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The Rise of the Villains – or Hollywood’s New Found Appreciation of Maleficent’s Siblings

Good was good as long as we deemed it better than bad. Then we started to like bad, because we deemed it cool, not good. Ask Hannibal Lecter on this one. Or Breaking Bad. Or Dexter.

The world ever changes, “Everything Flows” is what Ancient Greek Grampa Heraclites knew, and now we have started to like bad, because, as popular culture finally teaches us, bad is in fact good, just from a different angle. 

Disney, ever so often manifestation of the cultural heartbeat of the hour, has finally realized the truth: there are no villains in this world – just misunderstood motivations, and it all depends on the perspective. The world has slowly started to turn the other direction, away from a clear black and white dichotomy onto shades of gray (more than fifty, I’m convinced). Good and bad are not longer categories that we can toss in each other’s faces.

In no other film has this been rendered more apparent than in the recent summer blockbusting prequel to a very passive Sleeping Beauty: Maleficent

There is lot to criticize about this film, cinematographically, storytelling-wise, executively, tonally. It is clearly faulty in several sectors of filmmaking. But this is not what I want to talk about here.

I want to talk about compassion, of all things. Every culture on the face of the Earth has a version of “walking in someone’s shoes” and this is the concept that led executives at Disney to believe a reboot of an animation classic with a shift in perspective would make for a good film.

Angelina Jolie is Maleficent, beautiful, powerful, and in love, with an impressive wing span that leaves us speechless. Love isn’t kind to Maleficent, leaves her stripped, impotent, vulnerable. Jolie’s cry of agony is pure and true. We know as an audience that we are witnesses to a tragedy, and our hearts reach out to her.
The acquisition of iconic evil fairy accessories (staff, head gear, dragon) as a character necessity is a genius move on behalf of screenwriter Linda Woolverton. Woolverton brought you Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, and boy, has she learned a lot since those simple storytelling times.

Angelina Jolie is Maleficent, she is the film, she deserves our compassion.

Poor boring Aurora, the girl bound to fall asleep. She has no chance against the powerful presence of Angie. Little do we care about the spindle, the index finger, the resemblance to the other Fanning girl we feel we know from approximately five million other films. But who cares, we knew Aurora was the good chick from the beginning.

We live in good times, times of movement. The Rise of the Other was at no point in time more visible than now. Game of Thrones features an incredibly sexy and smart Peter Dinklage, making thousands of people reconsider their understanding of attractiveness and desirability. In the wake of Brave and Frozen, executives have also warmed to the idea that love is not a property of boy and girl. Much alike Brave and Frozen, Maleficent successfully reminds us of this. Receiving a true love’s kiss from Angelina Jolie’s pouty lips would bring the dead back to life.

It is culturally less important how well crafted of a film Maleficent is – what counts most is the visibility, the availability, the accessibility of different possibilities of identities for generations to come. For many years, the Mouse has tried to teach us purist ethics and exclusive categories of good versus evil. Finally, it seems, the boundaries have begun to blur.

I recently applied for a job with Disney and in preparatory fashion, I sat down and thought why on Earth I wanted to work with this Monster Inc. And it comes down to this: no other company on the planet can claim to have cultivated to such extent a participatory culture. For decades, people have seen, enjoyed, consumed creative content made by the Mouse and made it their own. I cannot think of any other entity that has motivated their consumer to take content and run wild with it the way Disney does it. The Mouse is the mother lode of role playing, cosplay, and little people’s dreams.

This is why Maleficent is so important. Girls (and boys) will take this character and render it their own version. I expect every third Halloween outfit in 2014 to be Maleficent. We can anticipate that the success of said approach will bring us many more Disney Villains: Now Totally Good and Totally 3D! But this is only the business side of the business. I believe we should see the developments beneficial to the identities of young brains, who might gain from those films the understanding that all it takes sometimes is a little shift in perspective.

Who cares if Maleficent’s fairies are annoyingly ridiculous, the choice of Scottish accents incomprehensible, the unmotivated swamp creatures beyond CG sanity, the endless voice over’s infinitely pathetic, and the malfunctions of Maleficent’s head gear embarrassing? 

Our hearts break when Maleficent’s wings are taken.

"Ever-newer waters flow on those who step into the same rivers," Heraclites deemed some 2500 years ago, what we thought we knew is no longer valid, and, quite honestly, who is not looking forward to the tear-jerker “I’ve got biceps to spare” in Gaston: 3D? That guy needs a friend, seriously.

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