I May Have Been Wrong About Maleficent

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I May Have Been Wrong About Maleficent

I took another look at Disney's revisionist take on Maleficent.

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I don't think we 'can' accurately predict how audiences will/should react to certain scenes. At best, we can do a lot of test screenings but there's always going to be the outliers.

I think there's enough there to show evidence of mutilation and the taking of something that should not be taken, but it's going to be subject to interpretation. Even Inkoo Kang, on the podcast, thought it wasn't rape.

"So. MALEFICENT. is a pretty big hit. Huge, in fact,"

?, it hasn't even broken even yet which after 2 weeks is closer to bomb than hit.

youji itami:
"So. MALEFICENT. is a pretty big hit. Huge, in fact,"

?, it hasn't even broken even yet which after 2 weeks is closer to bomb than hit.

Don't forget the foreign box office. It's made $350M worldwide after 2 weeks, so I think they at least broke even.

OT: Thanks Bob. I wasn't that interested in seeing this movie before, but now I think my wife might at least find it meaningful and may give it a shot.

hawk533:

youji itami:
"So. MALEFICENT. is a pretty big hit. Huge, in fact,"

?, it hasn't even broken even yet which after 2 weeks is closer to bomb than hit.

Don't forget the foreign box office. It's made $350M worldwide after 2 weeks, so I think they at least broke even.

OT: Thanks Bob. I wasn't that interested in seeing this movie before, but now I think my wife might at least find it meaningful and may give it a shot.

It cost $180 million plus whatever the advertising budget was which is usually equal or more than the production budget and this film has seen more advertising than ASM2. This film needs to make a lot more before it's profitable.

(capcha - dollar signs) yeah it's psychic.

I hoped you'd come around on this.

I get adding to Maleficent's backstory (like GIVING her a past), but not rewriting every character who isn't her into either a moron (Charming, the 3 fairies) or a total bastard (the King). Maybe, as a dude, I'm not the target audience for this movie. Bob admitting the same also explains why he didn't like the Hunger Games either, despite his reviews for those always being a hoot to watch).

It is hard to digest and review a piece of media that isn't targeted at you. It's also quite easy to overlook what might be problematic in a film because you don't know enough to be critical of it. This is why I think critics should strive to do exactly what you've done here.

I am one of those people who love Friday. I love it despite its obvious flaws because it resonates with me (spent part of my youth in the actual projects/poor neighborhoods.) Meanwhile, I also take a crap all over movies that portray militaries because they so very often get so much of it wrong. I have to remind myself that its just for fun and I shouldn't take it too seriously.

On the flip side, otherwise "okay" movies hit a soft spot in me because they play something just right. The remake of War of the Worlds with Tom Cruise was hardly a breakthrough film, but I was actually trembling and wiping tears from my eyes when the Army launched its attack on alien forces they knew they couldn't possibly beat, in order to distract the invaders long enough for civilians to get away. Just hearing the words "Attack, attack, attack!" come over the SINCGARS had a powerful visceral effect on me; an effect practically no one else outside of my experience could have understood.

In short, kudos for giving the film another look and trying to fit yourself into the mold of someone else to see their perspective. It demonstrates a high level of professionalism and is worthy of tremendous praise, whatever that's worth coming from someone who will never be a film critic himself.

I'm not in the movie business (either making or reviewing). I'm not really interested in seeing this or that demographic gasp or cheer or relive traumatic memories or whatever. I like movies that are entertaining pretty much no matter who you are, because I don't strictly identify with one demographic's taste or another.

Is Maleficent an entertaining enough movie on its own for somebody who may have no reaction whatsoever to the 'OMG they're metaphorically discussing rape' elements in the movie to bother watching?

In fairness, and I mean no offense here, you're a niche-genre film critic (or at least that's the context in which most of us actually watch your bit for actual thumbs up/down purposes), and "Disney Princess Movie" is about as broad-based in intended appeal as it gets; almost the antithesis of niche/genre filmmaking.

I don't think anyone's going to hold it against you that you're sort of on unfamiliar ground on this one.

(I think a lot of the specific stuff that 'didn't work' for you may not have worked because they were doing the 'reference the animated movies' thing, specifically Frozen in this case. A lot of the franchise audience is pretty dedicated to the animated features, not to mention unfamiliar with the broader base of literature and film, so that carries a lot of emotional weight for the primary audience where you're probably seeing awkwardly shoe-horning in plot elements from a random other movie that made a lot of money.)

Thank you, Bob. It feels a little weird not to be (at least part of) the target audience for a Disney movie, doesn't it?

I have one more nagging qualm. If she's supposed to be the hero in this film, why is she still called "Maleficent", which literally means "evil" or "evil one"? Surely that would be a name given to her by the "mean old man-folk" who tormented her, not her actual name? or perhaps it means something else in faerie language? Is this addressed in the movie, or do they just glaze over it?

I could see her taking that name after the whole revenge binge starts, like taking up the mantle of Batman, but before? it doesn't make sense to me.

Oh yeah... and that subtle abortion metaphor I can't help but notice... "remember ladies, if you keep the baby, she'll give you not only superpowers, but revenge against the man who raped you... but only if it's a girl."

My problem with it is it feels like instead of just deepening Maleficient's character, they just tore down the other characters to make it easier to build Maleficient up as the real hero of the story, and taking the easy way out with her regretting the curse outright. By minimizing her own on screen villainy as well, it also made her much less interesting to watch.

I think that would have worked better for me if Sleeping Beauty didn't already exist, because now this just feels like reversing conventions for the sake of it rather than a real subversion. Flipping the good/evil + smart/dumb switch on the traditional heroes and villains without trying to spread enough depth to protagonist and antagonist alike just comes off as wasted potential for a true, deep re-imagining of the tale, with some actual conflict to mull over on all sides.

MovieBob:
My criticisms remain, but my opinion as to whether it's an "important" or likely to be "enduring" film have substantially changed. It's healthy, in my opinion, to make considerations like this more often.

I'm not re-watching that new Spider-Man again anytime soon, though.

I don't think it's really possible to review a film from anybody's perspective but your own. The movie is quite literally experienced through your own eyes - whatever experiences somebody else might have had with the film you'll never now first hand. It is however, under such circumstances, easy to fall prey to the myopia where you forget that things can be perceived differently from your own perception, and I think it says a lot about you, Bob, that you took a step back and tried to reexamine things.

At any rate, thanks for sharing your musings with us. For what it's worth, I think these written columns - High Definition, Intermission - hold some of your better stuff published on the Escapist. Is it due to the format, I wonder?

"Yup, that's what that's like."

Maybe I'm giving Disney too much credit, but fairytales are supposed to help children process the challenges of adult life. Far too many of the children in the audience are going to experience sexual assault at some point in their lives, so we need modernized fairytales that adress this in a somewhat kid friendly way.

There will also be too many parents in the audience who are survivors of rape and/or assault. How do you talk to your children about these things? Stories are a good starting point.

I kind of wonder if this has a lot to do with just seeing through the seams of a lot of movies up to a point where it's hard to get emotionally engaged to anything in movies. I'd take a guess that a lot of families going to see Maleficent haven't seen as many movies and sort of watch them with this sort of innocent, child-like experience where everything just feels so real up there.

It's usually a good thing when this happens, showing that the movie does what it needs to do in order to be engaging. I liked this movie, even if I wasn't as engaged as I might have been if I were younger. But, that happens as it just seems like something really, really special or out there needs to be done in order to really get me on board on any sort of emotionally engaging level.

I don't think I've gotten to a point where most critics have gotten to, but this detachment has been getting stronger by every year. I don't think about movies the same way as I did as close as last year.

So, I think that might have a lot to do with it as well. Not really a bad thing, it's just something that eventually happens whenever you spend a lot of time on anything.

2xDouble:
Thank you, Bob. It feels a little weird not to be (at least part of) the target audience for a Disney movie, doesn't it?

I have one more nagging qualm. If she's supposed to be the hero in this film, why is she still called "Maleficent", which literally means "evil" or "evil one"? Surely that would be a name given to her by the "mean old man-folk" who tormented her, not her actual name? or perhaps it means something else in faerie language? Is this addressed in the movie, or do they just glaze over it?

Yup, Maleficent is in fact literally "evil-doer" in Latin.

teamcharlie:
I'm not in the movie business (either making or reviewing). I'm not really interested in seeing this or that demographic gasp or cheer or relive traumatic memories or whatever. I like movies that are entertaining pretty much no matter who you are, because I don't strictly identify with one demographic's taste or another.

Is Maleficent an entertaining enough movie on its own for somebody who may have no reaction whatsoever to the 'OMG they're metaphorically discussing rape' elements in the movie to bother watching?

Yeah actually. I was not part of the 'target demographic' and if you can sit back and enjoy the movie without being hung up on the original, to enjoy it for the concept, it is actually a very good movie. You don't have to be a child or female to walk out of the movie happy. And yes, there is a good chance if you can look past the weak second act that you will find yourself doing what the audience in Bob's article was doing, rooting for the bastard to get his tail kicked.

Is it perfect? Nope... then again, it's glaring errors and mistakes are not as terrible as certain other movies in the past couple of years and if you like fairy tales or fantasy, it is not that bad a ride.

And to think that Bob's critics call him an amateurish fanboy who can't see past his own biases. How many OTHER critics do you know that can actually go back and reexamine their own opinions? This is a big part of why I love Bob's reviews so much that he's always my first port of call for an opinion on a movie.

2xDouble:
I have one more nagging qualm. If she's supposed to be the hero in this film, why is she still called "Maleficent", which literally means "evil" or "evil one"? Surely that would be a name given to her by the "mean old man-folk" who tormented her, not her actual name? or perhaps it means something else in faerie language? Is this addressed in the movie, or do they just glaze over it?

I could see her taking that name after the whole revenge binge starts, like taking up the mantle of Batman, but before? it doesn't make sense to me.

It's just her name, no real glossing or even acknowledgement of the fact that the name means "Evil". The narration simply introduces her as "Maleficent" and that's that. I think it would have been rather a nice touch if, during the section where the narrator talks about how she defended the fairy land from humans, it took maybe 5 seconds to say that the humans were the ones who gave her the name "Maleficent". That way she could have a not-evil-sounding "real" name, and then her villain name would be one given to her by humans who tried to invade her land. It is what it is, though.

This is the tough thing about criticism, especially when it's criticism of an artistic medium. Critiquing the obvious technical aspects is well and good but often doesn't get into the meat of the experience. Critiquing more than the technical aspects, however, means you end up necessarily treading into personal waters where your own interpretation, tastes and experiences colour your response. At the end of the day, as a critic, you just have to own up to that. Own up to the fact that no matter how good or bad you perceive something to be, the perspectives of a different audience may differ from your own and may even render your opinion entirely obsolete. Critics have to be honest about what they critique and can't let the potential opinion of others get in the way.

The flip side to this is, of course, how those reading or watching the review have to react. If it's the job of the critic to present their opinion but acknowledge that those other than themselves may see things differently, it's just as much the job of the critique consumer to acknowledge that the critic's opinion may not match their own. In other words, it's perfectly fine if the critic's opinion doesn't match your own. They aren't wrong. They weren't paid off. They aren't lying. They just didn't see the media in the same way you did. All they are doing is stating an opinion based in many cases off extensive experience and maybe even study, as is their job.

I'm not sure how important that it's, a film can be pretty ham handed and still engage audiences. I know you did this because feminism and rape etc but you'd see a similar difference between audience experience and your reviews if you did this for the original transformers. I was there. That pee scene? Raised the roof.

Props to you Bob. When I watched the movie (after seeing your review) I too got the feeling that it would appeal to many more people than you led on. The only negative reactions to the movie I've seen was from critics, in fact.

Also I want to bring up what you said in your review about Aurora representing an anti-feminist message about how having a baby will make things better again (or something like that). I think that was a miss interpretation. My impression was that to Maleficent, Aurora represented her untainted childhood and eventually took sympathy on her in the same way she would've taken sympathy on her own childhood self. The twist ending (spoiler) where only her own compassion for Aurora could bring her out of coma showed that Maleficent merely needed to love herself again for her to begin to heal.

I don't really understand this article, kind of sounds like you're thinking out loud a bit? But for what is worth I think the first impression you got really is for many of your listeners the core 'what you need to know' about the movie. That is to say that if I listen to you on a regular basis, something about your initial reactions to films will mirror my own, but being a consumer of film and not a critic I'm not going to go see it in theaters twice to go check and see if my opinion changes too. But also I don't quite clearly understand what conclusion you've reached here, or maybe this is more so meant to be a statement that you simply don't feel 100% about your original conclusion.

Some people are going to see some strong rape language communicated through this movie and some people simply aren't as well. Just because it's mostly "male" critics because its important to distinguish the female and male opinion (except when it isn't), it doesn't mean that this view is wrong either. Maybe it is important that boys or men who watch this movie see the rape imagery as it teaches them what kind of man they shouldn't aspire to be. Maybe it is also important that women see it differently as the story doesn't want to communicate this idea that once you are a victim you will always be a victim message that is a recurring theme among victims of this kind level of abuse.

Jolie has since been very outspoken about rape immediately following this film and it wouldn't surprise me if this film is in some case parallel to this thinking.

The thing is: A lot of the scenes in Maleficient is a metaphor to real life romance, and thus resonated with a lot of us. But like all art, it doesn't speak to everyone, in this case if you haven't experienced love and lost, the movie wouldn't have the same impact as if you did.

Edit: Bob refer to the central arc as "redemption" arc, I feel that's a limited way to look at it. It could very well be seen as an "enlightenment" arc or "maturity" arc. Maleficient was wronged and wanted revenge, it was the central purpose of her being, but when she realized that it didn't matter, isn't it more about "growing out of naivety" and "gets over it" than "redemption"?

It's like that one girl that cheated on you with your best friend and maxed out your credit card then breaks up with you. You wanted to get her back so much that it consumes you, but after a while you got over it and realized that there are things in life that matters more.

I just feel that Bob carries a lot of preconceptions and negativity when watching this movie and not enough empathy, most of his points in the original review and somewhat in this article are so superficial and shallow.

Saw Maleficent the other week with my wife and kids (one boy, two girls; my youngest is named Aurora) and they all universally really liked it. They understood the betrayal element without picking up on the sexual assault undertones, which are plenty obvious to any adult.

I find myself, like Bob, reflecting on this movie often. I liked it, but I'm still not sure how I feel about them turning an unadulterated evil character into someone sympathetic and see pros on both sides of the fence. I think there is also an undertone of generational grudges and hatred. The occupants of Stefan's kingdom are indoctrinated as anti-fairy and the fairy folk to a lesser extent are anti-human due to the years of aggression. Then Aurora comes along who is pure and raised outside of "racial" biases and she bridges the gap between human and fairy, giving the fairy folk a reason to hope the bond between them can be healed. It makes me think of the children from opposite sides of countries that used to be at war with each other leaving behind old hatreds.

My wife pointed out to me that perhaps Stefan was trying in a totally misguided, yet altruistic way to protect Maleficent by pretending to kill her and avoiding an invasion of the fairy realm, but I just read him as being purely ambitious.

I think Maleficent is more tonally consistent or a least understandable if you consider it a story about a woman falling in love with her "unwanted" child - a result of her betrayal. Naturally she starts off hating it, then she begrudgingly feeds it and so on.

The revenge arc is secondary to this.

So hmmm, I took my family to see it, they all got bored halfway through and few wanted to leave. The most common complaint was that they had to cast good looking people because there was so little speaking parts. The movie could have been shortened greatly be removing most of the long staring scenes. I felt the writing was hurried and not fluid. We are not going to see Cinderella when it comes.
Now "The Edge of Tomorrow" is a great movie.

Arcane Azmadi:
And to think that Bob's critics call him an amateurish fanboy who can't see past his own biases. How many OTHER critics do you know that can actually go back and reexamine their own opinions? This is a big part of why I love Bob's reviews so much that he's always my first port of call for an opinion on a movie.

This was why I even felt the urge to leave a comment. I haven't seen the movie, but I can't help but cheer on anyone willing to publicly admit that his original opinion needs some adjustment based on new input.

Something Bob doesn't mention here is the moderate amounts of hate Maleficent has had from people who loved the original Sleeping Beauty - either they don't like Maleficent being made less villainous, or they don't like the good characters from the original being changed. I can kind of see the point - the trampling on the original does come off as a little mean-spirited/overly silly in places (and I think the movie ironically reduces Stefan to a bit of a one-note villain). I mention this partly because he does mention the screaming over Man of Steel supposedly tampering with Superman.

Personally, I loved Maleficent apart from some problems like too much voiceover and the tonal issues Bob mentions, and I don't really understand the hate Man of Steel gets from some quarters. I was glad to get a more serious Superman movie, so I guess my tolerance for "grimdark" is higher.

Keith Fraser:
Something Bob doesn't mention here is the moderate amounts of hate Maleficent has had from people who loved the original Sleeping Beauty - either they don't like Maleficent being made less villainous, or they don't like the good characters from the original being changed. I can kind of see the point - the trampling on the original does come off as a little mean-spirited/overly silly in places (and I think the movie ironically reduces Stefan to a bit of a one-note villain). I mention this partly because he does mention the screaming over Man of Steel supposedly tampering with Superman.

Personally, I loved Maleficent apart from some problems like too much voiceover and the tonal issues Bob mentions, and I don't really understand the hate Man of Steel gets from some quarters. I was glad to get a more serious Superman movie, so I guess my tolerance for "grimdark" is higher.

I feel like I'm caught in a limbo here.

I'm one of the people who is disappointed in Man of Steel. Yes, they turned Superman into a grimdark, violent killer who finishes his opponent off like he's Mortal Kombat's Kano. That's a problem to me, as someone who grew up admiring him BECAUSE he would never have resorted to that in the stories I read and watched. My love for him as a hero was because he was a hero with such strength, but violence was always his last resort, and even then DEATH was NEVER a resort. Like Batman, part of the fun of reading his stories was seeing how he'd solve a problem without ending a life, especially because his very being was so easily capable of taking it. To paraphrase the Justice League cartoon, his challenge is living in a world of cardboard where every fiber of his being is focused on not causing harm to the people around him. That is his struggle... Man of Steel didn't even TRY in that regard. They have changed Superman's costume, powers, supporting cast, origin, name, EVERYTHING... but he was always the same hero at HEART. When you change the very HEART of a hero, it's just someone else wearing the costume.

And I have the same issues with Maleficent, in the opposite regard. THE reason she was my favorite Disney villain was because she was THE most serious, powerful, and gleefully EVIL character Disney has ever had next to Chernobog the literal demon. "Face me and all the powers of HELL!" she gloats before turning into THE GREATEST DRAGON EVER. She was calculating. She was relentless. She was spiteful and vindictive and you could SEE how much fun she had being evil. No Disney villain, before her or after her, wielded so much power and authority or dominated the screen like she did. When people think of Sleeping Beauty, they think of HER, not the bland girl napping away most of the film. So... yes, taking EVERYTHING I loved about her as a villain and tossing it away, only to tell me the HEART of the character is entirely different, means that what we get is not Maleficent, but a NEW character, in name only, with different goals, a different personality, different powers, different character. It's not the same woman, and she has none of the traits I liked about the original.

So they turned Superman from a hero into a monster, and they turned Maleficent from a monster into a hero.

As a fan of the originals, I'm a bit bummed out. I can only accept them if I think of them as entirely new characters. That's easier done for Maleficent than Superman, considering what each of them represents. Redemption is easier to root for than a downfall.

MovieBob:
I saw what Angelina Jolie herself now confirms was a deliberate rape metaphor and thought "Well, that's a weird place for Disney to take this." But many others saw the start of a powerful feature-length meditation on enduring, surviving and moving on from sexual-assault. I saw Disney straining for a Wicked to call their own and winding up with a gonzo dark-fairytale hodgepodge, but to others it's the (re?)birth of a different kind of iconic Disney woman.

This. This right here.

The day your review of Maleficent came out, I saw it. And then I turned to my partner and said "we need to see this. Today." And so we called up a baby sitter and did so (not because I didn't want my kid to see it, but because my kid can't sit still long enough in a theater - my kid will see it the day it comes out on BluRay, because I will have preordered it).

We watched it and were utterly blown away. I knew the rape metaphor was coming - my partner did not. We both thought it was handled perfectly.

One other thing to consider. You wondered (in your review) why Maleficent wanted to give up her revenge just because she'd befriended Aurora. But here's the thing - Aurora was innocent. Maleficent was harming another woman to in turn harm the man who wronged her. She was doing to someone else what had been done to her - using her as a pawn. That's why she tried to lift the curse - not to forgive Stephan, but to spare Aurora. And, if she's been able to do it, she could have simply taken Aurora to the Moors with her and had her vengeance anyway while granting Aurora's fondest wish. Win/win.

Fun fact - one aspect of Third Wave Feminism is to avoid blaming the "other woman" if your boyfriend cheats on you. It isn't her fault - she probably didn't know you existed. Attacking her is missing the point - it is the boyfriend who did wrong. To quote Scott Pilgrim "I cheated on both of you."

This relates because Maleficent punished Aurora for her father's actions. That was wrong of Maleficent - she needs to put her vengeance where it belongs, not on some random innocent bystander.

So not only is Maleficent an awesome film, it is also one of the best examples of a Third Wave feminist film I've seen in ages.

So... a movie ment to show evil isn't one-dimensional, but every other character you're not ment to like is one-dimensionally evil or stupid, and no one seems to notice or care about this?

Also, Disney actually said "We want a rape metaphor and a mediation on feminism in this movie"? Isn't it more likely Disney just wants to get in on the fad of re-imagining books/movies aimed at children into grimdark "evil is just a grey area" movie aimed at adults... and certain people just read into everything until they got what they wanted out of it?

AnnaIME:
Far too many of the children in the audience are going to experience sexual assault at some point in their lives.

If they haven't already.

Sorry to go there. I'm just saying, in case anyone got the wrong idea, sexual assault isn't something that only happens to girls (or boys, for that matter) of a certain minimum age.

Nurb:
So... a movie ment to show evil isn't one-dimensional, but every other character you're not ment to like is one-dimensionally evil or stupid, and no one seems to notice or care about this?

... and certain people just read into everything until they got what they wanted out of it?

Spot on for both comments.

Also, Bob, you were right the first time. That movie is a mess and is pretty terrible. The fact people like it and spend money on it is immaterial. People also liked the Star Trek reboots, the Transformers, etc.

As a tangentially related aside: I wonder how many people saw "Spring Break Shark Attack" - a movie that shocked me when it covered some of the same metaphorical ground as it sounds like Maleficent goes into. Worth a viewing just for the unexpected depth from a stupid shark movie.

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