True Love Conquers All

Or, “My thoughts on a movie I haven’t seen”

Circa the early 80s, if you walked into the Watson household early in the morning, you likely found me in one place: the brown la-z-boy rocking chair in the corner of the family room, eating a pudding pop, watching either the Disney Valentine Special (featuring Pluto and the classic Johnnie Fedora) or Sleeping Beauty.

Sleeping Beauty.  Does it get any better?

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It really doesn’t.  Just artistically, it is a movie that we will never see the likes of ever again. I love everything about it- from the trumpets and the incredible opening scene with the kingdom coming to see their new princess, to the musical score, to the most dashing Prince ever to grace a Disney movie, to a great drinking song and a drunk minstrel, to the greatest villain Disney has ever created.

The greatest villain.  Why?  Because she is evil.

She is not a stepmother who is annoyed by or jealous of her stepdaughter.  She is not a rich woman who likes to wear fur coats, a pirate out for revenge, or a jealous town brute who wants to marry the town bookworm.

She is pure evil.

She is the exact opposite of Goodness, literally the “evil-doer” (male facere).  In the movie, she refers to herself as “The Mistress of All Evil.”

Needless to say, when I saw the first trailer for the movie Maleficent, I was angry.  Not only was Disney going to re-write their greatest story, they were going to strip it of its Christian allegory.

No longer did we have evil. We had a misunderstood female.

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I was expressing my disgust over the movie on Friday (again, with all honestly, I haven’t seen the movie and I probably never will), and one of my friends asked me why I was so mad.  I told him that we didn’t need a back story to try to explain why Maleficent was evil.  She was evil.  There are good guys and bad guys in fairy tales.  And she is the bad guy.  She is the devil.

He decided to play devil’s advocate.  “Joan, not even the Devil was always bad.”

True enough.  Okay, fine.  So we have an explanation in Scripture of the battle in heaven and the fall of the angels. But why? To justify it or explain it away?  No – not so that we have empathy for the Devil, but to warn us not to commit the oldest sin in the Book,  and so that we will be aware of the battle for our souls.

One of my friends saw the movie and loved it.  So this blog post is not to criticize her or her views.  I’m sure there are some great things about the film, and I’m sure Angelina Jolie is superb.  My friend was pleased that the movie was not a glorification of evil, and she saw it as a movie about redemption.

But from what I can tell, the movie only redeems Maleficent (which I argue should never really be done) by transferring the evil to someone else…

Bilge Ebiri points out, “[Stromberg and Woolverton are] a bit too enamored of their revisionism, and they don’t quite know what to do with the rest of the tale. …  In robbing Maleficent of her cruelty, the film doesn’t really reject the notion of evil — it merely transfers it to King Stefan.”

Gone are the Christian allegories that Disney’s Sleeping Beauty was laden with, and in their place we have a testament against patriarchy.  Sigh.  How banal.  Isn’t that passé yet?

Disney’s original Sleeping Beauty is Catholic — after all, it is the 14th century, as Philip reminds us.  Gothic architecture, standards, the monarchy.  The artistic inspiration for the movie was a 15th century Book of Hours — yes, a prayer book.

You even have a fairy practically quoting St. Paul.  As Philip heads out to destroy the powers of evil, Flora tells him to “arm thyself” with the shield of virtue and mighty sword of truth, “for these weapons of righteousness will triumph over evil!”  (Ephesians 6, anyone?)  And even when Maleficent takes away Philip’s shield of virtue, however you want to interpret that, he is still equipped with truth and love, so that after he battles through thorns (the Fall? the Passion?) he then defeats Maleficent and all the powers of hell.

Yes, she says that.  All the powers of hell.  Need to re-watch it?

“Sword of truth, fly swift and sure!  That evil die and good endure!”

That’s the story of Sleeping Beauty.  That there is good and evil in this world, and in the end, good wins.  As G.K. Chesterton famously said, “Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

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In the end, “true love conquers all.” That’s not a cliche, no matter how many spoofs we make about it.

It’s the Cross.

It’s the love of the three good fairies, who live as mortals for 16 years to protect Aurora and who risk going to the “forbidden mountain” to get Prince Philip.  “We can’t go there!”  “We must!”  It’s the love of King Stefan and his queen, who give up their daughter to protect her.  It’s the love of Prince Philip, who risks his life to save the princess.

That all disappears if we re-write the story to redeem the Devil.

Perhaps you think I’m crazy for spending my evening writing a blog post about a cartoon and an Angelina Jolie film I’ve never seen.  Maybe you didn’t even get this far in the post, thinking to yourself, “The lady doth protest too much.”

But it’s not just about the greatest Disney movie ever made.  It’s a manifestation of a cultural tendency to justify sin and explain away evil.  When I was little I used to think I could pray for Satan’s conversion and everything would be better.  Guess what?  That doesn’t work.  And every day of our life we face a choice: God or the devil.  It’s time to admit he exists and celebrate that he’s been defeated.

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16 thoughts on “True Love Conquers All

  1. Michelle says:

    I have to say I completely disagree. I thought the redemption in the new movie was more Christian. Because she didn’t set out looking for redemption, like in so many other redemption story movies. Redemption sought her out and found her and that is more true to our Christian redemption. He loved us while we were still sinners. He came to earth before we even knew we needed him.
    I thought Malificent was the best story Disney has ever made.

    • Joannie says:

      i’m so glad you commented! And I respect your opinion — especially since you’ve actually seen the movie.
      I would have at least liked a name change for her or something, then. ; )

  2. Michelle says:

    Perhaps in our enthusiasm to be counter cultural we demonize those who really could use some redemption. Perhaps she isn’t the devil but some one who needs true love just as much as any one else.

    I do agree with you though that prince Phillip is damn sexy in the original …. Or however you said it. 😉
    Even though it always creeped me out that he kind of violated her in her sleep.

    Also, I know it’s hard not to be a purist and hate any change when they remake your old favorites. I don’t know how I’ll feel when they remake beauty and the beast. But I will see it.

      • Joannie says:

        Those movies are different. I won’t like if they re-write them, but sure, share the back story. Why does Cinderella’s stepmom hate her? And let’s see if those differences can be reconciled. I bet Gaston and Beast went to high school together. Let’s find out.
        There’s a difference between the back story and redemption of those villains and Maleficent because Maleficent is not just a disgruntled female.

    • Joannie says:

      Fair enough. I agree that people wear gray hats, not black or white. But this is a fairy tale, and she’s no ordinary person. She is clearly demonic. We do a disservice to fairy tales when we blur the lines.

      And if they really wanted to make a bold statement, they would make the villain-turned-hero a white male and not just drag out the over-used theme of the evils of patriarchy and progress. 😉

      >

  3. Has anyone ever noticed the cross on Prince Philip’s shield? I never did until I was watching it with Maggie and Annie when they were little. I grew up when movies had a clear good vs. evil. I didn’t notice the Christian elements because our lives were pretty much permeated with it. It’s different today in the era of relativism. I feel sorry for kids today. Movies are the educators of SOME children today since their parents have pretty much checked out. It’s all so murky today. And while this might be about redemption, I don’t like that they had to cast Stephan as evil. Its sounds like a man-hater made the movie. Those people are so tiresome.

  4. Amen! I probably won’t see it either mainly because I’m not much of a theater goer (with some exceptions of course), but to hear that King Stefan becomes the bad guy annoys me greatly. Can we just stop with downgrading fatherhood? Unless he’s not Sleeping Beauty’s dad in this one, as I said, I haven’t seen it. But if he is I think that harms the film’s quality Immensely. Give us a film with a father embodying nobleness, virtue, love, and morals and then you have a redeeming flick. Okay, getting off my soap box.

  5. Now I want to see the movie (kind of), but I’m disturbed by the whole trend of bad-guy-as-protagonist. Batman The Dark Knight–joker was the real star of the show. Breaking Bad–even though I love Breaking Bad, I think people tended to root for him too much. There are others I’m just not thinking of at the moment. The muddying of good and evil . . . no one is really bad, just misunderstood.

    Also, thanks for this post. My girls have watched SB over and over again (now they’re on to Robin Hood), and this makes me feel better about it.

    Also (last time, promise), Philip doesn’t “violate” her in her sleep! It’s a peck on the lips. He doesn’t even touch the rest of her body. Totally innocent!

  6. Jill says:

    Ultimately what Disney wants is for people to talk about their movies and make $$$, and since they’ve ‘done’ all of the fairy tales, they’ve found a pretty ingenious way to make a huge chunk of change by rewriting them all. Have you noticed that our culture has this infatuation with always needing something new and flashy to entertain us? We’re not content with the same old thing. meh, fairy tales and princesses have been done to death! We want a NEW story. Disney’s just capitalizing on this so they can make money. It just annoys me that everyone is falling for it. If anyone is a “King Stefan” in real life, it’s the Walt Disney Company.

  7. Hi Joannie,

    I came across your comments here when randomly googleing for “best movies of love conquers all”, and wow, my heart just soared in fireworks when I read your comments on the new Angelina Jolie move (what’s it called – Maleficent? – haven’t seen it yet, but probably will soon).

    You are so right. A shield of virtue, a sword of truth, and I would add – a heart of love. It’s the greatest story ever told and the only one that really matters. It seems that there are untold tons of confusion about what really happened on the cross. People who tend to understand seem like those who have sacrificed themselves for their children or for others they truly love.

    Love is so simple and yet so infinitely profound. I agree with you – good is good and evil is evil. I can only hope that many more people with a keen sense like you saw through the attempt to confuse the message.

    True love conquers all….

    Thank you for your courage, and your virtue, and your love.

    -Jeff

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