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Disney’s Maleficent – 2014

Maleficent_posterI clearly need to stop being such a pill about new movies. I’ve thrown myself so wholeheartedly into discovering, watching and enjoying classic movies that I’ve developed a snobbish streak about new movies and how “they just don’t make ’em like they used to.” I’ve decided that is not a healthy attitude. I also clearly need to start ignoring movie trailers. I didn’t think I’d like Frozen and I did like it and I was convinced I wouldn’t like Maleficent and I liked it. Angelina Jolie won me over and I’d never liked her in a movie before.

Though perhaps my expectations were just so low that the movie was bound to be better.

It made me think of the days when a studio would put together movies that were specifically vehicles for their greatest stars, like Bette Davis? Jezebel is so totally a movie designed as a tour de force for Bette Davis, who dominates the film and dwarfs the other characters, but that’s what she’s supposed to do. Maleficent is a bit like that. I don’t know if they deliberately set out to do that, but Angelina Jolie completely overshadows everyone else (who I scarcely recall) and it doesn’t seem to matter too much because we’re not watching the movie for anyone else, anyway.

Maleficent did a decent job, I thought, in showing what can be a very difficult feat to accomplish: how Maleficent “goes bad.” That was the problem Star Wars had in trying to show how Anakin could become Darth Vader; they never convinced me that he had sufficient cause to harden his heart so thoroughly and be so murderous. They avoid that pitfall in two ways in Maleficent: they give her sufficient cause to hate and they don’t actually make her evil (which could also be seen as a cheat).

The makers of the film and Angelina Jolie both said that when Stefan drugs her and cuts off her wings near the beginning of the film, it was meant to be a metaphor for rape and it is a very effective scene, especially when she wakes up afterwards and realizes what has happened. Maleficent has been betrayed and violated, essentially by all mankind. They’ve tried before to bring down the moor where all the fairies are, but Stefan, she thought, was her friend and loved her and now he has brutally robbed her of a part of herself.

But she doesn’t become completely hard core evil. She’s not running around committing random acts of unkindness just because she can, like Maleficent does in the animated Disney Sleeping Beauty in 1959. That Maleficent is pure, unadulterated evil. It’s marvelous. But for Jolie’s Maleficent, there is purpose and direction to her evil. She is seeking revenge, without thought of who it will hurt and she has walled herself and the fairies’ moor off from the kingdom of men. She makes herself ruler over the other fairies, but she is not willfully hurting them. And the reason, you could argue, that she has walled herself off and made herself ruler is out of a reflexive reaction for having failed the fairies earlier when she lost her wings. Now, in her mind, the only way she can protect them is to make herself ruler and use her magic.

Where I felt the movie become most interesting is when the three good fairies (remarkably inept and childish fairies, slightly annoying) take Aurora off to the cottage in the woods to hide her for sixteen years. In this movie, Diavel, the raven, discovers Aurora right off the bat and Maleficent strolls by the cottage to see the baby. She sniffs and sneers and makes scary faces, but you can see she is curious and the baby smiles and coos back at her. And then Maleficent sticks around.

Maleficent with unafraid toddler Aurora, played by Jolie's real-life daughter, Vivienne

Maleficent with unafraid toddler Aurora, played by Jolie’s real-life daughter, Vivienne

It absolutely cracked me up how she is always just hanging about as if she has nothing better to do, and she quickly loses focus on her hatred for King Stefan. He has sequestered himself away in his castle, cutting himself off from people and obsessing about how Maleficent wants to kill him and how he will stop her; slowly losing his mind, really. But not Maleficent. She gets distracted by his baby.

The three fairies know nothing about raising babies – they even offer the wailing child radishes – and so in order to keep the baby alive so that her curse can come through, Maleficent has to kind of vicariously raise the child, with the aid of Diavel. She’s always about, causing trouble among the fairies, sneering at the growing child, calling it beastie, watching the child, protecting the child. And the child knows it. She knows that there is someone who is there, watching out for her and calls her, much to Maleficent’s surprise, possible embarrassment and mild chagrin, her fairy godmother. It’s embarrassing to have your persona so easily seen through by a child.

Ostensibly, the reason Maleficent is protecting her is so her curse can come through all right, because after all, if you are going to curse somebody, professional pride dictates that it must come off; but as my cousin pointed out, she also has an instinct to protect. She was the protector of the moor and that instinct rises up again, whether she knows it or not. It’s kind of funny and very realistic how after sixteen years of looking out for her and then meeting her officially and spending time with her, she drifts into caring deeply for Aurora. But she cannot revoke her curse.

It really isn’t a very chatty movie and Jolie’s Maleficent doesn’t monologue. We get all of her character transformations – good to bad, bad to good – by seeing her face and actions. And she doesn’t engage in any histrionics; it’sfairly restrained, actually.

One thing that has fascinated me – and I don’t cite this as a criticism – is how in attempting to subvert and update fairytale and story traditions, Hollywood has essentially created a whole new set of tropes, clichés and traditions. For example, true love’s kiss. It started with Enchanted, when true love’s kiss was not the man that she had supposedly fallen in love with at first sight, but it was still a man she loved. Then Frozen came along and true love was not a kiss, but an act or action, and this time true love came through the sister, and you can probably guess where true love’s kiss comes from in Maleficent.

It’s not nearly as dark a movie as I was expecting and Maleficent’s realm is far brighter than it was in the cartoon from 1959, perhaps symbolic that her soul is not as dark as the other Maleficent’s. It’s actually a fun movie – though the beginning and end drag a bit (it’s the middle I like) – and I enjoyed watching Maleficent’s journey into hate and then back into love again.

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2014 in Fantasy

 

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An appreciation of Maleficent and Eleanor Audley

images[6]With Disney’s upcoming release of the live-action film, Maleficent, with Angelina Jolie in the title role, I thought it would be refreshing to revisit the classic villainess in her original incarnation from the 1959 Sleeping Beauty, as well as to celebrate the woman who gave her voice: Eleanor Audley.

Maleficent is a classic villain, much in the way that Darth Vader is classic: timeless, formidable, iconic – iconic appearance, iconic voice. Everyone loves to love (or hate) a villain that embodies sheer menace and evil (though Darth Vader’s villain-ness kept getting murkier as the movies went along – he eventually wound up as a petulant boy! I suspect a similar dilution of Maleficent’s evilness in the new film).

And perhaps she’s only a cartoon, but what is Darth Vader: part triangular helmet with black cape and suit, part imposing posture, and part awesome voice.

Maleficent

What I loved about Maleficent is that she is a villain that’s female. That sounds a little obvious, but what I mean is that she is a villain first, who happens to be a woman (I guess, technically, a witch). She is not a femme fatale or vamp, sashaying through the story, swinging her hips and breathing down the necks of every man she encounters; she is just a villain. She’s the only one I can think of whose villainy is separate from her femininity. Men get to be villains, who incidentally are men; why not women?

There is no explanation for why she is evil; she just is, and because she is not invited to the celebration of Aurora’s birth, she curses the child. It seems she so embodies evil, that her mission in life is to wreak destruction. It’s a living, I suppose.

To savor her sheer awesomeness, here is a clip of various scenes from Sleeping Beauty with Maleficent in them

Of course, what makes Maleficent truly come alive is her voice (surely the most menacing voice in cartoon history – she could make a laundry list sound frightening). She was voiced by Eleanor Audley, who had, seven years earlier, also provide the voice for Cinderella’s evil stepmother in Disney’s 1950 animated Cinderella (click here for video of her Lady Tremaine).

When they animated Maleficent, Audley was the live-action model – she dressed in the costume and acted the part to provide a reference for the artists – and they modeled much of Maleficent’s facial expressions after her (to watch the video about how they animated the film from live action, click here. The part about Maleficent begins 2 minutes into the video).

Eleanor Audley

Eleanor Audley

Eleanor Audley mostly did radio and TV, as well as providing the voice for several animated films. Sadly, I cannot, for the life of me, find any information about her personally. She started in radio in the 1940s and 50s, and appeared multiple times in “Father Knows Best”and “My Favorite Husband” (as the mother of Lucille Ball’s character’s husband).

In the 1950s and 60s, she seems to have turned up in practically every popular TV show running: from the TV version of Father Knows Best to I Love Lucy, Perry Mason, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, Wagon Train, The Beverly Hillbillies, My Three Sons, Green Acres, and quite a few more. She made the most appearances in Green Acres (14 episodes), as the mother of Eddie Albert’s character, Oliver Wendell Douglas.

Since I grew up hearing her as a voice, it was fun for me to go back and find some of these TV episodes, just to see her in person. Here’s a clip of her in the Beverly Hillbillies. She plays a head schoolmistress dismayed when Jethro tries to enroll in her school.

Notes: Here is the trailer for Maleficent. It looks like a Lord of the Rings, “Wicked,” fairytale mash up, to me (are those creatures escapees from LOTR?), but I’m trying not to be prejudge… too much.

Extra:I found this video a lovely tribute to all the great voices in Disney films; which includes Eleanor Audley, as well as Stanley Holloway (as Kaa, Winnie the Pooh, and the Cheshire Cat) and many others.

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2014 in Movies

 

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