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Love, Feminism, and Horns: Maleficent and her commandments

maleficent

di Giorgia Ortolani

Disney and Angelina Jolie: two names, two guarantees. After the remakes of Snow White and Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty hit Italian movie theatres on May 28th. It cashed 4 million euros during the first weekend, three times the result achieved by Snow White and the Huntsman and twice the score registered by La belle et la bête. Not bad for the fairy tale of one of the scariest witches Disney has ever created.

Let’s face it: Maleficent was definitely the second scariest cartoon character, right after Rattigan. With the black horns and those yellow eyes of hers, she would make kids hug the pillow tight, wondering why Prince Philip was taking so long to get to the sleepy damsel. Though it is possible that my cowardice was not commonly shared, I bet everybody mumbled on why she was so angry at King Stephan. It couldn’t be just about her vanity or the desire to show her rooted evil off. There had to be more behind it. Robert Stromberg gave his version of the facts. A version that tries to keep the magic of the original Disney movie intact, adding a touch of modern realism at the same time.

Maleficent is not a movie for adults, but neither for naive kids. There are still magical creatures, spells and princesses, but there’s also an aware representation of human dynamics. The fact that the villain-protagonist is also both victim and saviour is the clear proof. Nobody is born evil, not until we contextualize him into a lifetime span, at least.

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Another thing that vibrantly emerges from the screen is the unmistakable distrust towards men. All of them played roles built to show their weakness. Weak because they prefer power to love, because they don’t learn from their mistakes, because they even hesitate to kiss an enchanted and sleeping beauty. The only male part with spine is a crow. So much for male power.

Put this weird form of sexism aside, the real innovation lies in the conception of love. Maleficent followed the lead of Frozen and dismantled the fairy tale-like cemented stereotype. Not a stolen glance, a fortuitous flirt or some well-staged kiss, true love is a double-edged sword that condemns and saves at the same time. It’s a long and difficult journey that should overcome everything, revenge and hatred included.

Irony wants that one of the worst Disney villains has all the credentials to become a role model for young girls. As all the latest heroines, she doesn’t need a man to shape her own destiny. She’s strong, fierce and loving. But most of all, she’s resourceful: though the big horns, a creepy best friend and a perfidious ex-boyfriend, she got her happy ending.

And if she made it, then there is hope to everyone.

giorgia.ortolani@studbocconi.it

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