Over the last decade there has been a fascination with how villains become villainous. Megamind (2010), Despicable Me (2010), Maleficent (2014), Joker (2019), and others have taken to humanizing their “bad guys.” I personally enjoyed some of these titles for their genius. However, I have some qualms with the depreciation of evil in mainstream media. So today, I’m going to talk about why Maleficent never need to be “good” to be good.
I still remember reading a series of unfortunate events as a child. Even then one quote in particular stood out to me:
“People aren’t either wicked or noble. They’re like chef’s salads, with good things and bad things chopped and mixed together in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict.”– Lemony Snicket
I thought this was pure genius. And it is so true that people are a mix of many things. Writing a well-rounded villain takes a skill and thoughtfulness that comes from recognizing that they are people too. In fact, John August does and excellent job of explaining this in his article “Every Villain Is A Hero.” For a villain to feel real, they do need to have both aspects of good and evil. They need to have hero-like motivations which put them at odds with your main character.
In Maleficent (2014), I found myself startled and disappointed at the defanging of Maleficent in what could have been a truly spectacular remake. While there could have been a deep dive into the culture of politeness among fairies, we instead got an uncomfortable rape analogy which “justified” Maleficent’s actions. In the end (SPOILER ALERT), it was instead her love that set Sleeping Beauty free from her slumber. This was, overall, an interesting take and a well-executed twist.
But, was it the Maleficent from the original Sleeping Beauty?
This villain was a far cry from the well-spoken, noble-reminiscent, castle-dwelling woman who was both petty and vengeful. Disney had already reinvented Maleficent in their retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story back in 1959. The woman in the original tale didn’t play such a large role. However, it seems they were unable or unwilling to keep that character’s spirit alive in 2014.
Maleficent did not need to be a misunderstood person in order for her to be a character that was both compelling and complex. Whatever drove her original character to sit alone in the dark castle, away from other fairies, would have been an interesting story indeed. Just look at her rage in the original movie.
[the video got taken down… but you can look it up]
I don’t know about you, but I want to know more about the character I see in that clip. I want to know more about how she amassed all that power. About how she remains unchallenged on that mountain for 16 years even when the people know she’s going to kill their princess.
No one dared challenge that Maleficent.
We’ve entirely lost the spirit of fairies, now. Sylvia Spruck Wrigley explains this perfectly in their article “Five Reasons Not To *** Off the Fair Folk.” Fairies are not nice, but they are extremely complex, extremely tricky, and very compelling characters. Why wasn’t this explored? The character we saw in Maleficent was not one of the “fair folk” but was the romanticized fairy that means humanity no harm.
Give me the no-apologies-given noble fairy who lusted after power and didn’t care who she stepped on to get it. After all, what’s more relatable and more human than something we see so frequently in our everyday lives? Show us how regular people rise to power, how their desires can lead them down dark paths, and what conflict did Maleficent face within herself as she walked that path, if any?
Do you agree? Or do you think this change was for the better? Share and comment below.