A Malificent Misfire

 

Maybe the first sign that Maleficent was not the movie I expected? I was one of the only adults in the theater not accompanying one or several children. I went into this movie expecting something more in the mood of Snow White and the Huntsman. In my view, you can’t blame a movie for not being what you expected, or fitting the expectations you place on it.

Maleficent isn’t a bad movie, but it would’ve been a better one if its story had been allowed to exists as its own creation. By trying to shoehorn the main characters’ backstory into the Sleeping Beauty template, Maleficent does neither itself nor Sleeping Beauty any favors. If I am watching a movie, anything that pulls me out of the movie’s world to think “well, that doesn’t make sense”, “why would a character do that?” or “gee, this movie is getting really long” – that’s a point against it.

In Maleficent, this take-me-out-of-the-movie element is the contortion of the male characters into helpless dupes or one-note villains. In order to make the title character heroic, all of Maleficent’s “bad” qualities – everything that made her the enemy of Aurora and Philip – are dumped on Aurora’s father. In order to make Maleficient the real “true love” of Aurora’s life, Philip is transformed into a helpless, passive character who is literally carried into the castle to wake up Aurora, then discarded when he doesn’t serve that purpose.

If the only way to make a female character empowered and heroic is to make the male character helpless, passive one-note plot devices, then neither gender is done any favors. Snow White and the Huntsman, for all its flaws, gave both main characters strengths and weaknesses. Neither was all good or all bad, all action or all passive. Frozen didn’t take the focus off its main female characters, but allowed the male supporting characters make contributions, or act in good or bad ways according to their character.

Maleficent looked amazing. I loved seeing the addition of the sourpuss fourth fairy godmother to watch over Aurora. And as stated in the beginning, the story of a powerful fairy queen who comes to love the child of her enemy, despite the wrong done to her, would’ve made a good movie – but it’s wasn’t this one.