Posts Tagged ‘Disney’

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Sam chats with artist Sara Talmadge and the two bond over their mutual love of Tangled and their mutual not-as-much-love for Frozen.

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Sam has a pleasantly giddy conversation with Claire Hummel. The two talk about Disney, historical costuming, and then pretty much geek out over animation.

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Into music: “French Kiss” by Mrs. Howl

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Before Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra gave us a glut of charismatic and realized female characters, before Steven Universe brought us diverse, retro-futuristic superheroes like Garnet, Amethyst, and Diamond, and before Gravity Falls and Bob’s Burgers gave us silly yet poignant characters like Mabel, Tina, and Louise respectively (two of which are voiced by Kristen Schaal), there was the first wave of female cartoon characters that influenced a generation of children, girls and boys, and paved the way for the latest Renaissance of animation where more gender and racially diverse casts are becoming the norm. Representation in media may not seem like a huge deal to some, but we often forget (some more than others) that, as children, the media we consume imprints on us in ways we don’t fully understand until well into adulthood. The goggles of nostalgia being what they are, the current generation is benefiting from what my, and the generations before me, lacked.

Animated cartoons as a medium of entertainment have roughly been around since the turn of the 20th century when the 1908 French film, Fantasmagorie, featured the first instance of traditional, hand-drawn, animation. From there, animated shorts began appearing as experimental films themselves or as shorts before features. Walt Disney and Warner Bros. both developed their signature styles and characters through these shorts. But it wasn’t until 1958 that we got the first purely animated half-hour show featured on television, Hanna-Barbera’s Huckleberry Hound. Two years later we got The Flintstones and the rest, they say, is cata_bettyboophistory. But like the history books we read, the figures dominating the scene were mostly male and white – though I have no idea what the racial breakdown is amongst characters like Wally Gator, Snagglepuss, and the cast of Top Cat.

Female characters in early animation and even in the classic cartoons from the 30s on down were largely used as nagging wives, wide-eyed innocent dimwits, or sexual objects. The 60s and 70s gave us some marginal steps forwards with Josie and the Pussycats and Scooby-Doo, but the ad hoc mystery-solving teen plus animal sidekick shows rarely produced memorable, let alone influential, female characters. As for depictions of race in cartoons, yeah we all know why Disney and Warner Bros. keep a lot of those locked away. Though kudos to Amazon and iTunes for adding a disclaimer to the Tom and Jerry cartoons. It’s a necessary step in educating people on how cartoons, like any medium, are the product of their time and what was considered acceptable.

So why am I bringing this up? Why am I adding historical context to what is ostensibly a list of favorite female cartoon characters from the 80s and 90s? Because we need to understand how the cartoons kids and adults watch now got to this point. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still the continuing tropes of the Smurfette Principle and Tokenism in many cartoons airing currently, but now more than ever are audiences likely to voice their opinions and demand change. Furthermore, creators of these cartoons are more likely to purposefully craft these new cartoons because they understand the changing climate and the need for greater representation and character types. And when you start looking at where the seeds of change were planted, it’s only a few decades back when impressionable kids like myself got a taste of what was yet to come.

 

Babs Bunny (Tiny Toon Adventures) and Dot Warner (Animaniacs)

For all intents and purposes, Babs and Dot share very similar character traits. For one, they’re both voiced by the incomparable Tress MacNeille, but they’re also characters who, like their male counterparts, are just as silly, if not sillier. It’s not a case of them being “just one of the guys”, Babs and Dot are active participants in the shenanigans of their respective shows. And they’re funny as hell!Babs

Though Babs is the epitome of the Smurfette Principle on a visual level (right down to being pink), the writers of Tiny Toons made her a character in her own right. She’s obsessed with perfecting her impressions and goes to great lengths to show her mother just how funny she is despite the lack of attention. There was also a very touching episode called “Fields of Honey” where Babs laments the fact that she has no mentor the equivalent of Buster to Bugs or Plucky to Daffy, though she ends up finding a mentor in the made up Honey of the Bosko and Honey cartoons from the 30s. It’s a bit of commentary on the fact that the Looney Tunes lacked female characters save for Granny, Witch Hazel, and the poor cat often harassed by Pepe Le Pew. Tiny Toons may have created some female counterparts to their male characters, but they made sure they were distinctive. Elmira, anyone?

dot and melDot, like Babs, somewhat embodies the Smurfette Principle, but like her older brothers she’s just as capable of being the voice of reason as she is being an instigator of their torturous fun at the expense of others. Adorned in a little pink skirt and a bow on her head, Dot also has the added dimension of acting “girly”, often proclaiming to others how cute she is, but never lacks in hilarity because of it. Her cuteness, the frequent catchphrases of her ridiculously long name, and the monstrous pet living in a tiny box, all create a complete package. And she’s just as prone to exhibiting the “female gaze” on attractive men as her brothers are on women even if the phrase, “Hello, Nurse!” doesn’t apply in Dot’s case, though that makes it even funnier. This was, of course, a play on what male characters in the Warner Bros. cartoons would do when faced with a sexualized female character, but in the case of Animaniacs, Dot could be just as obsessively attracted to someone as Yakko or Wakko. Babs definitely had her moments like this as well, but most of her efforts were put into getting Buster’s attention. Dot had no ongoing “love interest”, she was just interested.

 

April O’Neil (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)april-o-neil

Though she’s gone through as many iterations as her terrapin friends, April is usually the grounding element for viewers in case a title like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles didn’t completely prepare you for what the show was about. It’s through April (voiced by Renae Jacobs) we learn the origin story of the turtles and it’s through April that the turtles usually have reason to get involved with the plot. Saving April from whatever mess she’d gotten herself into was part of the formula of the show, but that formula also showed us that April was the type of reporter who would do anything to get her story. The whole reason she meets the turtles is because her continued investigation into the Foot Clan puts her face to face with Shredder’s goons, driving her into the sewers to save herself. Though Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was considered a boys cartoon, their main source of information and connection to the city above was an ambitious woman willing to put herself in danger because she believed in doing the right thing or getting the best camera angle.

 

Lydia Deetz (Beetlejuice)

LydiaBased, and I mean loosely based, on the movie of the same name, the cartoon version of Lydia (voiced by Alyson Court) was a breath of fresh Gothic air in the cartoon landscape. Keeping the bright, pastel settings of Tim Burton’s suburbia, Lydia continued to stick out with her black hair, pale skin, and purple eyeshadow in comparison to the perpetually tanned and blonde-haired girls that populated her middle school. Her story is not that dissimilar from other girls whose interests and looks deviate from what it considered “normal”. She’s isolated and alone and not even the well-intentioned platitudes of her parents make the loneliness go away. Fortunately for Lydia, she has a place she can go to escape the world that ineffectively forces her to conform where a friend awaits who truly understands her and cares about her for the person that she is. In the Neitherworld, Beetlejuice’s home, Lydia can be herself and through her friendship with Beetlejuice she comes into her own as a girl of intelligence and spirit willing to play along with her friend’s schemes and have fun in her topsy-turvy home away from home. It’s what we all wish for, the ability to escape for a while and spend time with a friend who brings out the best in us. Being Goth, however, though it ostracized her from the other people in her cookie cutter community, was never depicted negatively. In fact, it’s what made Lydia distinctive, an individual with a mind of her own. She paved the way for characters like Sam Manson (Danny Phantom) and Marceline (Adventure Time), showing that Goth girls are more than just heavy eyeliner and an interest in spiders. Though that red outfit…man, do I want that for Halloween!

 

Gosalyn Mallard (Darkwing Duck)gosalyn

By all rights, and I swear I’ll fight you over this, Gosalyn Mallard is the perfect example of a tomboy in cartoons. There’s honestly no other character like Gosalyn (voiced by Christine Cavanaugh), that I can think of, who exhibits the same traits and sports the same attitude. A ball of energy and spunk, Gosalyn is the adopted daughter of Drake Mallard, better known as Darkwing Duck. And while most superheroes struggle with balancing home life with their heroic activities, one of Darkwing’s greatest obstacles is keeping Gosalyn away from danger. This is a girl who thinks having a superhero father is the greatest thing ever and isn’t afraid to jump in the sidecar of a motorcycle and follow him into the fray. Gosalyn is Darkwing’s biggest fan, always encouraging him to take down the bad guys no matter how many punches it takes – to them or to him. She’s smart, quick-witted, and ridiculously adorable when she needs to be, which all feeds into her desires to sidestep Darkwing’s rules and be an active participant in taking down the criminals of St. Canard. Gosalyn has even joined Darkwing as a hero in her own right; as Yucky Duck, the Crimson Quackette, and the Quivering Quack, though never for very long. It’s also the father-daughter relationship that maintains the emotional core of the show, another aspect that isn’t explored all that often in cartoons. Many episodes made sure to show how much Darkwing and Gosalyn love each other, including an episode where Gosalyn’s accidental trip to the future showed a darker version of her father obsessed with extreme order and justice because he thought he couldn’t save her. Without Gosalyn, Darkwing isn’t the same hero, showing how important her presence and her encouragement are to the “terror that flaps in the night”.

 

Gadget (Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers)

gadget2Yet another character voiced by Tress MacNeille, this one you could say is my bias poking through because people probably remember Rescue Rangers for the catchy theme song and its titular characters than they necessarily remember Gadget. But if you do remember Gadget as being more than “The Girl” of the group, then you’re also aware of how a character like her could be inspiration to young girls who might have dreams of going into fields like science or engineering. Gadget is a genius and the resident inventor of the group, always ready to MacGyver a piece of machinery out of what we might consider junk to help save the day. Granted, her inventions didn’t always work as planned, but Gadget was always quick on her feet to repair or alter her inventions when need be. Still, she suffered from the occasional bouts of self-esteem, especially when it came to her usefulness and her place on the team. One of the more well-known episodes deals with Gadget suffering from an identity crisis after her inventions repeatedly fail, leading her to join the Cola Cult in order to find a place to belong. Of course, by the end everything works out. This is Disney. Still, episodes like “The Case of the Cola Cult” are important to fleshing out characters, even if we don’t notice it as much when we’re children. It showed Gadget on another level, a girl who could experience self-doubt yet still find a way to overcome it. Despite her failures, Gadget keeps trying.

 

Detective Elisa Maza (Gargoyles)Elisa Maza

Like April O’Neil, Elisa Maza (voiced by Salli Richardson-Whitfield) serves the purpose of being the human connection between the newly woken gargoyles and the modern world. A detective for the NYPD, Elisa is the second human Goliath encounters in New York, but she proves to be the most influential, showing him how Xanatos and Demona are using him and his clan for their own purposes. Though she often acts as the voice of reason and a source of sisterly comfort, Elisa is just as prone to impulsiveness and obsession when it comes to her job in the police department. She’s not afraid to confront those more powerful than her, especially when she sees them abusing their power at the expense of those incapable of defending themselves. Dealing with the mob, monsters, and her own family are just about on equal footing in Elisa’s world, though she’s never one to back down from a fight. And while it shouldn’t be a significant factor, Elisa’s mixed-race heritage was a huge step in the right direction for female characters and cartoons in general. Elisa is half African-American and half Native American, though she and her siblings seem to favor one race over the other instead of an actual mix. The point, however, is that Elisa being the product of a mixed-race family is important for the greater themes of representation in media. The default for female leads can’t be “white” anymore than it is for male leads and children need to be able to see themselves in the media they consume. We can all identify with a character who’s different from us, but we also need to see ourselves reflected back, to know that we’re just as important. And Elisa got to be that character for some kids.

So, yeah, that’s a lot of words about a few characters but they’re characters I believe shouldn’t be discounted for how they potentially influenced a generation of children who would or will grow up to be the next wave of creators in animation and media in general. Their impact, great or small, is still an impact worth noting.

So, who would you add to this list? I know there are more out there, but these were the characters most memorable to me. Let me know who and why!

Sam goes one-on-one with Andy Suriano, artist and sometimes writer for the Samurai Jack comic book. Andy was also the concept and storyboard artist for Samurai Jack the cartoon and has worked on a number of other animated programs like Sym-Bionic Titan and the current TMNT cartoon for Nickelodeon.

The Little Mermaid

I feel like going on a Disney kick right now. In light of the recent controversy surrounding Princess Merida and Disney’s most recent statement not to back down from using her revamped image for marketing purposes, I thought I’d muse a little bit about another movie starring a red-headed princess, The Little Mermaid.

Now my aim is not to hate on the film. I clearly remember loving it as a child, but as I’ve grown up and re-watched it, there are a couple of thoughts that spring to mind when you consider Disney’s adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s relatively dark fairy tale. And since I clearly have a lot of time on my hands and, unlike Paul McCartney, no hole to fix, my mind has wandered to these thoughts that I will now share with you. It’s really for the best since they’re just taking up space that could be better put to use on some other rant-based article.

In terms of the overall story, I’m not really going to delve into that aspect, though I would recommend watching the Nostalgia Chick’s video about The Little Mermaid since she does make some excellent points about character development and yadda, yadda, yadda. If I were to sum it up: Ariel gives up everything for a guy she just met, makes a bad deal with Ursula, her father Triton learns a lesson while Ariel learns nothing and gets what she wants. The end! Yeah, I’m not looking to do what’s already been done. Nope, these are just some extra tidbity thoughts for you to consider. That, or I’m about to ruin your childhood.

Sorry? You’re welcome? Anyway, here we go!

 

What About Ariel’s Sisters?

Remember how Ariel was late to that whole concert thing in honor of her father, Triton? Remember who was singing his praises before everyone realized Ariel wasn’t sitting in her scallop ready to display “her voice that’s like a bell?” That’s right, Ariel’s six older sisters! (Side Note: It’s really Sebastian’s fault for not checking that ALL of the daughters of Triton were present and accounted for. Seriously, who puts on a concert without checking all of the performers are there?)Daughters_of_Triton

So Ariel has six older sisters: Attina, Aquata, Andrina, Arista, Adella, and Alana. They all give a lovely little display of their own singing abilities before bestowing praise on their youngest sister as the greatest gift to mer-kind. Other than the very brief scene where her sisters pick up on the fact that Ariel’s in love, we don’t see them again until the end of the movie at Ariel and Eric’s wedding. Now, if I were any one of the older sisters, I’d be just a bit peeved with the amount of attention Ariel gets. Their father clearly favors her since he’s really concerned with just about everything she does (he’s also super controlling), puts all of his resources into finding her when he thinks she’s – for lack of a better term – run away from home, and he gives up his trident and power to get her out of the deal with Ursula – thus condemning the entire kingdom to ruin over an idiot teenager’s dumb decision. I mean…is Ariel really that important? You’ve got six other well-behaved daughters who seem pretty content with being mermaid princesses. Then again, we don’t really know much about them, so I’m sure at least one of them could have a surly attitude if Triton bothered to pay attention.

Oh, and doesn’t that mean the eldest daughter, Attina, is next in line to rule Atlantica? Shouldn’t there be some concern for her story since, assuming at least a year between children, she’s 22 and unmarried while her 16-year-old sister marries the first human guy she meets within five days of meeting him? I mean, by Disney standards, Attina’s a spinster and her other sisters aren’t exactly fighting off the merman suitors either. What the hell? Where’s Game of Thrones: Atlantica? Obviously Ariel’s human daughter (The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea) isn’t going to take over a kingdom under the sea, so one of those princesses has to become queen when Triton rolls over and rises to the surface to be picked up by fishing nets.

I’m just saying, if you wanted a new television show to cash in on the fantasy/royal politics fad going on right now, here’s your opportunity.

 

What Does Ariel Eat While on the Surface and What do Mer-People Eat?

We learn in the first five minutes that most fish and crustaceans are sentient. They sing and dance and have big eyes that make you feel sympathy for them should they become sad. I really can’t imagine Ariel laughing with a cod one minute and then stabbing a fork into it for supper. Firstly because she doesn’t know what a fork is and secondly because they have no means of cooking, so that would definitely be awkward. If that’s the case, then what do mer-people eat? I suppose if you don’t even know what fire is, then there isn’t a lot of cooking going on, so the only possibility is they eat a lot of kale. Like, that’s the only thing they can eat. Hang on a second, though, we see Ursula chomping down Chef Louison a little shrimp with big, scared eyes when we first meet her, so does that make her a cannibal? Or is it just to emphasize that she’s evil? Probably the latter.

Then there’s the hilariously horrific sequence in the kitchen in Eric’s palace where Sebastian is essentially traumatized by the sight of fish and crabs being stuffed, fried, boiled, broiled, and served on a silver platter. Managing to escape to the dining room where Ariel is dining with Eric and his Alfred equivalent, she manages to get Sebastian over to her platter through a cunning use of distraction. But if he hadn’t been on the chopping block, would she have eaten the stuffed crab? For that matter, if Eric’s kingdom is by the sea, and all of Ariel’s friends and family are fish or part fish, wouldn’t that make things a bit awkward when entertaining guests?

“How’s the tuna, Ariel?”

“I sang a song with him once. We were the best of friends. I had no idea how delicious he was!”

She’d either have to get over it pretty quick, or outlaw fish from being consumed, punishable by death. Hopefully the cows aren’t sentient or no one’s going to be able to eat anything!

 

How do Mer-People Reproduce?

Uh…yeah, I think the less thought put into that the better. Plus Futurama and Saturday Night Live kinda covered this territory.

Moving on!

 

The Entire Movie is Over in Ten Minutes If Ariel Bothered to Write a Note

One slight turn from the original story opens up a lot of plot holes. The biggest one being that, had Ariel bothered to write a note to Eric along the lines of:

Dear Eric,

Hi, my name is Ariel. Yes, I am indeed the girl who rescued you from the shipwreck and carried you to shore where you clearly saw me. While you did hear me sing, I’ve unfortunately come down with laryngitis and find myself unable to speak or sing. Luckily, I’m capable of writing and have thus saved you the time of trying to guess my name and believing I’m not the girl who rescued you when clearly you recognized me as the same girl, but dismissed me when you found out I couldn’t speak.

Love,

Ariel (which is my name)

…then maybe we wouldn’t have a movie. It’s kind of a big plot hole, actually, when you consider that not only does Ariel sign her name on the contract with Ursula, but she signs it in cursive. You don’t teach someone to write just their name in cursive. You teach them to write in cursive because it’s formal writing befitting of a member of a royal family. So, when she gets to the surface, why doesn’t she write something down and explain herself? It’s never explicitly stated that she can’t write about it, only that she gives up her voice in exchange for legs.Ariel's Signature

Unless it was in the fine print that Ariel also forgot how to read and write along with losing her voice, there’s nothing preventing her from communicating with Eric through other means. Even Ursula suggests body language! Semaphore, carrier pigeon, singing telegram, all of these are viable options! But if she couldn’t talk or communicate otherwise, then we wouldn’t have the entire second act of the movie or “Kiss the Girl,” so make of that what you will. The only other explanation is that Eric is a vicious ruler who has outlawed reading and writing from his kingdom! Which means a rag-tag group of freedom fighters is gonna have to ride into the kingdom and stop this villainy from continuing!

 

So that’s all I got. Like I said, just some things that have popped into my head from time to time. Either you found this entertaining, or your ready to burn me in effigy. Let’s just say I’m flattered regardless.

Until next time…

Hipster Ariel

I’m going to admit this right off the bat: I was never excited or interested in a Maleficent movie. It isn’t that I don’t love the character. The exact opposite, in fact. I adore Maleficent because she’s one of the great Disney villains, a powerful sorceress with a wicked sense of humor who revels in her ownMaleficent-Angelina villainy. Oh and she can TURN INTO A DRAGON! She was hardcore before that was a thing, cursing a baby to die because she wasn’t invited to a party. But you know what I never wondered when watching Walt Disney’s 1959 classic, Sleeping Beauty? Gee, what’s Maleficent’s backstory? What would possibly make her so damn evil? Unfortunately, I seem to be in the minority with these thoughts because Disney thought they’d cash in on the current “You Don’t Know the Whole Story” trend of retelling popular fairy tales by completely botching everything that made Maleficent so badass and interesting to begin with.

Maleficent stars Angelina Jolie as the titular character who we first meet as an orphaned (this is Disney, remember), human-sized fairy with bird-like wings and horns. For some reason she’s the guardian of the Moors, the magical folk who live in peace and harmony opposite the humans who pretty much keep away from them because humans are a cowardly and suspicious lot. But one day a young peasant boy named Stefan wanders into their enchanted world of nature and the two become friends and eventually lovers. Maybe. It’s implied through montage. Unfortunately, Stefan (Sharlto Copley) is an ambitious young man and when the dying King offers the kingdom to the one who can kill Maleficent he drugs her and cuts off her wings with an iron chain. Heartbroken and embittered by Stefan’s betrayal, Maleficent gets her chance at revenge at the christening of Stefan’s daughter, Aurora. From there on out it’s a quasi-retelling of Sleeping Beauty only with more incompetent fairy protectors, an equally uninteresting and dull Aurora (Elle Fanning), and an “evil” fairy whose heart grew three sizes after finding true love through the role of surrogate mother to the girl she cursed.

angelina-jolie-maleficent-lgIf it wasn’t abundantly clear I don’t have a high opinion of this story. I got to experience the classic animated movies of my parents’ childhood while growing up during the Disney Renaissance and since then I’ve seen the company try to recapture the love and magic of their previous films while incorporating new technology and altering our perception of the typical Disney Princess movie. I get what they’re trying to do, I applaud it even. The current movie going audience demands a different type of female lead and Disney is not exempt from this. If anything, they’ve been updating their heroines since 1989, making them more proactive characters instead of the passive damsels of the early classics. There have been hits and misses along the way, but there was always a sense that Disney was learning from what didn’t work. Lately, though, it feels like the harder they try to tell a story that subverts their own tropes, the more complicated and unnecessary the stories become.

I’ve made my thoughts on Frozen known, but Maleficent is just a hot mess of a movie full of clunky exposition, an over reliance on CGI, and a story that essentially neuters one of the great Disney villains by turning her into an anti-hero. This isn’t a new thing, by the way, especially if you’re a comic book reader. It’s very common for villains to be turned into anti-heroes after they gain any measure of popularity from the fans. How do you root for a villain? Well maybe they’re not as villainous as you think. Done and done, problem solved. Such is the case with Maleficent. But in giving her a backstory, the movie practically strips her of everything that made her likeable to begin with.

So where do I start with what doesn’t work? Oh, I know! How about the fact that Maleficent was, forKing_Stefan_(Maleficent_Film) all intents and purposes, raped. Yeah, that’s right. When Stefan decides that his love of power is stronger than his love for Maleficent, he drugs her and physically mutilates her body by cutting off her wings. The aftermath scene where Maleficent wakes up to find her wings gone is filmed in such a way that is disturbing and uncomfortable on so many levels. I’m certainly not the only person who’s written about this, but it begs the question of whether or not anyone at Disney read the script and questioned the message being sent by these scenes. For that matter, why did screenwriters Linda Woolverton and Paul Dini choose this as the primary motivation behind Maleficent’s actions? It’s no longer about asserting her power over the “offense” of not being invited to the christening. No, that extremely cold and villainous curse she puts on Aurora is now Maleficent getting revenge on Stefan for jilting her and taking her wings. Even the spinning wheel is just a conveniently placed item, in a throne room for some reason, for her to utilize as the weapon of choice. And because we don’t want Maleficent to be beyond complete redemption, she doesn’t even curse Aurora to die, only to fall into a “sleep like death” with the caveat of true love’s kiss added as a special little “fuck you” to Stefan who gave Maleficent her “true love’s kiss” when they were sixteen.

maleficent-movieThis isn’t a movie about a “strong female character” who does as she pleases. This is a movie about a woman scorned whose every action is predicated on what others have done to her. Specifically, what a man has done to her. And you can get all bent out of shape about me going all “femi-nazi” on this movie, but I really don’t care. I’m all for adaptations and I could even get behind a reinterpretation of Maleficent, but this movie takes all the wrong cues from the animated movie and butchers what could have been an interesting look into the creation of a villain. When talking about the movie to The Hollywood Reporter, Woolverton said this about Maleficent’s motivation:

We based this on the Disney movie, not the fairy tale. I was looking at that scene, and I had done some research, and the biggest surprise is that she’s a fairy, not a witch. I’ve always wanted to do a dark fairy story. Then I watched that scene where she curses the baby, and I’m thinking “well if she’s a fairy, where are her wings?” Suddenly it was “boom. Lightbulb. Oh! It’s the wings!” Then I worked backward from there to create the Stefan relationship.

I don’t know where she got the idea that Maleficent was a fairy, but fine, let’s go with that. If you take that angle, then why is she human-sized while all the other fairies in the live action movie are small? Is there a hierarchy of fairies? Were there other human-sized fairies? If so, what happened to them? Those are the questions I’d rather Woolverton asked because they start to form a different story. Even in the animated movie there’s obvious animosity between Maleficent and the three good fairies Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. When Maleficent theatrically ponders why she didn’t get an invitation to the christening Merryweather clearly states, “You weren’t wanted.”

Now that’s a loaded statement. Why wasn’t she wanted there? What led to this bad blood between thesleeping_beauty_maleficent_dragon_phillip humans, Maleficent, and the good fairies? If you think about the animated movie, as a whole, it’s more about a battle between Maleficent and the trio of fairies looking after Aurora. They bestow the gifts on the baby, one of which actually lessens Maleficent’s curse from death to sleep, they rescue Phillip from Maleficent’s castle, and in the final battle they give Phillip the shield and sword needed to battle her when she TURNS INTO A DRAGON! Hell, Flora practically guides the sword into the dragon’s chest for Phillip. This is a story about fairies battling each other using human pawns. Any prequel would have to include the origin of Maleficent but there’s also room to explore the world she inhabits in-depth.

The live action movie even sets up that there’s tension between the humans and the Moors, so why wasn’t that the story? Maybe make Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather major players in a battle that splits the world of the Moors over aligning with the humans because Maleficent descends further into darker magic in order to ward off the humans who she sees as a threat to her world and her people. Battles, political intrigue, and magic would all still be possible but the movie would have room to explore Maleficent as a character in her own right instead of trying to retell Sleeping Beauty through a revisionist lens.

Flora Fauna and MerryweatherAnd by revisionist, I mean they make every character who isn’t Maleficent nearly intolerable. Clearly this movie is not meant for an audience who knows the animated Sleeping Beauty. Despite Woolverton claiming Maleficent is taking its cues from the 1959 film, which is an adaptation of the French fairy tale La Belle Au Bois Dormant with the score and songs adapted from the 1890 ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Maleficent bares very little resemblance to its animated predecessor other than Jolie’s outward appearance and the inclusion of the curse on Aurora. Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather aren’t even called by those names probably because their CGI, uncanny valley doppelgängers (played by Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, and Juno Temple) are so far off from the originals that it would be offensive to keep their names from the animated film. The movie goes out of its way to make the good fairies as incompetent as possible to the point that a young Aurora would’ve fallen off a cliff or starved if not for Maleficent’s interference during her childhood. All of that, however, is in service of bringing out her nascent maternal side that ultimately leads to the subversion of the “true love’s kiss” towards the end of the film.

Again, I understand what the movie was trying to do but the execution of it was poorly handled especially when Prince Phillip shows up so late in the story that you can see them telegraphing the big “twist” a mile away. Not that Phillip is all that interesting anyway. He and Aurora are about equal in terms of dullness. It’s sad really because there was some opportunity to give at least Aurora some character development but the movie opts for just having Elle Fanning smile a lot, cry, and fall asleep.

If I was going to harp on one more thing (and if you made it this far, congratulations and I’m sorry!),MALEFICENT I’d say the actual climax of the film really misses the mark. Granted, Stefan’s descent into madness is interesting and the film definitely sets up what should be a huge climactic battle between Stefan and Maleficent, but the movie takes away the one thing that always belonged to Maleficent: SHE TURNS INTO A FUCKING DRAGON! Not so this time around. Nope, turning into a dragon gets handed over to Maleficent’s lackey Diaval (Sam Riley) while she’s busy being captured in a net of iron. Really, movie? I mean, you had one job. One. Job. Make sure Maleficent turns into a dragon and you couldn’t even make that happen. For all the faults of the movie I could follow the logic and the purpose behind certain decisions, but when you take an iconic moment away from your main character I have to ask how much Woolverton and Dini were paying attention to the original movie.

It’s not like there wasn’t a way to make Maleficent turning into a dragon work within the parameters of the story. Sure, she’s weakened by the iron net over her, but people get surges of adrenaline all the time that help them overcome a lot of things. Why not make that Maleficent’s final act? She’s already woken Aurora, now she just has to deal with Stefan. Seeing him through the net, ready to strike with his sword, she use her last ounce of strength and magic to turn herself into a dragon, whipping the net off and going on the offensive. She deals with the soldiers and then charges Stefan, but he manages to stab her with the sword as they both fall from the castle. It’s a dark ending, but since Aurora is supposed to be the innocent ray of sunshine and hope, she sees the sacrifice made by Maleficent and makes sure to unite the Moors and humans. But I guess that would’ve messed up the already jumbled tone of the movie, so whatever.

640px-Phillip_and_aurora_in_maleficentThat’s not to say the movie doesn’t have it’s good moments. Angelina Jolie completely embraces the role of Maleficent and she has some fantastic scenes and great lines. Her interactions with Diaval are probably my favorite because the two actors have great chemistry. Sharlto Copley is woefully underutilized, but his scenes are still engaging as he falls further into madness. There are also some great designs on the Moors and the CGI is impressive, but it’s not enough to make the movie work as a whole.

I really wish I could’ve liked this movie more, but this doesn’t give me a lot of hope for the upcoming live action adaptations of Cinderella, Jungle Book, and Beauty and the Beast. Something’s getting lost in the translation here. The classic animated movies are timeless, but who knows how Maleficent will be viewed five, ten, twenty, or fifty years from now.