“And Prove That True Love Conquers All!”: Motherly Love and Modern Romance in Robert Stromberg’s Maleficent

Most of us have learnt about classic fairy tales thanks to the Disney animated adaptations, but probably younger generations will learn about them through the movies that have been released recently. Mirror Mirror (2012) by Tarsem Singh and Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) by Rupert Sanders have paved the way to Maleficent, the latest jewel in the Disney crown. Directed by Robert Stromberg (an American special effect artist who has now made his directorial debut) and strongly influenced by its protagonist and executive producer Angelina Jolie, the film is a dark tale of violence, hatred and revenge. Everybody knows the plot, based on La belle au bois dormant by Charles Perrault and Dornröschen by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, but there two elements which break the traditional story.

01 (9)The first is the relationship between Maleficent and Aurora (Elle Fanning). The princess, born to King Stefan (Sharlto Copley) and Princess Leila (Hannah New), grows up alone, isolated from her native family and unattached to the three fairies who should look after her. The only constant presence in her life is the dark witch, who follows her like a shadow, ready to help her or make her play; no wonder Aurora thinks she’s her fairy godmother. This Maleficent doesn’t see Aurora as a threat, but treats her like a daughter, despite her attempts to scare her and to get rid of her at first.

Maleficent movie stills 07Aurora constantly seeks a physical contact and Maleficent, thought reluctant, gives it to her, even by taking her in her arms. It’s clear this is a mother/daughter-like bond, even if there is no real kinship between them. The message which Disney wants to give has a double value; first of all, the role of a biological mother moves to the background if she doesn’t raise her children, if she’s not there for them when they need her the most (during their childhood/adolescence). This is probably the message that Angelina Jolie wanted to give, too, since’s she’s the adoptive mother of three children. Secondly, the film follows the footsteps of Frozen and shows that motherly love can be stronger that a lover’s. Aurora is not woken by the kiss of a beautiful prince [1] but by the kiss of her symbolical mother, Maleficent, who realizes casting a spell on the princess has been a huge mistake. Similarly, in Frozen Anna’s love and not a prince’s helps Elsa to break free from her ice cage. I wouldn’t define this choice feminist, but there’s surely the idea that women don’t need men to save themselves; Aurora is not portrayed as the damsel in distress, waiting for a prince to break the spell. Furthermore, though independent and powerful, Maleficent is a mother figure, and this imbues the story with a certain atmosphere, where responsibility is as relevant as the desire to take revenge.

Maleficent-(2014)-167Another element which has been introduced in this film is the relationship between Maleficent and the raven which she turns into a boy, Diaval (Sam Riley). There’s no trace of this metamorphosis in the Disney 1959 movie, where Diablo was simply a bird. The shapeshifting ability of Diaval gives depth to the character and allows him to interact with his master. Their snappy dialogues, the special understanding they have of each other, the way they have of protecting each other reminds me of a classic bromance (think of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, for example).

Diaval_Maleficent_WallpaperDiaval is a mysterious character, a raven who becomes Maleficent’s wings after she’s deprived of hers. As a man, he serves his master but is able to stand up for himself and speak his mind. The scars on his neck and chest add mystery to mystery: we’re not given any explanation for them but they give him a certain dangerous charm. According to Vladimir Jakovlevič Propp, Diaval is a magic helper, the one who helps the heroine in her quest, i. e. taking revenge on Stefan [2] while protecting Aurora.

_1399577811As a raven, Diaval is loyal and even funny with his croaking remarks and odd faces. Maleficent pets him whenever she can ♥ Is there a romance going on between Maleficent and Diaval? Apparently not, but they can definitely be seen as companions, who carry the common burden of being magic creatures.

[1] Poor Prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaites) tries to kiss her but, much to his dismay, nothing happens.

[2] Stefan took Maleficent’s wings away, and this is a reason why she hates him so much. Moreover, to do so and become the new king, he took advantage of their long-lasting relationship (they had first met when they were children) and of her feelings for him.

Source, source, source and source.

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