MOVIE WATCH-OK...for starters, I just loved this movie. Yet after seeing the movie twice (first with my family, and then by myself on a plane), I just can't keep this to myself. So please do NOT open this piece if you've not seen the movie (or "Frozen"), because there are spoilers aplenty and it assumes that you DID see these movies (which, by the way, are testaments both to Angelena Jolie's awesome acting talent and Disney's storytelling talent).
The "strong princess" theme of a female lead who is more than just pretty, and who doesn't need a man to save her, is one that has enjoyed a lot of success over the past few years (and past few Disney movies)...yet the risk of being lopsided and creating a predictable ending, with equally-predictable and two-dimensional characters is one that is as problematic as typecasting princesses as "damsels in distress".
I doubt I'm the only one who's compared the two recent Disney movies ("Frozen" and "Maleficent") with respect to their makeup and of their endings. They share an enormous number of similarities.
Both Disney movies involve a saving gesture of love, and both have a dramatic but modern understanding of love: that true romantic love cannot be achieved in mere moments, but that the power of sisterly or motherly or other loves (which all take years to develop and consolidate) is a much more profound, and more unrequited, power and love to be cherished by each of us, and by society in general.
Another parallel between "Frozen" and "Maleficent" is that they involve very strong yet imperfect women who are capable of acknowledging past errors...and in so doing, create miracles by this acknowledgement.
The witch Elsa saves her sister Anna, and chooses to bond herself with both her sister and the people of her kingdom (and who she previously shut out) by reaching out with love and kindness. The fairy-queen Maleficent saves Princess Aurora (daughter of King Stefan, who betrayed her), and bond herself with both the god-daughter she chose (Aurora) and Stefan's kingdom by also showing love and forgiveness.
The betrayals that Princess Anna (and her sister, the Queen/witch Elsa) and Queen Maleficent suffered at the hands of men are horrifying--the manner in which foreign princes and kings attack and trick Anna, Elsa and Maleficent is meant to be palpably stunning and painful to the viewer.
Prince Hans is anything BUT the brave and noble "knight in shining armor" that he would have been in previous Disney movies, and King Stefan is anything BUT the courageous peasant-boy-turned knight that he would have been in previous Disney movies. What Prince Hans and King Stefan did were unspeakable...not only in the world of womanly expectations, but within the world of manly behavior.
Of note is that the two opposing and contrasting male leads of the two movies, the iceman Kristoff and the raven Diaval (who is a man in human form), are the ones who are the emotional advisors of Princess Anna and Queen Maleficent, and who are their selfless protectors.
Kristoff loves Anna, but knows she loves Prince Hans, and brings Anna to Hans to break Elsa's accidental curse. Similarly, it is Diaval's idea to use the young Prince Phillip to break the spell that Maleficent so regrets and yearns to reverse. Both plans fail, but it's not for lack of sincerity and sentiment on the behalf of Kristoff and Diaval--they are both brave, caring and manly in both the world of both women's and men's ideals.
Yet this is where the two plots/movies' similarities end, and only "Frozen" has the plot that truly "connects the dots" to let everyone know who's been naughty, and who's been nice. Everyone in the Kingdom of Arendelle ends up knowing where Queen Elsa's heart and intent lay, with Prince Hans being revealed as "the bad guy", yet the Elf-Queen Maleficent could NOT do that for Stefan's Kingdom without the movie connecting its own dots.
The movie "Maleficent" was clearly darker--yet more moving, thanks to actress/producer Angelena Jolie and the other writers and producers of this amazing movie. It's hard to conclude that--and understandably so, as occurs with war--the powerful fairy Maleficent who demands her fellow fairies make her Queen of the Moors didn't have human blood on her hands. The knights of Stefan's Kingdom rightfully do fear and dread her.
Hence Maleficent's private and final showdown with King Stefan, the man with whom she had shared love during her childhood, would have led the viewer to presumably conclude there would inevitably be MORE human/fairy conflict and bloodshed because it did NOT have that "a-ha!" moment in the public setting to clarify to all who was "the good guy" and who was the true betrayer.
King Stefan's knights and other subjects clearly knew Stefan had become insane and intolerable by the end of the movie--but rather than focus on what could have been a more complex, less two-dimensional portrayal of King Stefan (well-acted by Sharlto Copley, who deserved a better written role), there was nothing by the end of the movie to suggest that the knights could ever trust Maleficent.
Even Stefan's death would have been presumed at the hands of Maleficent by his own knights (which wasn't true, but no one was there to witness their final battle in the movie), and therefore it's an exceedingly difficult bridge to cross to presume that "everything would be all right" with Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) as a new queen.
Maleficent was their tormentor, and (apparently) their killer--the knights and subjects of King Stefan's realm had more to fear from Maleficent than Stefan. When Stefan traps Maleficent at the end of the movie, he does the kingly thing and opts to slay Maleficent in a one-to-one battle, with his knights clearly supportive of his leadership and apparent courage.
The mixed emotions of King Stefan and his knights towards the newcomer Princess Aurora (and King Stefan's lack of feeling towards his wife, Queen Leila), and of Aurora's restoration of Maleficent's wings in front of King Stefan and his knights, was woefully underplayed, and the ability of the film to "connect the dots" and achieve credibility (even for an obvious fantasy) to the viewer was largely lost.
Gone were the few seconds where King Stefan's general/right-hand man was horrified and disgusted with Stefan's lack of regard for his dying wife, Queen Leila, or for when Stefan showed such little regard to Aurora when she sought Stefan's recognition and love. Gone were the few seconds where such a general/right-hand man learned of the truth between Stefan and Maleficent, and his willingness to acknowledge Aurora as his new ruler.
To say nothing of the credibility lost (even and especially for a Disney fantasy) at the predictable and copy-cat ending of "Maleficent", when King Stefan could not stop fighting his past love/current nemesis and fell to his death. Perhaps King Stefan should instead have been named Gaston (as in "Beauty and the Beast") because his demise was so obnoxiously alike to Gaston (did the "Maleficent" writers think the viewers hadn't watched other Disney movies?).
So, at the risk of having all you readers now throw barbs at ME, I couldn't figure out why both Aurora and King Stefan's general/right-hand man (and perhaps the other knights) wouldn't, or shouldn't, have followed Maleficent and Stefan to their final showdown, up high in the castle, with the following changes, starting when Maleficent had physically overpowered King Stefan and held her hand to his throat:
Maleficent: "It's OVER! You stole my heart! You stole my wings! But you will not steal my soul!"
Aurora (running to Maleficent, and hiding behind her wings as she visibly tears up): "Father...is this true? It was YOU who cut off the wings of my fairy godmother?"
(Maleficent lets go of Stefan, and backs away to comfort Aurora. Stefan rubs his throat and becomes enraged.)
Stefan: "Your...YOUR...godmother? It is I who cared for and protected you...from her! It is I who am your father!"
Stefan's general/right-hand man (now angry): "As you cared for and protected her mother as she lay dying? As you cared for and protected Aurora when she came back to you? As you cared for and protected King Henry as he lay dying when you swore you'd slain this danger to our kingdom?"
Maleficent, sharply swinging about to face the general/right-hand man and roaring: "There will be no more slaying! No more danger! I regret my curse and ended it. It's OVER!"
Stefan (seeing what his men and Aurora are doing, shouting): "You will haunt my kingdom no longer!"
Maleficent (sharply and contemptuously facing Stefan again, with Aurora still behind her protective wings, firmly but a slightly lower tone): "It's OVER!"
Stefan (more quietly, and speaking in a more one-to-one tone to Maleficent): "And you will haunt my dreams...no longer!"
(Stefan hesitates a moment to look at Maleficent and Aurora, who don't know what to make of his statement, then runs by them and leaps over the tower's edge to his death. Aurora shouts, "Father!" which causes Maleficent to leap forward as if to rescue him from his fall but is suddenly held back by the grip of the general/right-hand man).
Stefan's general/right-hand man, staring at Maleficent in a declarative tone: "It's OVER!"
The same mutual staring upwards of Stefan as he falls to his death, with Maleficent then floating down to his dead and fallen body, could still occur...but now a host of other, non-two-dimensional things have entered the film.
The raising of questions as to whether Stefan still had guilt for what he had done, or whether he was just afraid of or perhaps even remembered his feelings for Maleficent, and the interesting thought that Aurora was the child that the two could have had if Stefan had remained true to the worlds of manly behavior and womanly expectations in his younger life...all of these now enter a more plausible, memorable, and moving film.
But it bears repeating that "Maleficent" was a wonderful film, and that despite its insufficient attempt to explain why Aurora would be accepted as the ruler of both Stefan's kingdom and the fairy kingdom of the Moors at the end of the film, I'm glad I saw it. Twice.
Yet it's likely that "Frozen" will have the more enduring and devoted audience to watch it repeatedly and endlessly into the future, while "Maleficent" will have been a good movie, but not as great a movie as "Frozen" because of the lost and critical sentiment and "connecting of the dots" that it regrettably failed to do at the end.
But such is Hollywood, and "all the world's a critic." I should probably just stick to my day-job of being a dermatologist...
And I'm still waiting for the next Disney movie, and the next movie starring Angelena Jolie or her husband Brad Pitt. Great plots, and great actors, are very hard to come by.
(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at Alpern@MarVista.org . He also does regular commentary on the Mark Isler Radio Show on AM 870, and co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)
Vol 12 Issue 73
Pub: Sep 9, 2014