Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Fairy Godstooges

In this corner, wearing the purple and black villain robes, hailing from the Forbidden Mountain, the reigning Champion of the Fairy Dueling circuit for SEVEN HUNDRED YEARS running! The Ruler of Rue! The Sovereign of Spite! The Queen of Mean HERSELF! The one! The only! The MAGNIFICENT... Maleficent!!!

And in this corner, wearing the red, green and blue... elderly... lady robes, hailing from the... Garden of.. Innocence, our challengers! The Witches of Wonder! The Steadfast Sweat--no, wait that's Sweet.. The Steadfast Sweethearts! The Helpers of.. Happiness? Who wrote this?

Eh, forget it. Meet Flora, Fauna and Merryweather.

These three are are the three Good Fairies who were invited to the christening (because they're somehow more fun and fashionable than freaking Maleficent? What the fuck? That's like inviting Carrot Top instead of Frank Sinatra), and who assist and direct Aurora and Philip's fates towards the necessary happy ending. They're very likable because they are well-intentioned, cute, and funny little old ladies. I believe most watchers initially write them off as sidekicks because they aren't the Prince or Princess, and they supply much of the humor in the movie, but the truth is these guys are our Protagonists. They are the ones with the power to challenge Maleficent, no one else can. Not the Princess, who is well-removed from the action during this. Not her parents, who are completely helpless during this whole mess. And not the Prince, who is heroic and lovable, but would have died a dozen times in the final sequence if not for Flora's magic. The majority of the movie follows the actions and viewpoint of the three Good Fairies, and though you're led to empathize and root for Philip and Aurora they aren't spotlighted and developed nearly as much as the four fairies. The entire story is Maleficent and these three trading magical blows. It's a duel. The Princess is Maleficent's weapon of choice, an emotional blow, while the Prince is a physical weapon that Flora, Fauna and Merryweather use. Flora arms the Prince, sends him to the tower, saves him from Maleficent's goons and landscape alterations, and enchants the sword (that she gave him) in the final scene. It's possible didn't even need to aim. Instead, he's aimed BY Flora after being picked up and loaded.

That's right, the Prince and Princess in this movie amount to a pair of dueling pistols, and the protagonists are actually the comic relief/mentor characters. Is it any wonder I love this film?

This is a serious underdog setup. These women are very powerful and good-natured beings, but they are so abysmally stupid it takes all three to stand against Maleficent. It's arguable they cause more harm than good to the royal family and the kingdom in the long run.

No, I'm not being too harsh. I love these characters, they are pleasant and friendly and great for a laugh without descending into Annoying Sidekick territory, but they are horrifically stupid and you can tell from the start. They state that they can only give one gift apiece, so naturally you'd think it better count. The first gift is given by Flora (the tall one in red), self-appointed leader and most idiotic of the group. She gives Beauty.

Now Beauty is a pretty stupid and frivolous gift to begin with. It is almost always only ever given to girls. (I think Flora also gave it to Philip, though.) To an extent it makes sense, because Beauty gives her family something to bargain with at least. A beautiful girl can fetch a husband with lots of land and increase the family's fame. Except Aurora's already fetched a husband, they appointed one the second she was born. So the little bit of usefulness from beauty is not so useful even in this case.

But no, in this case Beauty is even stupider than it sounds. Why?

Meet Aurora's mom.

Now there's a small chance she might look like her father, but really... was it really necessary to make absolutely certain of that beyond making her intelligent or lucky or superstrong or I don't know, invulnerable to sharp pointy objects like spindles?

So right away Flora lets us know that she's as dumb as a bag of rocks. The other two still follow her, possibly because she's the largest and the oldest. Flora does seem to have the most courage and responsibility of the group. She is just so unbelievably superficial, though. She may be the most powerful of the group (at least she's the one with the courage and ability to use her powers during a crisis), but she gives the gift of Beauty.

Fauna, in the green, might be the best of the lot. She's the quiet one of the group who likes children and taking care of others. She avoids conflict while Flora and Merryweather bicker in the background. She usually only speaks to try and calm one of the others down, encourage them or coo over babies and cooking and other sweet little old lady interests. I worry that if she hadn't been allowed to take care of Aurora she'd have stolen someone's baby and replaced it with a shape-changed rat. (Seriously, she tries to burp cake batter while she's reminiscing.) She gives a more sensible gift in song, which manifests as the standard Disney Princess superpower where you can attract animal minions and potential husbands with your Siren's voice. Snow White has her animal minions to find shelter for her, Cinderella gets mice to sew her dresses and Venus in Agents of Atlas can stop wars. Aurora just has the animals steal stuff.

Merryweather in the blue is probably the smartest of the group, but her temperament is akin to Buttercup of the Powerpuff Girls. (Come to think of it, Flora parallels Blossom and Fauna parallels Bubbles.) Not very good for leadership. She complains mostly. She's a bit cranky and always ready to mix it up with Maleficent. She blurts out in the first scene that the reason Maleficent wasn't invited was because she wasn't wanted (and again, why the fuck would you not invite her? She's got Style, wit, and the vindictiveness to fuck you over badly when you snub her), which can't possibly have helped matters. We never find out what she considers an appropriate gift for a newborn, because she's the one who has to cast the counterspell that mitigates Maleficent's death-curse to just a long sleep.

Filling out the hierarchy of intelligence in Sleeping Beauty, I'd put Fauna and Merryweather on the same rung, a step above Flora. Unfortunately, Flora is the leader because she takes initiative. She's always willing to do something, and it's usually something stupid. After they try to lessen Maleficent's curse, they have a little meeting and some tea. Flora's first idea is to turn the girl into a flower, because that's certainly less vulnerable than a little girl is. Ultimately they decide on Flora's second idea because no one else has anything to offer. See, rather than raise her in the palace surrounded by guards and living a life of luxury where she'll never find herself in the same room as spinning equipment, the safest thing according to Einstein here for Princess Aurora is to live as a peasant girl raised by the Three Fairy Godstooges in the middle of a forest where she can get into all kinds of shit. I suppose that wouldn't be so bad, if the girl was properly warned. But rather than tell her that someone wants to kill her and she needs to avoid Viking Vampire Batwomen, any form of magic that is glowing green, creepy looking ravens, and spinning wheels, they tell her NOTHING except not to talk to strangers.

How they intend for her to meet the true love who's supposed to break the spell if she's not allowed to ever talk to a stranger, or she's never to meet her intended husband until after the 16 year mark has passed I'm not sure. But this is the plan they go with, and apparently it's successful because Aurora makes it to the appointed day without being killed, found by Maleficent, or ever speaking to a stranger. Or at least anyone stranger than she is. (More on Aurora later.)

Of course, after 16 years of living as a mortal without magic, Fauna has never learned how to bake and Flora doesn't know how to sew a dress. And Aurora looks exactly like her mother except with a lighter shade of hair, so good use of a blessing, Flora.

Now Maleficent set a spell deadline of sunset on her 16th birthday. Flora's plan is to hide the girl until it's safe, and so far it's worked well. So, do they wait an extra day to bring her to the palace? Do they wait at least until AFTER dark to leave the cottage? No, they bring her to the palace about 30 minutes early so that Maleficent can lure her to a spinning wheel and get her by the deadline. Oh, and those idiots send her off alone to pick berries, and then leave her alone to cry, on the day that a sensible person would be watching her like a hawk because they've reached crunch time.

Not only that, they make it 16 years without using their magic and can't wait another fucking day before fighting over the color of a freaking dress and attracting the attention of Maleficent's pet raven.

Nevertheless, stupid as they are, they and Maleficent are the movers and shakers in the film. The humans can't do really anything. So Sleeping Beauty--the movie where the heroine spends not even 20 minutes awake during the film--turns out the be the movie in the Disney line that has the most active, powerful, and influential female characters. It has one hell of a female villain, and her true challenge comes not from the brave hero or the meek princess, but from three energetic female characters of equal power.

Not only that, they managed to develop and give screen time to the male love interest in this movie. He turns out to be one of the most likable and least douchey princes in the Disney line. Amazing what you fit in there without wasting all of your time on irritating sidekicks and princess angst.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Magnificent Maleficent

One of the few light Disney movies in my horror-loaded DVD collection is Sleeping Beauty. I've been fond of this one since I was a little girl, even though the joke is that the heroine spends the entire movie asleep while the Prince does everything. But the makers of this movie found a way to remedy that and get the little girls in on the action in this story, and in doing so they created what must be the most memorable villain Disney ever produced: Maleficent.

I had a greater than average interest in fairy tales even for a little girl, but princesses never came close to the top three appealing aspects of fairy tales for me. My imagination as a child was ruled by a triumvirate of Fairies, Witches, and Dragons. (Cats came in fourth.)

Maleficent is a Fairy Witch who can turn into a Dragon, which has to be the Greatest Parlor Trick in History.

And she has Style. (I like Style.) Check out the Viking Vampire wardrobe. She's the Fairy Godmother from Hell and is not afraid to look the part. And on top of her black and purple super-batbitch ensemble, she's got green magic energy and a wicked looking pet raven on her wicked looking magic staff. And the makeup, from the eyeshadow to the lipstick it just screams Mistress of All Evil. It's so perfect. The sort of villain that makes you think "If I ever fall from grace I want to look like HER when I land." I don't know of anyone who as a little girl didn't freaking adore this character.

Her powers don't stop at Divine Fashion Sense. She can turn into into a dragon, teleport, call upon the powers of Hell, turn into a freaking dragon, send a frost, show the Prince a holographic light show, turn into a fricking dragon, blast people with green sparks, put people into a trance and compel them to do things like touch spinning wheels, oh and did I mention? She can turn into a fucking dragon!

The whole story happens because Maleficent, who apparently has a thing about being left out, isn't invited to a big party celebrating the birth of the local princess. All the other fairies get to go, but she didn't get an invite so she's pissed off, and so she decides to act out every nerdy girl's revenge fantasy and show up to scare the shit out of the popular kids. She gets in before the third fairy gives her gift, makes everyone horribly uncomfortable, forces them to admit she was purposefully uninvited, and curses the brat to die at the tender age of 16. In doing so, she freaks out the King, she freaks out the Queen, she prevents the third invited fairy from giving a proper gift (thus depriving the princess of two of the four gifts she would have been entitled to if Maleficent had gotten an invite--and no doubt Maleficent would have given one hell of an interesting gift if she wasn't pissed off), she scares the King so badly that he destroys every spinning wheel in the kingdom causing hardship for anyone who wanted to make clothing, and she sets it up so that the Princess isn't properly raised and trained as a ruler when she comes of age. And when the time comes to cause the curse, she manages to enact it, freak out the girl, traumatize the fuck out of the Prince she marries (watch him after the big battle, he's got a light smile but his eyes are really wide, and he doesn't want to explain anything that happened to his father--I think he's pretty shellshocked), and destroy a good amount of the scenery. All while looking fabulous beyond measure.

Not only that? She is apparently killed by falling down a cliff. She falls down a cliff and there's a scene where purple and black smoke rises up from the bottom and the Prince looks over the ledge to see not a big dragon body or a slender fairy witch body, but her cloak with a sword through. There is no body at the end of this movie. They even do a scary close-up on it. The woman physically transforms into flying creatures and green light, casts illusions, and teleports, but the other fairies act as if she's dead after falling down a cliff, sending a cloud of purple and black smoke upwards, and leaving no body. Idiots.

Now she does have some pitfalls. Turning into a dragon was scary and all, but if she really wanted to fuck up the Prince she'd have gone with a molten liquid, a choking gas, or some illusion to separate him from the fairy helpers (because she can change into gaseous and energy shapes). Flora saves Philip from several ranged attacks during the escape, but none of the Fairy Godstooges dare to directly counter Maleficent's spells, so this could been something they couldn't counter in time. She captures the Prince but doesn't kill him (in her defense, I suppose that some other destined true love might've popped up without him able to break the spell at some point, or some other fuckery would've saved him so he could save the day without her noticing--these are the rules of fairy tales, after all), and she leaves an axe in the freaking prison cell with him. Sure, she has him chained up so he can't reach it, but really all he has to do is ask one of those dumbass goblin guards to hand it to him and they probably will.

Oh yes, she has the dumbest Henchmen in Disney history. An army of dimwitted goblin soldiers that I believe joined the Air Force after she finally fired them. At least, I'm pretty sure I've worked with the idiot who was on patrol duty and missed the three brightly colored fairy women against the greenish brown landscape. These geniuses were told early on to look for a baby, and 16 years later they were still checking cradles.

Bad hiring practices and mild mistakes aside, as the hierarchy of intelligence in Sleeping Beauty goes Maleficent's at the top. She is very clearly smarter than anyone else in the movie, especially her trifold sparring partners: Flora, Fauna and Meriweather.

But more on these morons later.