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?
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.
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.”
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.