How infuriating, and frankly insulting, that in 2014 the stereotype of the evil stepmonster is still somewhat robust in film iconography, yet in our real lives it's rarely the case.
This is why I am grateful for Disney’s Maleficent, which is more than a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, but a triumph for women everywhere who choose to parent children to whom they did not give birth.
OK, in truth Angie isn't actually Aurora’s stepmother, but it's not for lack of trying. She did want to marry Aurora’s father, Stefan, but you know how it goes when you're a fairy dating a human. Sometimes the guy you like enters into an evil alliance with a king bent on trying to destroy you. Been there.
Despite the fact Maleficent is based on Disney’s original Sleeping Beauty, they were willing to eschew the outdated image of the character's villainous revenge fantasies in exchange for a supermom with powers befitting a mother of six with an Oscar, and a few Golden Globes, whose hobbies include "U.N. Ambassador."
Let's not forget that from a historical perspective, most modern fairy tales including Sleeping Beauty were written by the anti-feminist, sardonic Brothers Grimm. Arguably, two of the most misogynistic and twisted siblings ever to put pen to paper. (But, then again, so was everyone in those days.) Theirs are tales of morality designed to keep women in their place by offering ideas such as if a woman is childless, she then must also be unloving, evil, and visually detestable. Fortunately, female empowerment in children's films continues to evolve. Veteran Disney screenwriter Linda Woolverton, the studio’s first-ever female animated film scribe, started the ball rolling with Beauty and the Beast, for which she fought tooth and nail to make Belle a tomboy who pursued her own interests ahead of any man's. And now Woolverton has created Maleficent, demonstrating her remarkable progress (having also co-authored The Lion King) in creating strong, independent female role models.
That said, here are the top five reasons Maleficent is a love note to non-bio moms everywhere.
1. She put her own pain aside to be there for Aurora
Photo credit: Disney
Could you be rejected by your "one true love" only to then turn around and parent his abandoned child? Not many of us could, but from the very beginning Maleficent watches over Aurora making sure she is fed, safe and loved. In one scene the bumbling fairies who are tasked with Aurora's care don't know what to feed her and decide spiders are probably what human babies might eat, until Maleficent sends a flower that gives milk (an obvious metaphor for a nurturing mother, but highly effective in the heartstring-pulling department).
2. Speaking of "one true love"...
After being rejected by Stefan, like any thinking woman, the idea of true love, or "the one" starts to feel a bit iffy to Maleficent. She no longer believes in romantic love, but what we come to find out... without giving anything away... is that the truest love may be between a mother and child.
3. Like any good mother, she always has an alternate plan
As Maleficent begins to care for Aurora her plan is to just simply lift the curse. When she realizes that isn't an option, she decides on an alternate plan... devote her entire life to protecting the child until the age of 16, the date of her "get out of curse jail free card."
4. While in exile, Aurora is raised by a makeshift family group
Despite their general ineptness (which is mainly for almost Shakespearean comic effect, anyhow), Fittle, Knotgrass and Thistletwit (and, silently, Maleficent) are a coterie of four mothers. If that’s not a non-traditional, feminist parental model, then I don’t know what is. She's raised properly (thanks to Angie) and acquires a proper sense of curiosity and wit (thanks to the bumbling fairies).
5. She teaches us that we can recover from adversity
The punishing, assault-like removal and loss of her wings is enough to crush anyone's soul. But Maleficent re-channels her rage into love and is ultimately rewarded with their restoration poetically given to her by her true love, Aurora, teaching us that love is the key to recovery, and we can come back from even the most crippling of traumas.
Photo credit: Disney
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