Why Maleficent works

This film, says Ayeda Husain, is a welcome break from popular culture's messages of misogyny

Why Maleficent works
Despite the critical, scathing reviews of this film sneering at Angelina Jolie’s plastic make-up and acting, I must admit there is something quite refreshing about Maleficent.

Maleficent (pronounced: magnificent) is the new Disney adaptation of the classic Sleeping Beauty which seems to have touched a real nerve somewhere, with the Washington Post calling it a “a dour affair”, USA Today “a muddled revisionist tale” and Rolling Stone “a flimsy cardboard thingee”. My response to all the jaded middle-aged critics out there is - relax! This film wasn’t made for you. It is intended for young girls and carries a very important message. And for that it must be applauded.

A retelling of the tale of princess Aurora who is put to sleep by an evil spell which can only be broken by “true love’s kiss”, this film invites us to take a different look at an old story. The evil witch, Maleficent, as played by Angelina Jolie, is not a one-dimensional villain but instead a fairy princess who has been betrayed by the power-hungry human, Stefan. And Aurora, played by Elle Fanning, is not a brainless beauty but a courageous young girl (Stefan’s daughter) who eventually opts to live with Maleficent over her own family.

The raison d’etre of this film however is the fact that unlike other Disney movies, it does not reduce princesses to young, impressionable doe-eyed victims of life waiting to be liberated by a knight in shining armour. In Maleficent, there are no damsels in distress. There are no Cinderellas longing for their Prince Charming to deliver them from their misery. There are no Snow Whites who need their prince to bring them back to life by dislodging the poisonous apple from their throats. Yes, in this version of the Sleeping Beauty, princess Aurora (warning - spoiler alert) is not awakened by the love of an awkward, adolescent prince but the love of a guardian angel.

And Aurora’s guardian angel is none other than Maleficent. Yes, the “evil witch” who has cast the spell over her is the one who keeps her safe when she wanders close to a cliff and feeds her with the nectar of flowers when she cries. The simplistic good and bad of Disney films simply does not exist here. Maleficent is not really evil; she has just been wounded by life. What a valuable lesson for children - to be able to look at people who inflict hurt upon others as being in pain themselves.

There are other spiritual lessons that this film also, surprisingly, imparts. Like about love. And emotional independence. And the value of loving oneself, of loving life and treasuring every moment. It is the sheer genius of cinematic technology in this film that allows the magical fairy dust of angels and butterflies and other enchanted beings of the forest into our hearts, enabling us to vicariously experience the magic of nature (ok so the 3D glasses help) and sense the pure joy that accompanies spiritual awakening.

This particular fairytale turns the age-old trope of feminine animosity on its head
This particular fairytale turns the age-old trope of feminine animosity on its head

But most important of all what Maleficent does is to invite young girls to rethink all that they have been taught about true love, to learn to let it flow to them from unexpected people and places instead of pinning all of their hopes on the appearance of a prince.

In fact the metaphor of being awakened refers to a form of self-love that comes with a spiritual awakening in which dormant faculties are brought to the forefront. It is with this consciousness that one is then able to attract healthy, equal relationships and love becomes empowering rather than enslaving.

[quote]Disney has done a disservice in making young girls believe that the way out of every dark situation is via a prince[/quote]

What could be more debilitating for a young girl than the belief that she must wait her whole life for a prince to set her free? Disney has done a disservice in making young girls believe that the way out of every dark situation is via a prince. It is to blame for generations of young girls growing up wanting nothing but to be passive, pretty wallflowers with no responsibility for their emotional or spiritual well-being.

To quote the Law of Attraction, we attract whatever we emit. So if you are miserable (like Cinderella) the chances of you attracting Prince Charming are less than minimal; in fact you are more likely to attract someone who will reinforce those feelings of misery. One must be content within, emotionally independent and radiating positivity before one is able to attract the right person or situation.

As I watch Maleficent with my 16 year-old daughter, both of us rooting for Aurora to awaken from her spell on her 16th birthday, I do a little prayer for the generations of young girls who have internalised popular culture’s messages of misogyny, that they too are able to awaken from this state of induced slumber.