Jun 2, 2014

Maleficent: A Disney Fairy Tale That's Not Heterosexist

When I was a kid, I hated fairy tales. All about princes rescuing princesses, or else being told "if you accomplish this quest, I'll give you the princess."  I'd rather get a prince.

And the worst of the lot was Perrault's Sleeping Beauty.  You can't even say her name without objectifying women, and what's with the sexual symbolism?  A girl lies sleeping, waiting for a guy to climb into her bed and "awaken" her?  

Maleficent (2014) turns the tale on its head, starting with the evil fairy herself: she's a young girl with horns and bat-wings (Isobelle Molloy), who enjoys zooming through the stratosphere and playing with the various elves, fairies, and nature spirits of her kingdom (no one explains why she was named "Evil-doer").  She and the human Stefan (Michael Higgins) meet and fall in love, and on  her sixteenth birthday, he gives her "true love's kiss."     

But the adult Stefan (Sharito Copley) betrays her and cuts off her wings in a scheme to become king.  Now crippled and desolate, the brooding Maleficent  (Angelina Jolie with prosthetic cheekbones) gets revenge by putting a curse on his newborn daughter, Aurora: on her sixteenth birthday, she will fall asleep, and can only be awakened by "true love's kiss." 

As Maleficent and her crow-turned-human sidekick Diaval (Sam Riley) watch Aurora (Elle Fanning) grow up, they begin to care about her, and even invite her to live among the fairies.  As her sixteenth birthday approaches, Maleficent tries to remove the curse, but is unsuccessful: she falls asleep right on schedule.  

Aurora had been flirting with Prince Philip (Brenton Thwaites) earlier, so Maleficent drags him to the castle and forces him to kiss her, but it's not "true love's kiss."  

You'll never guess what finally awakens Aurora.  I was completely surprised.  

Hint: it's not hetero-romance.

Hetero-romance is of minimal importance in this brave new world.  None of the adults display the slightest heterosexual interest, not even King Stefan, and there is no wedding at the end. Instead, same-sex or cross-sex friendships drive the plot.

I especially like the platonic friendship between Maleficent and the gay-coded Diaval.

Incidentally, Sam Riley's nude scene provides the only beefcake in the movie, although both Brenton Thwaits and Jackson Bews (the teenage Stefan, top photo) have displayed respectable physiques elsewhere.

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