The Lost Arts of Womanhood: Review of Maleficent

Spinning by Jean-François Millet (1614-1675)

Spinning
Jean-François Millet
(1614-1675)

My daughter loves the fiber arts. She knits, crochets, weaves, and spins.

Therefore she looked forward to seeing the movie Maleficent because, surely, she thought, they would correct the heinous error of depicting Sleeping Beauty pricking herself on the distaff of a foot-treadle machine.

The rage when she saw Disney repeat the stupidity of the original was amusing to behold. I made sure I drove home, so that her rage would not in any way compromise our safety.

It’s as though you said that Samson could only die when his hair was shaved, and they proceeded to cut off his hair with a piece of rope.

The spindle of the original story was the long spike on a great wheel, sometimes known as a walking wheel. The great wheel causes the spindle to turn rapidly. You use this twirling spike both to twist the thread and also to wind the thread onto the spike.

The reason the spike gets so sharp is the friction of the fiber slipping over the end of the spike when the fiber is held out from the spike, to give the thread its twist. A well-used walking wheel will become well-polished and wicked sharp.

A Feminist’s Uninformed Dream

The one-sentence summary of Disney’s Maleficent is:

A vindictive fairy is driven to curse an infant princess only to realize the child may be the only one who can restore peace.

From the movie posters and trailer you get that Maleficent is the main character. So you know she’s going to turn out to be the secret hero of the movie somehow. The Princess Aurora looks pretty nice in the promos, so it’s unlikely she’s a baddie.

All the men in this movie are baddies, unless you count the sometimes human raven as a man or the tween Prince as a man. The actual human males in this movie are one-dimensional and (except for the Prince) they are pretty much evil from the get go.

There was such a missed opportunity by failing to focus on the destruction of the spinning wheels. How the heck do you have fabric if there are no spinning wheels? This is a huge impact on society, destroying one of the major products women created in those days.

Maleficent is a strong character in this film, but she is made strong by destroying the credibility of every other female in the story, other than Aurora. Aurora’s mother loses everything: father, choice of spouse, daughter, husband’s care, and eventually her life. She gets almost no screen time, and precious little exposition. As for the three “good” fairies, they are only good as comic relief, and not very good comic relief at that.

Parents?

If you watch Maleficent, think about the parents you see in this film, then re-watch the original Disney Sleeping Beauty and check out the comparatively rich characterization of the parents involved. The child in Maleficent is treated as a commodity. You don’t get the sense that any of her parents or guardians actually cares for her. The movie makers didn’t have to do that to effect their plot twist.

The character who becomes King Stefan is emotionally manipulative and causes both emotional and physical harm throughout the movie. He is determined to thwart Maleficent. Given the “magic” of this world, he could easily have defeated her. But not only is he evil, he is apparently stupid.

Great Visual Effects

The visuals on this movie are strong. And there are plot points that will delight some people. I’m not vehemently sad I watched it. But it could have been so much better.

And they could have gotten the bit about the spindle correct…

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the LDS church for over four decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation, and is working on a midrashic treatment of the events in Nauvoo associated with early polygamy.

8 thoughts on “The Lost Arts of Womanhood: Review of Maleficent

  1. I read another review of this movie that said that Jolie was the one and only reason this was any good. The anti-male stance only confirms I won’t even rent the thing (much less watch it). Too bad, as it looked well made from a production standpoint.

  2. Remaking the story, I would love version of the tale where they develop the treadle wheel, a spinning wheel that doesn’t have a sharp spindle and command that all the women discard their old great wheels.

    I even rather like the idea of Maleficent knowing where the child is, unbeknownst to the other fairies, and becoming fond of the child.

    I’d kind of like a version of the tale where Aurora, having come to admire Maleficent, realizes that Maleficent will die if the curse is not fulfilled, and decides to fulfill the terms of the curse of her own free will (rather than go all possessed to getting pricked).

    Geoff, I’d love to hear you say “wicked sharp” with a Boston accent…

  3. It’s true, it could have been so much better. It was good, but not great. With a $200 million budget, (also the budget for X-Men: Days of Future Past) you expect the visual effects to be spectacular and they were. Unfortunately, a large budget doesn’t buy you a great story. I thought the principle of sacrifice, to which you referred with possibly Aurora choosing to save Maleficent, was largely missing, which, in my opinion, would have elevated the film by leaps and bounds.

  4. Meg, I think your daughter and I would be excellent friends. I mean, come ON! Was it too difficult to google, “pointy spinning wheel?” The world is not like it was in ’59 when no one had a ravelry account. Imbeciles.

    I really like your suggestion for a deeper, more meaningful Sleeping Beauty. I always liked to think that the bonfire of wheels made the Establishment highly unpopular with the masses – the price of fabric would have gone up, and those unable to afford it would have had to dress in rags. So when all the castle fell into its magical slumber, I don’t imagine that the masses would have felt so bad about it. So what if they got conquered by a neighboring kingdom? At least they didn’t have to be naked any more.

    On a slightly different note, I am a bit surprised that the film industry prefers to recycle old Disney themes instead of delving deeper into the original source material. If they wanted a darker film, they could have gone with a treatment of “The Sun, The Moon, and Talia,” which tells the tale of a girl who gets raped in her sleep by a passing prince, who impregnates her with twins. Or even the later, slightly less horrific version by Charles Perrault that includes intrigue on the part of Sleeping Beauty’s Mother-in-Law, who is a cannibal.

  5. Hi Beth,

    When I was a child we had a book of fairy tales that included a vast array of stories, like one from Asia about painted cats on scrolls that became real in the middle of the night and consumed a monstrous ox-sized rat that had been terrorizing the neighborhood.

    That version also had the element in Sleeping Beauty of the rapist prince and the cannibalistic mother-in-law. Or so I infer, since my mother took a magic marker to that page, “redacting” it from the story. I’m pretty sure she confirmed that was the kind of content she had felt so heinous as to require such extreme censorship.

    It would have been unavailable to modern folks to have both the prince and Maleficent fail to arouse Aurora, only to have the prince proceed as if Aurora was fine, wed the unconscious young woman, produce twins on her, and then have it be the “kiss” of the sucking babes that arouses her, because there is no love more pure than a child for its mother/food source.

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