappy history caused by white behaviour over the centuries lets this occur).

          However the second you vilify a non-white-male, then you have to have the balance PERFECT or you will be insulting the race/sex.

          So if you’re making a character, are you going to bother getting into the headache of defending your race/sex decision (even if it was random, nobody would believe you) and have your artistry overshadowed by morons picking apart every single aspect of your character’s choices/behaviours, knowing you will NEVER PLEASE them no matter what you do…

          …OR do you just make your character a white man and let the chips fall where they will and have the decision ignored by all, except those who complain that “not enough non-white-men” in films?

          Easy decision…you make the villain a white man, and just get back to writing your story and ignore the shitstorm completely. So on the outside it might look like you’re trying to not insult the masses by avoiding race/sex as bad in your script, but in fact you’re just trying to SHUT UP the masses so they can appreciate your story and not get caught up in the meaningless details of race and sex.

          And yes, they ARE meaningless details. Equality means ignoring the race/sex, and that’s impossible when you’re doing a boob and colour count every time you watch a movie.

  • Guest

    This thing was a piece of shit. The worst part about it? It turned the fairy godmothers, arguably the heroes of the original, into useless retards. Because they’re collaborators with The Patriarchy, apparently.

    • Magdalen

      Hhahhaahhahahaaa

  • chachi

    I advise against paying to see this film. The prince who sacrificed love for money and prestige seemed to have insufficient motivation. I recently watched The Aggression Scale and saw realistic motivation — a guy was told to go and kill somebody or he himself was going to be the next one killed, and he believed every word. Also, did you know that severed fairy wings stay drugged longer than the rest of the fairy body does? They also live forever even without blood and bodily nutrients. And they fly to you and re-attach themselves to you if the story calls for a way out of a tricky situation. The movie either looked like it was shot on a set when it was supposed to be outdoors, or it looked like the CGI was sloppy. And yes, a story about a woman who curses the baby of the man who chose money over her, and can only decrease her bitchiness factor after she has killed the man who screwed her over, is the definition of the scorned woman.

  • Deterrent099

    Well, if it isn’t a real feminist film, at least it should be fun and entertainment, as it’s really meant to be.