Disney film shows a new side to evil
April 14, 2015
By: Julie Ratcliffe
The name Disney brings to mind classic films like Cinderella, Snow White, and The Little Mermaid, known for their beloved stories of love and triumph. Unfortunately, they often follow the same drawn out damsel in distress plot wherein a man saves the pretty princess’ day. In an attempt to re-brand their staple Disney image, the film company has begun producing new films that buck the stereotypes and, in the case of Maleficent, provides a re-telling of an old Disney story.
Released in 2014 and starring Angelina Jolie, Maleficent tells the story of the witch that, anyone who watched the original Sleeping Beauty (1959), knew as Princess Aurora’s nemesis. The narrator, Princess Aurora all grown up, warns that the story we once knew is completely false. The plot is centered on developing Maleficent’s story and provides a reason for her evilness.
This films takes a new approach to the classic Disney trope by focusing on a the female to female bond between Maleficent and Aurora that starts off as hate and grows into love. Contrary to the typical archetype, Maleficent’s depth and personal growth can be attributed to another woman, instead of a man. The only lead male roles goes to Maleficent’s sidekick, who is a bird for half the film, and King Stephan who is the reason Maleficent pledges to live a life full of hate and revenge.
The evil witch characters in Disney movies are often portrayed as one-dimensional, without feeling and remorse. In Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent puts Princess Aurora under a sleeping curse for seemingly no reason accept for her beauty, “the princess shall indeed grow in grace and in beauty, beloved by all who know her but before the sun set on her sixteenth birth she shall prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel”. The witch gives no further explanation nor shows any contrition at the end of the film she is killed for being wicked.
Maleficent promotes the idea that people aren’t born good or evil but that each person has both within. The last line of the film explains that perfectly, “In the end, my kingdom was united not by a hero or a villain, as legend had predicted, but by one who was both hero and villain. And her name was Maleficent”. A hero does not have to be perfect and villain does not have to be pure evil but, more realistically, a person has a bit of both. According to Stephanie Erdice from Shippensburg University’s Women’s Center, providing more context and a background to these villains is what more Disney movies should be doing and that begins by asking the right questions, “how did this witch become evil, and is she evil because she’s old and green and jaded or is she evil because we made her evil?”.
Films like Maleficent are gaining popularity, earning over $200 million , the heels of Frozen and Pixar’s Brave which also feature more female centric story lines.