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Retelling a classic fairy tale: 'Maleficent'



Disney just released a trailer for Maleficent, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty from the wicked fairy's point of view starring Angelina Jolie (via Wikipedia):
"Maleficent is the untold story of Disney's most iconic villain from the 1959 classic Sleeping Beauty. A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman, Maleficent has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land's fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal - an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces an epic battle with the invading king's successor and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Maleficent realizes that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom - and perhaps to Maleficent's true happiness as well."
I am intrigued with the retelling of fairy tales—especially from the perspective of a different character. As I’ve said before, I think fairy tales are some of the best stories of all. While their settings are fantastical, the stuff of fairy tales is very human. The best of them, says J.R.R. Tolkien, deal with simple but fundamental things, “made all the more luminous by their setting.” In retellings, like Once Upon a Time and Snow White and the Huntsman, the tellers play with elements of the classic tales, but the key elements remain. Selfish choices end in evil curses. Love breaks a curse and brings the dead back to life. The power of love and the destructiveness of selfishness become more luminous and potent.

I find great power in telling a well-known story from a different perspective. In telling Sleeping Beauty from Maleficent’s point of view, we will learn Maleficent’s story—why she became the person we meet in the original tale. Everyone has a story, even a villain. Often times, knowing someone’s story—even those we don’t like—humanizes them. It helps us understand and see them as they are: struggling, wounded and broken. And that often touches our own woundedness and brokenness, which gives us a context in which to relate to them. It not only helps us understand them better, but also ourselves.

Retelling this classic story from Maleficent’s point of view also leaves me curious to see how this film deals with one of the most compelling aspects of fairy tales: as J.R.R. Tolkien puts it, the “consolation of the happy ending.” Fairy tales don’t deny the existence of sorrow and failure, he says — in fact, “the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and … [gives] a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”

In the original classic, Maleficent ends up a heap of ashes. It’ll be interesting to see if and how happy endings play out for her.

The film is set for release in May 2014.

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