Rarely do I recognize the twist used by Relativism as quickly as I did when I watched Disney’s new presentation of the Sleeping Beauty story. From the Disneyanna child’s world of the black-and-white between evil and good to this adult intertwining of teenage love lost, greed breeding treachery, and the darkness a soul may fall into when focused on hatred and greed, the Disney storytellers themselves openly break the code and content principles set forth by their founder. Would that they had released this under their Touchstone label rather than the lighted castle on the hill and the pixie-dusting that announces the innocence Walt intended to protect. Do not let your children watch this truly adult movie because it bears the Disney façade. It embodies the definition of the principle character’s name.
The movie opens in a fairyland full of colorful and mythical creatures, soft and gentle and living in total harmony. We soar high over the land with the principle fairy, a young and joyful Maleficent, not the named princess of the realm, though certainly the one who resolves difficulties as they arise. This is where the seductiveness begins. We see the magnificence of color and are induced into the feeling of the freedom of flight, both while the feminine narrator tells us of the darkness and evil of men that threatened this wonderful world. Then we meet Stephan.
Stephan is a boy Maleficent’s age that has crossed the boarders and stolen what appears to him to be a gem stone. The guards of the fairy realm have him cornered; this peasant boy whose curiosity induced him to find what was inside this magical forest. Maleficent arbitrates his release and the return of the gem to the water from where Stephan drew it. Curiosity turns to friendship turns to love, and into disappointment as Stephan’s visits to the forest wane with his maturity. Angelina Jolie now playing the principle character, Maleficent becomes the true guardian of the land, defending it against a human army lead by a conquering king. She and her kind defeat the king in a humiliating battle. The king and his men are in medieval armor and the land about them is grey and dark. Maleficent and her army are garbed in earth tones. Men bear steel. The Fairies bear nature. Man is bad. The Fairies are good. The seduction continues now embodied by one of our time’s most seductive and popular actresses.
The embarrassed king swears he will name his successor and guardian of his daughter to the man that conquers the Fairy Queen. Stephan is now the king’s servant and through his greed born of poverty sees a means to become what he desires. Visiting the Enchanted Forest again he seeks his teenage love and through a day or two of reminiscence all the long years are forgotten and the trust is restored. Just the setting for Stephan to avoid killing her to win his prize, he instead cuts off her wings and trades them for the throne. Neither believes any longer that true love exists.
Disney moves into the traditional story from this point. Stephan’s bride is the king’s daughter and a child that might have been Maleficent’ s is born to them. The Christening results in a curse, though in this version Maleficent states that Aurora will sleep forever, vice die, another softening of the original evil of the character. There is no protective blessing given by the third of the ‘good’ fairies. Rather, these characters are portrayed beyond the bumbling fools who cannot be human into those incompetent to even care for their charge. Imelda Stanton reprises her Dolores Umbridge character in place of the original Flora fairy to seal the discomfort we should have with these incompetents.
Maleficent becomes the true caretaker of the child, learning of her location the day she is whisked away and is shown to be ever-present, though even she is caught unawares as the toddler Aurora finds her in the woods and hugs her. The surprised Maleficent is taken aback and shows the first crack in the hatred she has born since Stephan’s betrayal. Aurora finds her again and again until one day nearing her fateful sixteenth birthday she proclaims Maleficent to be her fairy godmother. The façade of hatred shatters and she who was a witch is now a matron. The innocence of a child blends naturally with the enchanted land Maleficent has defended and yet led into darkness. Joy and laughter are the first colors that return to the forest. Maleficent regrets her curse and brings all her power to bear to withdraw it from a sleeping child, to no avail. The curse remains.
Morning brings the innocent child into confrontation with the bumbling fairies, the announced intent to leave and live with her ‘fairy godmother’ brings out the story of the truth of the conflict between Maleficent and Stephan and the distraught child returns to the dark castle of her father a day early. The Fates see to it the curse is completed, leading this still childlike teen to a magically restored spinning wheel buried in the dungeons of the stone fortress.
Prince Phillip is only a footnote in this story. There is no teenaged love story between him and Aurora. There is a short meeting in the forest where he asks Aurora, still thinking she is a peasant girl, redirects him to her father’s castle. There is that ‘spark’ of interest where a girl’s heart first stops then pounds for reasons she cannot yet comprehend. That fades as the two part ways, and the rest of the story unfolds. At the moment where he does kiss her, with Maleficent watching from hiding in the room, nothing happens. Phillip and the fairies leave and Maleficent weeps for her adopted god child. Her repentance did not take away her sin and we are made to weep with her, as forgiveness and restoration are foundations of our own faiths. Maleficent kisses the child in fair well, and then turns to walk away.
The child awakes, and says ‘hello’ to her fairy god mother. Forgiveness is granted and the sin is erased by a matron’s loving kiss.
The remainder of the story still holds to Disney’s original. A dragon is conjured, a battle ensues, and Maleficent’s wings are restored to her by Aurora, showing the girl understands the betrayal her father committed. The viewer must understand with the course of this story it is Stephan who dies in the end. Remember, man is dark and bad. Fairies are good. The final twist is in the ‘happily ever after’ where the young, though no longer innocent Aurora lives with her Fairy Godmother in the enchanted kingdom, is crowned its new Queen, and yes, Phillip remains in the story as he walks into the glen as the crown is set on Aurora’s head.
The Disney storytellers twisted their creator’s story from magnificent into maleficent. The definition of the latter is “doing evil or harm; harmfully malicious” (dictionary.com). Changing Walt’s tale of good verse evil into a fairy tale where good and evil exist within most everything is the reason not to allow children to view it. I write as a parent and grandparent, rather than as a child psychologist. Children need limits. They need to understand the differences between right and wrong, good and bad. They need boundaries to live by as they grow until they mature into their own ‘age of reason’ and learn to discern and determine what is truly ‘good’ and what is truly ‘evil’, and what ‘shades of gray’ might develop. This Disney version generates no such boundaries for children but immerses them into an adult story, enticing them in as we know drug dealers do with ‘colors’ and ‘eye candy’. Before they have a chance to figure out they are in trouble they are deeply committed to the main character, and this is the harmful maliciousness of the story. A Touchstone release might have cautioned us of this deception.
It should be no surprise that the Disney Company would do so in this Relevant Principle guided society. Changing the perspective from Walt’s story and the Grimms’ should be expected. Every generation must revisit and reaffirm or reacquire moral values to guide itself by. It is a matter of what we Christians believe is a God-given gift of free will. Also, as a people we are typically short sighted, founding what we believe in only that which we and our immediate predecessors have lived. Those of us raised in the protected ‘bubble’ of post-World-War II were given black-and-white upbringings, our parents and grandparents having lived through the hell-on-earth of the conflict and wanting something better, something more purely ‘good’ for us. It didn’t take more than a generation to crack that façade. As Maleficent’s was cracked by a hug, so ours was cracked and today we find ourselves revisiting the value of nearly everything we were taught. The Disney storytellers are doing their part.
What do we allow to influence our lives? Maleficent’s demonic wings? What do we allow to influence our children’s and grandchildren’s lives? Maleficent’s vampirish cheekbones and pale skin? Every bit of influence makes a difference to how we form and maintain our consciences. Every question raised (is she good or evil), every image imprinted (her bird’s name is Daevel, like Cruella De Vil), every experience lived makes a difference in whom and what we conceive, believe, and finally achieve. Maleficent presents a powerful mirror to those who view the story; one more powerful than a child’s mind should have to deal with, should have to work through. It is one an adult might find essential to their own continued journey.
One more caution. To look into the seven-hundred year history of the story of Aurora, or Briar Rose, may be far more of a test than one’s mind and heart may want to bear, even in today’s social environment.