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But perhaps the explanation for Maleficent’s cruelty has been in the centuries of patriarchal history all along.
In Disney’s 1959 version and its source material, Maleficent curses a baby princess to seek revenge for a real or perceived insult. Despite being harsh, this villain is, remarkably, the only female character who is consistently pursuing her own agenda in every version of these stories. (The princess heroine, as the Disney title suggests, sleeps through the good parts.) Yes, the fairy is “bad,” but part of her “badness” is that she demands respect from a king; the only “good” female characters here are the obedient or unconscious ones. As Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar explain, within Jacob and Wilhelm Grimms’ “Snow White” (who similarly falls into a deathlike sleep), the good heroine is “the heroine of a life that has no story,” a completely compliant figure.
That the passive princess is as much of a snooze-fest as her fate is obvious in the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty: Where Maleficent speaks 541 words, the princess Aurora speaks 263 and sings one song, which adds an additional 141. (Perhaps unfairly, I did not count Aurora’s insensible vocalizations.) Five percent of the words she speaks are the word “oh.” She doesn’t speak at all after she learns she’s a princess. (Incidentally, this movie with an almost non-verbal heroine was the second highest-grossing movie of 1959, Susan Sackett writes). Aurora, the narrator says, is her parents’ “most precious possession.” The three good fairies in the film — Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather — psychologize their nemesis, Maleficent. Fauna says that Maleficent doesn’t understand “love or kindness or the joy of helping others,” concluding, “I don’t think she’s really very happy.” Three feminized things — love, kindness, and the joy of helping others — are what Maleficent can’t grasp. Her masculinity, coded as her refusal to help others, is what makes her so evil. And we shouldn’t assume anything about her, really, before we understand where she came from.
Is anyone planning on going to see the film ‘Maleficent’ this summer?
Here’s the official trailer