And potentially the greatest Disney villain of all time, and yet she didn’t even make my list of Disney villains. Why?
Hallmark manufactured a holiday called “Sweetest Day” to be in October as kind of a second Valentine’s Day to cash in all that gushy and sweet romance money. I, of course, don’t care but it did give me some food for thought (although perhaps not an original one). I have many thoughts on romance as it is portrayed in media, and for many, many children, their first exposure to the concept of “true love” is through Disney movies in general and the classic fairytale interpretations specifically. What movies/couples am I talking about?
1) Snow White and the Seven Dwarves – Snow White and Prince Charming
2) Cinderella – Cinderella and Prince Charming II
3) Sleeping Beauty – Aurora/Briar Rose and Philip
4) The Little Mermaid – Ariel and Eric
5) Beauty and the Beast – Belle and the Beast
6) Aladdin – Jasmine and Aladdin
7) The Princess and the Frog – Tiana and Naveen
8) Tangled – Rapunzel and Flynn
9) Frozen – Anna and Hans/Anna and Sven
This is a horrible introduction to romance or romantic relationships in general.
Random thoughts on various pieces of media I have consumed this week…
This entry does not actually refer to the original movie The Parent Trap nor the remake (although the original is silly fun). I’m referring to some of the terrible parenting choices made in Disney’s family pictures. Now, many of the animated movies because they are based on fairy tales are full of questionable lessons – heroines must be beautiful above all else, heroines fall in love with the first guy they meet, and the heroes can treat the heroines pretty badly as long as true love prevails. But beyond that, the parents in these movies also make some pretty awful decisions too. I’m not talking about step-parents because they are always obviously evil.
So here is a list, in ascending order of awfulness, of some of the worst parents Disney has ever put to film. I’m limiting this to animated movies that are strictly Disney (not, say, Pixar or Studio Ghibli) and strictly theater releases (not the straight-to-DVD sequels).
or, “Maleficient deserved better”
Book – Today nameless Kingdom 1 is celebrating the birth of Princess Aurora. Everyone’s been invited except the fairy Maleficient. I’m sure this will go well.
King Hubert (of nameless Kingdom 2) – Philip, meet your new bride.
Philip – I’m like 6 years old and she’s like 6 weeks old.
King Hubert – Welcome to the joys of arranged marriages. It’ll be fine once you both grow up a bit.
Flora – We’re here to bestow special gifts on the baby princess.
King Stefan – That’s cool.
Flora – I give the gift of beauty, because that’s the kind of message we send little girls. Nothing is more important than looks.
Fauna – I give the gift of song, because even a pretty girl needs some kind of talent. This seems like a good one for a princess who isn’t expected to really do anything.
Merriweather – I give the gift of…
[[Maleficient appears in a cloud of smoke]]
Maleficient – Hold it right there! So you decided to have a birthday party for the princess and you didn’t invite me?
Merriweather – Duh, of course not, because you’re evil.
Maleficient – Yes, that’s true, but it shows you have no common sense because saying that is only guaranteed to make me mad.
King Stefan – Um, would you like to join the party?
Maleficient – Yeah, I don’t think so, losers. But I’ll give the princess a gift too. On her sixteenth birthday, the pretty pretty princess will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and DIE.
King Stefan – Hey, stop her or something!
[[Maleficient vanishes in a puff of green smoke and evil laughter]]
Merriweather – You gotta admit, she’s got style.
Flora – Merriweather, focus! She just cursed the princess to die and you’re the only one who can help her.
King Stefan – You can undo the curse?
Merriweather – Um, no, because Maleficient is really powerful. But I can try to give the curse a happy ending. My gift is that the princess won’t die, but will fall asleep until awakened by true love’s first kiss.
King Stefan – Well that’s nice and romantic but I’m going to try to prevent this curse from happening. Burn all the spinning wheels in the kingdom!
Nameless queen – But that will destroy our textile industry! Darn that Maleficient!
Flora – We think it would be best for us to take your only daughter into hiding for sixteen years. We’ll raise her by ourselves without magic.
Merriweather – Without magic? Is that a good idea?
Flora – Maleficient will never think of it.
Merriweather – That doesn’t really answer the question.
Cottage in the Woods (~sixteen years later):
Flora – Well, we’ve successfully managed to raise a child for nearly sixteen years. Tomorrow is her birthday and we’ll take her home to her parents who must miss her terribly.
Merriweather – Why are we taking her home the day the curse is supposed to go down? Wouldn’t it be better to wait until after her sixteenth birthday?
Flora – Don’t start talking sense. Let’s send Briar Rose out into the woods while we make her a special dress and cake and clean up the cottage.
[[The fairies send Briar Rose out on a frivolous errand]]
Flora – Right. I’ll make the dress, Fauna makes the cake, and Merriweather cleans the house.
Merriweather – Typical.
Briar Rose – I just love the forest and all the animals and singing to the animals. And all the animals love me too, isn’t that right cute furry creatures?
Cute furry creatures – Right!
Briar Rose – Even though I’ve been raised by three strange women and don’t remember ever seeing a boy, I’m still dreaming of a prince who will come and fall in love with me and take me away from all this because that’s totally what girls dream about. Isn’t that wonderful and not at all pathetic?
Cute furry creatures – Right!
[[Briar Rose starts singing about her prince and coincidence of coincidences, the now grown Prince Philip happens to hear her singing and goes to investigate]]
Philip – That is the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen and she sings so well. Of course, she is singing to animals who appear to be dancing with her, but she’s so gosh darn pretty I don’t find that in any way weird or creepy. I’ll just join in here.
Briar Rose – So my animal friends are singing back. That’s…weird…no, wait, it’s a man. I mean, I’m guessing a man. I don’t remember ever seeing one and I have no idea how they should behave so I’m going to assume watching me from the woods and interfering in my singing time is romantic or something.
Philip – This is totally romantic. It’s like your dream, right?
Briar Rose – Well, luckily for you, none of the magical gifts I got when I was born included the least modicum of intelligence or common sense, so I am totally going to be in love with you at the end of this song.
Philip – It turns out intelligence and common sense don’t run in my inbred family line either, so I’m also going to be in love with you by the end of this song. Also, this sends the message that sixteen is the perfect marrying age for a girl.
Merriweather – You know, seeing how difficult it is for you two to make a dress and cake makes me wonder how in the world we managed to raise that girl from infancy to near adulthood without magic. I mean, I know that this is a fancy dress and a fancy cake, but the principles of cooking and sewing are the same no matter the scale or difficulty.
Flora – I told you to quit talking sense. Obviously we’re just clueless about this one very specific thing.
Merriweather – Well, okay, fine, if we’re going to ignore sense, let’s just use magic and get this done quickly and competently.
Flora – That’s not a bad idea. Just this once though. Let’s patch up every crack just to make sure no magic can be seen from the outside.
Maleficient – How hard is it for you idiots to find the princess?
Minion – Well, there are a lot of babies in the kingdom.
Maleficient – *blink blink* I guess I answered my own question. Move it before I roast you. Crow familiar, you’re the only one with any intelligence here besides myself. Go find that princess so I can make sure my curse goes down.
[[in the meantime, Briar Rose and Philip go their separate ways without even remembering to ask each other’s names]]
Flora – Pink!
Merriweather – Blue!
Flora – Pink!
Merriweather – Blue!
Crow familiar – Even the pig things probably would have seen this gratuitous display of magic. Well, back to my Mistress of Evil.
Fairies – Surprise! You’re totally a princess!
Briar Rose – Can I still marry this young man I just met and fell in love with?
Flora – Um, no. You’re already betrothed to marry Prince Philip. But hey, you’re a princess, not a peasant girl. Isn’t that great?
Briar Rose – Nothing matters without love. [[goes off to weep uncontrollably]]
Merriweather – Where did she learn that kind of angst?
Flora – Apparently teenage girls are born with it.
King Hubert – So are you ready to meet the girl you’re going to marry?
Philip – Yes. I just met her in the woods and I don’t even know her name.
King Hubert – You’re already betrothed and she’s coming her tonight!
Philip – Yeah, that’s great, but I’m going to get the mystery girl in the woods and bring her back here to marry. Laters! [[rides off]]
King Hubert – That’s great, son, just wreck any chance at long-lasting diplomatic ties with another kingdom because you think you’ve fallen in love. Marriage for royalty is not about love, darn it. And now I have to break the news to Stefan.
[[thus begins a drunken musical number that proves intelligence and common sense don’t run in either of these royal families]]
[[The fairies have left to escort Briar Rose/Aurora back to the palace, leaving the cottage empty]]
Philip – Hey, girl I was singing with today, are you here? I’m going to take you back with me and marry you. Also, it would be useful if I knew your name. [[is captured by Maleficient’s goons]]
Maleficient – Well, not what I was hoping to catch, but I’ll take you to my dungeon just in case you’re actually that bubble-headed blonde’s true love.
[[So, to review, the fairies have chosen to bring the princess back to the palace the very day the curse is supposed to go down instead of the day after when ostensibly the curse is broken by default and for whatever reason chose to bring her in secret so no one even knows to guard her or anything]]
Flora – So wait here and we’ll go get the king and queen. You know, your parents who will be happy to see you and will treat you like the princess you are, not a peasant girl. Seriously, do you know how much better your life is about to be as a princess?
Aurora – Nothing matters without love. [[weeps uncontrollably]]
Fauna – Maybe we should have let her date or something.
Merriweather – I’m beginning to think I should have gifted her with some common sense and intelligence. Then she wouldn’t be acting so ungrateful and wouldn’t be at risk for jamming her finger onto the spindle of a spinning wheel.
Flora – Merriweather, you’re talking sense again. Stop it. Princesses don’t need intelligence or common sense. They need beauty and a talent. She’s all set.
[[Fairies leave to fetch the royals while Maleficient takes advantage of their absence to enchant the princess into following the in no way ominous green light]]
Flora – Ok, so the reception is all set…Where did she go?
Merriweather – Probably going to find a spinning wheel. You know, it might have been a good idea to tell her about the curse so she would know better.
Flora – Merriweather.
Merriweather – Right, I’m trying to be sensible again. Let’s go find her.
[[The princess reaches the top of the tower where she finds a spinning wheel and more ominous green light; she touches the spindle and the fairies barge in]]
Flora – Maleficient! Where’s the princess?
Maleficient – Unconscious on the floor because she didn’t have the sense not to follow the ominous green light or to not touch the sharp pointy thing. But you didn’t give her any common sense or intelligence, did you? By the way, it wasn’t real smart bringing her the day of the curse deadline, losers. [[vanishes in green smoke]]
Fauna – Oh dear. How are we going to tell the king and queen we utterly failed?
Flora – We won’t. We’ll put the whole kingdom to sleep so they never know.
Merriweather – Wow, doesn’t that seem a little, well, evil to you?
Flora – Do you want to explain this to the king? Anyway, we just need to go find that young man she was talking about and get him to kiss her.
[[The fairies proceed to put the whole kingdom to sleep and head back to the woods to find the mystery boy; when they find the cottage is wrecked, they put two and two together and head to Maleficient’s to bust him out, which is pretty pathetic since he’s supposed to be the dashing prince]]
Evil Lair (Dungeon):
Maleficient – So here’s the deal. You are an idiot. That mystery girl you fell in love with this afternoon, or whatever approximates love in that empty head of yours, is actually the princess you’re betrothed to. That’s great, right? Yeah, except I cursed her and now she’s asleep until she’s woken up by true love’s first kiss, which is you. But I’m not totally heartless. I’ll let you out in a hundred years so you can go awaken your lady-love, which she is sure to appreciate even though you’ll be a decrepit old man.
Philip – Wow, that is evil. I mean, really evil.
Maleficient – I know. Laters!
[[The fairies manage to sneak into the Evil Lair and bust Philip out of the dungeon]]
Flora – We need you to wake up the princess. Here’s a magic sword and shield so you can be the dashing hero.
Merriweather – And I’m taking out that crow! [[turns it to stone]]
Flora – Wow, doesn’t that seem a little, well, evil to you?
Merriweather – On the surface of it, yes, but I’m a good fairy so whatever I do is good, right?
Flora – Right. And that totally justifies me putting the whole kingdom to sleep.
[[Philip proceeds to saving at every turn until finally he gets out of the Evil Lair]]
Merriweather – You sure this is the right dashing prince, Flora?
Maleficient – Fine. You want something done right, you do it yourself. [[covers the castle with thorny vines to slow up the inept prince]] You want a fight, you got a fight. Just me and all the powers of Hell! [[Maleficient undergoes an awesome transformation into an awesomer dragon]]
Fauna – Can she say that word? It’s 1959!
Flora – Wow. She did say that. Well, slay that dragon, Philip.
Philip – I, er, just dropped my enchanted shield.
Merriweather – *facepalm*
Flora – Fine, fine, we’ll enchant the already enchanted sword to kill the dragon if you can manage to throw the pointy end at the dragon.
Philip – Right, the pointy end goes in the terrifying monster! [[throws sword which stabs the dragon through the heart]]
Maleficient – If I was completely heartless, this wouldn’t have killed me. This is not fair! The princess is utterly vapid, the prince isn’t much better and is a lousy hero, and you are the cutesy-est fairies ever animated! I deserve a better fate! I deserve to be defeated by a better hero!
Merriweather – You’ll just have to wait until “Kingdom Hearts.” Cheer up, maybe you’ll even get your own movie someday.
Maleficient – AAGH!! [[dies]]
[[All the thorns magically go away and Philip finds the princess. He manages to kiss her on the first try, which breaks the spell and they proceed to the reception]]
Fauna – How nice everyone got a happy ending. Except Maleficient.
Merriweather – She had style.
Flora – Speaking of which, why is that dress blue? It should be pink!
Merriweather – Blue!
Flora – Pink!
[[And the book is closed on them; poor Maleficient; she did deserve better]]
As seen with the “Fantastic Four” movies, the lack of a good villain can sink an otherwise decent movie. The heroes simply need a villain strong enough to present a challenge, but not so overpowering that they can’t be defeated. Lame villains mean the heroes don’t really get to shine. But sometimes the reverse happens, and the villain is so awesome that the audience starts to root for their victory over the insipid, moronic, or otherwise unworthy heroes. Oddly, the best examples of these are Disney movies, or at least their old-school style fairy tales. Quite often, the more awesome the villain, the lamer the hero. This is not always the case, but here are some of the most prominent examples (to me), in reverse order.
5) Gothel vs Rapunzel, Eugene, a Very Dangerous but Non-Talking Horse, and a Vicious Little Chameleon
This is one of the more recent Disney flicks. I liked Rapunzel well enough, but she was just a girl with spunk. I have to say Gothel is really nearly bad enough to rank up with Wicked Stepmother, although her ambition, given the power she had, was disappointingly modest. Gothel hordes a magic plant and uses it to make her young. When the queen’s pregnancy goes bad, the magic plant is located and use it to save the queen and baby. The baby inherits the magic powers in her magic hair, which means the hair can never be cut or it loses all the powers. Gothel kidnaps the baby and locks her in a tower. What makes Gothel really evil is that she pretends to be Rapunzel’s mother. She lives with the girl for almost her entire life and never develops even an iota of feeling towards the girl. That’s a special kind of evil (of course, she is effectively a stepmother, and step-parents are always evil). Well, Rapunzel longs for freedom and sneaks out of the tower with the first boy she’s ever met and spends the day feeling guilty and giddy in rapid turns. Eugene’s in trouble with the law and that’s where we meet the horse, who is much more clever than any of the actual cops. Gothel manages to manipulate Rapunzel into rejoining her by working with Eugene’s evil co-thieves and convincing Rapunzel Eugene never cared about her. Rapunzel buys this. As a bonus, Gothel gets the evil co-thieves thrown in jail. But Rapunzel remembers her past and makes the mistake of confronting Gothel about it, so she chains up Rapunzel with the intention of keeping her prisoner forever. Like I said, that’s a special kind of evil (given this girl regarded her as her mother). But Eugene does some self-sacrificing and that vicious little chameleon trips Gothel into falling out the window. So at least Rapunzel had spunk, but even she needed some rescuing.
4) Ursula vs Ariel, Eric, and Some Talking Seafood
So Ariel, the cheerleader of the sea, falls in love with some human prince after seeing him dance and saving his life. Ursula, who hates everybody, sees an opportunity to manipulate the stupid girl and possibly getting the king’s magic trident out of the deal. Ariel, because she’s stupid, goes along with the deal with the devil and trades her voice for legs. And because Ursula’s cruel, she turns Ariel into a human while she’s still underwater, which nearly kills Ariel. Despite the fact Ariel can’t talk, walks like a drunken sailor, and clearly doesn’t understand the basics of civilization (I.e. a fork is not a hairbrush), Eric falls in love with her in just a day or two. Ursula moves on to the next step of the plan and uses Ariel’s voice to win the prince over. Ariel is upset and surprised at the betrayal because apparently it never occurred to her the person known as “the evil sea witch” might, you know, be evil. In the end the king sacrifices his power and kingdom so Ariel doesn’t get killed. Then Eric, who really hasn’t been much more useful than the statue Ariel originally pined after, decides maybe he should do something and kills Ursula, and they all live happily ever after. Yay.
3) Lady Tremaine vs Cinderella, the Fairy Godmother, and Some Annoying Talking Mice
I can only assume Lady Tremaine (the wicked stepmother) married a complete moron in her first marriage to produce those two moronic daughters. I can only assume this because she is a fairly-good looking lady for her age, poised, calm, collected, and clever. The daughters are not, to say the least. So Lady Tremaine marries her second rich husband, who conveniently dies or something after the marriage. Perhaps she was a black widow. That would be awesome. Anyway, because Cinderella, who is no smarter than her daughters, is a lot prettier, Stepmother hates the girl and punishes her by making her do all the manual labor. Which she does, because she’s stupid. I mean nice. And she talks to mice because that’s apparently adorable. I was rooting for Lady Tremaine’s cat, Lucifer, to just eat them. So word of the ball comes around and all eligible women are invited. Lady Tremaine first tries to give Cinderella so many chores she has no time to complete a dress. When the mice take care of that for her, she manipulates her daughters into destroying the dress. Her cruelty is sublime, and frankly I suspect she was going to try to win over the prince herself since her ugly, idiot daughters had no chance. Well, the Fairy Godmother stops by and gives Cinderella a pretty dress and a ride and lo and behold, she’s so pretty the prince falls in love with her immediately. After her midnight mad dash, the prince scours the kingdom for his dream girl. Lady Tremaine figures out that Cinderella is the girl and locks her in the tower. The only reason the prince finds her is that the damn talking mice swipe the key and let her out. So Cinderella lives happily ever after and Lady Tremaine is stuck with her two idiot daughters. Maybe Lady Tremaine found another rich moron to marry. One can only hope.
2) Wicked Queen vs. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
The Wicked Queen forced Snow White to work as a scullery maid which indicates that either Snow White’s father had been bumped off or was at least under such a dominated condition he didn’t object to his wife forcing his daughter, a princess, into a life of manual labor. She was effectively running the kingdom. She had an immensely powerful artifact that she apparently used only to boost her own ego and a private dungeon filled with spellbooks on black magic and nasty potions. The dungeon even had an escape tunnel, which is really showing a lot of foresight on her part since a likely end to an evil queen who wields black magic is at the hands of a torch-wielding mob. In the meantime, Snow White talks to birds and falls in love with a passing prince through a song. When the magic mirror declares that the Snow White is prettier than the Queen, she orders a huntsman to not only kill her but put her heart in a decorative box she clearly had made just for that purpose. I suppose she intended to put it on her mantle as a reminder of how evil and beautiful she was. But because the Queen left the job to a soft-hearted minion, Snow White is not killed and wanders into the cottage of the seven dwarves. She’s so stupid it takes her a lot of time to realize just because the dwarves are short, they are not children. One would think the beards might be a clue. The Queen realizes her error and sets out to kill Snow White in the nastiest way she can think of – eternal sleep which would lead to being buried alive. When she sees the cure for the sleep is true love, she basically replies, “Ha! Like that ever happens!” Despite choosing the scariest disguise imaginable to gain Snow White’s trust, the girl is so stupid the Queen gets her to take the poison. The dwarves go into a rage and chase the Queen off a cliff to her doom (i.e, death by torch-wielding mob). They don’t bury Snow White and that same prince happens to come along and wake her up. She rides off with him and I can only assume that her own kingdom, without a King, Queen, or Princess, ultimately collapses due to the power vacuum.
By far the best Disney villain ever was the magnificent Maleficent. She was evil to her core and I loved her for it. You should love her for it too. She’s snubbed at the royal birthday party, crashes it anyway, and then takes out her ire on the innocent baby princess. She curses the princess to prick her finger on a spinning wheel and then die. I can only conclude the kingdom’s main export must have been textiles or else there probably wouldn’t be a lot of spinning wheels to go around. So there you go – in one curse she destroys an economy and the hopes of the king and queen for continuing the monarchy. But alas, the three good fairies decide to hide the girl for her own safety, yet for some reason they decide the day she gets to go home is the day the curse is supposed to go down instead of the day after. Apparently that would have been the sensible, smart thing to do and no one in that kingdom besides Maleficent and her crow have a lick of sense. These fairies, by the way, are shown to be so lame in trying to make a dress and cake for Aurora’s birthday party without magic I am astonished to the point of disbelief that they could possibly have fed and clothed themselves, much less raise a child from infancy, for sixteen years without magic. They are completely inept at the most basic tasks of human life. Maleficent doesn’t find the baby until she’s grown, and I blame this on stupid minions (really an endemic problem with even the best of villains). In the meantime, Aurora’s fallen in love with Prince Philip after one song and dance number. Well, Maleficent enchants Aurora to prick her finger and then captures Prince Philip with almost no effort. Her monologue on how she’s going to imprison him for a hundred years only to release him and let him rescue his true love as a decrepit old man is awesome. Then the stupid fairies come and mess it all up by saving Philip’s sorry ass at every turn. Literally. They bust him out, they give him magic weapons, they save him from goblins, they get him out of the castle…some hero. Maleficent goes completely bonkers and turns into a dragon “by all the powers of Hell!” Yes, she says that. In a Disney film. In 1959! Damn. And is defeated anyway by stupid, silly fairies, an inept prince, and a sleeping princess who spends only 16 minutes in her own movie. Bummer.
In short, it’s sad when such awesome villains lose to such lame heroes. Good heroes are more common than good villains. By the way, I was glad to see Maleficent again in Kingdom Hearts. I heart Maleficent.