Spoilers ahead for Maleficent:
Boy & I saw Maleficent last weekend. I’ve been pretty excited for it if nothing else for the costuming. As a friend of mine aptly put it, it was essentially a 90 minute MAC commercial. Overall, I really enjoyed it. Maleficent definitely wins for the best Disney villain. She turns into a dragon. ‘Nuff said. I haven’t seen the animated version in probably 20 years, so I didn’t remember a whole lot of the plot. I love the idea of origin stories. I’ve seen a lot of complaints floating around the Internet that Disney missed the mark by making her all too “nice”.
What Disney managed to do was present an excellent example of recovering from rape trauma. It’s a standard setup. She falls in love with a boy. He says he loves her. Then he drugs her and rips away her identity by cutting off her wings. He shamelessly exploited her feelings for his own gain. Once the shock wore off, she was out for revenge. Revenge is something that’s a good idea in theory, but a terrible idea in practice. There’s a reason it’s a fatal flaw in just about every work of literature. Instead of empowering someone, it leaves them open to all kinds of poor decision making. They’re so blinded by the motivation to hit their abuser right where it hurts, they don’t notice what’s going on around them. Maleficent set out to exact said revenge by cursing the king’s daughter. For argument’s sake, let’s say the animated version captures her during this point in the recovery cycle.
The animated Maleficent is borderline sociopathic. She’s all for torturing and cursing innocent bystanders with no remorse. Again, this isn’t at all uncommon for survivors. Three years ago, if someone had told me I could dish out whatever punishment I saw fit without any legal consequences, I would have done it. After a little time, I wouldn’t have been able to look myself in the face. I would have allowed myself to stoop to his level. Tempting as though it may be, once the high wears off, you’re left with whatever regret and pain that resulted. In the process of ensuring Aurora stays alive to fulfill the curse, Maleficent begins to see the error of her ways. Aurora’s only fault was being born to a rapist. She watches this little girl grow up only to realize she screwed up by cursing the wrong person. The animated Maleficent didn’t have this kind of empathy and it ended up killing her. This version gave the viewer an alternative. While she sees her mistake and tries to lift the curse before it’s too late, she can’t. Aurora falls into the coma just like Maleficent promised 16 years earlier. This is a very important turning point. In recognizing your humanity and the humanity of your abuser; good, bad, or ugly, it makes the wound a little easier to close. If you continue down the path of revenge and no remorse, it will kill you.
This is also where Disney turned the true love’s kiss trope on its head (Boy says Frozen did it first. Hipster). Maleficent makes her apologies to the comatose Aurora, kisses her on the forehead, and walks away. As she’s walking away, Aurora wakes up. In the final battle when Maleficent gets her wings back, her identity is restored. By this point, the king has totally lost it and it results in his own death. See what I said about revenge, kids? Then, as they say, they lived happily ever after. She got back the part of herself she lost and kept going. While most of us will never literally get back what we lost, it’s a step.
Well played, Disney. If it wasn’t intentional, I tip my hat anyway. Maybe someday the target audience will realize the parallels. Until then, I’ll be borrowing that epic hat.