Can Maleficent Be Good?

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WDW_Magic_Kingdom_MaleficentA trend in Hollywood, and Broadway for that matter (Wicked, for example), is disturbing me. More and more story lines are blending good and evil. Good guys are not always truly good people, and bad guys are often “just misunderstood.”

Take Disney’s newest movie Maleficent. Can Maleficent, the evil fairy and nemesis of Sleeping Beauty, be in any way good? After all, her very name is derived from the word malicious meaning “having the desire to do harm; spiteful, done intentionally without just cause.” She was so evil that, according to DisneyWiki, Walt Disney’s artists drew horns on her headdress to resemble Satan’s! Of all the evil stepmothers, sorcerers, witches and bad guys in all the Disney princess movies, Maleficent always scared my children the most.

Could she just be misunderstood? Could my children actually like her if only they knew her side of the story?

The modern Disney studio would like to think so. As Disney tells it, in the beginning, Maleficent was a “beautiful, pure-hearted, young woman” who lived an “idyllic life” (Yahoo Review). Then, the wonderful world in which she lives is destroyed, and Maleficent exacts revenge on the beautiful, innocent Sleeping Beauty.

Now, let me say, if this was not just a story, it would be true that we all were created for Goodness, and therefore, we were all created good. Through the waters of Baptism, we are made clean, beautiful and pure-hearted. Still, we have free will. Sometimes, we all make bad choices.

Dr. Elliot Cohen states that “people are not evil because they have done bad things or else we’d all be evil.” He goes on to say, however, that when someone makes a persistent habit of committing seriously bad acts, they know it is bad and do it anyway (definition of mortal sin, by the way), then perhaps we can call that person evil. Evil people take pleasure in causing others pain, he declares. I agree, since this is the total opposite of what God intents for us.

Seems to me, Maleficent falls into the category of evil. Yet, David Blaustien of ABCnews.go.com understands what is going on in Hollywood: “After 100’s of years of moral clarity, suddenly we’re getting a new look at these evil creature who are actually turning out to be complex beings, and not that bad at all. Really, they ‘ve just been misunderstood.” Is that so?

I guess so, since on the Disney channel, two young Disney actors preview the movie. They praise and are enamored with Maleficent’s magical power, wishing they could do in a flick of the wrist what she can do. They end the segment with the young man asking the young lady if she thinks Maleficent is a heroine or a villain, to which she decides “A bit of both, I think!”

Oh, how Satan must be smiling. Disney, whether they realize it or not, is working with him to achieve one of his greatest goals – get us to deny that evil actually exists. If you doubt this is indeed a goal of Satan, read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.

In the age-old story of Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent finds the hidden princess, causes her death-sleep and imprisons the prince to prevent his attempt to save Sleeping Beauty.

Rumor has it that the modern tale is changed. Maleficent finds redemption. I am all for conversion (a change of heart) and redemption. But then, that’s not the true account of the villain. That would be a new, altered version of the Maleficent’s life. As in Wicked, one would have to suspend all that is known about the real story for the new version to make sense.

In this case, also, evil has been explained away or plain ole ignored. Satan is still gleeful. If there is no evil, there is no devil; if there is no devil, there is no Hell. If there is no Hell, then who are we to tell others what is moral or immoral. We are be labeled bullies and haters for imposing morals on others.

Furthermore, it is ironic to me, that in this day and age of huge anti-bullying campaigns, ultimate bullies are being glamorized. Will our daughters be asking for Maleficent dolls? Amazon has them for only $15.95!

While my daughters are not asking for the doll – yet, they are asking to see the movie. After all, the film is being marketed quite extensively on the Disney channel.

Let me say here that while I would never buy the doll, I may see the movie, not at the theater, but perhaps rent the DVD. Seeing the show with my children would be an excellent teaching moment. It is important to help them recognize the tactics of the Father of Lies.

When a girl can walk away from the movie thinking perhaps Maleficent is more of a super-heroine than evil fairy, then Satan has won a battle. Though, not to worry, I’ve read the book, and I know who wins the war in the end!

So what do you think? Am I making much ado about nothing?

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Copyright 2014 Kelly Guest

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About Author

At the age of 20, Kelly entered the Congregation of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville, TN, receiving the name Sr. Anne Joachim. For five years, she lived and studied religious life. She also completed her secular education while a sister, earning a BA degree in History with a minor in Spanish and a secondary education certification from Belmont University. Sr. Anne Joachim taught eighth grade at St. Rose Academy in Birmingham, AL and fifth grade at St. Henry's School in Nashville. Upon the completion of her temporary vows, she decided to come back home to Maryland, where she met, fell in love with, and, three years later, married the man of her dreams. Kelly and her husband Paul are the proud parents of ten children, one of whom is already in heaven. Along with mothering and homeschooling until high school their nine children, Kelly has been the Director of Religious Education at Our Lady of Fatima in Baltimore and is currently the youth minister at her home parish, St. Bartholomew Church, Manchester, MD.

15 Comments

  1. Kelly, you have struck a chord with me! There is a strong and not so subtle trend in entertainment to distort and make fun of the innocent stories and fairy tales that many of us grew up with. With this trend the monster, or the dragon, or the bad guy, becomes a friend, a helper, or a comedic character who the children will be drawn to. These characters do not repent and go from “bad” to “good,” there is no conversion, the character is shown in a positive light without the need for a change or conversion. I may seem to be going to the extreme, but if we follow this thought process and reasoning: that an evil character can be glorified, liked and emulated, the final conclusion, if taken to its last end, is to glorify Satan himself. He has time to lead us ever so slowly along the path, and as we give ground little by little, he gains ground. So yes, he is sly and he is subtle, which is why we should reject the glorifying of evil in small ways, so we can continue to see it for what it is and keep up our resistance!

  2. Kelly, I wonder if you are familiar with Steven Soundheim’s musical INTO THE WOODS which ran on Broadway in the late 80s early 90s. Although not one of his more popular or well-accepted musicals, I’ve now seen it in production at the high school level. I mention it because it also presented several Fairy Tales interwoven which were much more ambiguous and troubled. Unlike what your observations of Malificent, so I’d be curious to see where that would fall on this spectrum of “Fairy tales retold” and “what’s happened to moral clarity in this genre?”

    As a father myself who has friends who work in the entertain industry, I encounter the GLEE of new movies et. al. that add to the wonderment and joy of childhood. But I also encounter the product chain and commodifying of the latest trends and franchises that have parents emptying their wallets, even if just to help their kids keep up with “what’s out there.”

    There was a time when Fairy Tales were not just childrens stories but were part of a culture’s collective unconcious, part of what it’s dreams and fears that took voice and shape. On that level, I’m not bothered by their moral ambiguity. And to condense a large bit of psychology and dream analysis: the dream tells more about the dreamer than having its own essence. So yes, characters in dreams/stories don’t have to be clear cut, since we ourselves live in that struggle.

    As Catholics, we are wary that the world is not entirely just that struggle. It certainly is not a struggle between Good and Evil among equals. And I am sure your uneasiness and questioning of Maleficent is because you and others can reflect on this struggle in a way that the character cannot or does not. But it is precisely because there are actually limits to the character and not to us humans who are involved in real struggles, that one can do more than question or described the world of art/media/movies, etc. We can also evaluate…as you have begun to do and make/take actions according to values (and morals) that may not be in line with the medium.

    In any case, I certainly share your parental questioning stance to the next IT item that comes out for our children, whether it is a Disney Franchise or the latest electronic game, or the next arts and crafts.

    I marvel at how intensely FROZEN and the songs seems to have awoken scores of elementary and middle school girls, but on the other hand left very little impact on everybody else.

    It is hard to tell whether the faces buried in iPads building BlockWorld or the kid out riding his/her bike is still surrounded by grace and innocence, or whether they are the next unwitting customer in a line of sales pitches. But that is certainly the journey. Our lives as parents and our children’s own lives are not movies any more than our prayers are script lines or our liturgies mere scenes.

    • Jay, I think that because story book characters can’t “reflect on this struggle” is precisely why they have to be clear cut, at least in our children’s stories. It aids in teaching them right from wrong and reinforces with moral clarity.
      I have heard of but never seen Into the Woods. May have to look it up and watch it now that you got my curiosity up.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and giving me something to think about.

      • I’m not sure that all children’s stories necessarily need to be “clear cut.” I know quite a few children–and I know I was this way at least by the time I was 10–who are very ready to understand the complexity of what it means to be human and to do both good and bad things, which in and of itself is an important aspect of Catholic moral teaching. In fact, I’d say I know many Catholic young people whose view is far TOO black and white and who desperately need an exposure to complexity–with a proper discussion on it from a trusted adult–in order to learn how to be truly charitable. However, I also know there are plenty of kids who would see a movie like Maleficent and start playing the part of devil’s advocate quite literally just to be cool and different and even to be “misunderstood.” There’s a certain glamour to coming across as “misunderstood” for some adolescents.

        I think another danger is the matter of physical safety. What happens when a child starts thinking the creepy stranger is just misunderstood and puts himself in harm’s way in order to be “charitable”?

        I think that’s where it’s our job as parents to help our children decide what to take in and to have discussions with them regularly about what they’re observing and experiencing, like you were talking about doing with your kids.

        Though it all makes me feel bad for the kids who have no one who knows them well enough or cares for them well enough to have a frank discussion with them about this movie.

        • Brittany, I agree with you. Walt Disney use to say that he did not make children’s movies, but family movies.

          While the world in which we live is not black and white (and it is very important to teach our children compassion and justice in the truest sense of the word), at the world’s end it will be black and white/ good and bad/ sheep and goats. Until then, every person has a chance at redemption. That’s why we need to be praying for “our enemies.”

          I was just want to raise a warning sign of how maybe the entertainment industry is blurring these lines. That’s why, as we agree, it is best for us as parents to watch and discuss the things they see with them.

  3. I wholeheartedly agree with this article! Years ago, when Harry Potter was so popular (still is), I had the same arguments about why the stories were not/are not appropriate for Catholic families. It’s the ultimate desensitizing of our children and our families by touting these as innocent fairy tales. Very sad what our society has become & accepted as “normal.”

  4. At least in Harry Potter there is clear cut good and evil and a good message about self-sacrificing love, though the wizard world setting is troublesome for some. I agree that it is sad what our society accepts as normal now.

    • The wizard world should be upsetting to ALL since magic comes from someplace other than God. I never understood why “good” magic is okay when it for sure doesn’t come from God. There really is nothing “good” about it. It’s important to read up about all of these things. I was reading a Harry Potter book to my boys when they were MUCH younger (over 10 years ago) and when my 3 yr old wished that HE had magic to turn his little brother into a frog like what just happened in the book, I knew it was time to let it go. If we look at HP honestly, it’s dark, very dark, and even the “good,” as I said, isn’t goodness from above.

  5. I understand your concerns and reservations. Having been a huge Wicked Fan–not 0f the books, but the Broadway show, I have no problem with this retelling about the Wicked Witch. Maybe Maleficent will be similar to this.
    After all, look at how Jesus treats the “wicked” women he encounters. This is similar to our Pope’s recent teachings and example.
    I’d rather teach my children the gaze of compassion than that of immediate judgement.

    • When Jesus encountered “wicked” women, he was able to save them. Part of their salvation laid in his pointing out their wicked behavior – “Go and sin no more,” “True, you don’t have a husband; you have 7.” Jesus’ compassion stemmed from his ability to lift people up out of their wickedness. We never should judge people, but their behavior can be. My concern is that evil is explained away or totally rewritten so they “bad guy” really isn’t all that bad.

  6. Wow, you sure got people talking. You are correct in many of your points. The most important point is if you are going to see this movie with your children, please discuss it with them before and after you see it. We need to start standing up for our Christian teachings.

  7. Kelly, You have defined the true meaning of compassion and judgement very well. These are the two most misused words today in teaching moral theology. Morality is absolute given to us by God. I would urge your wonderful contributors to read part 3 of the CCC and also Fr. brian Mullady’s book “Both free and servant. I am a very poor typis… God bless. In Dominic dad

  8. The ads for the movie made me think this way but you can’t judge a book by its cover or movie by its ad. The underlining message is don’t hurt innocent people for your own gain or revenge. And if there negative effects from your sins on others lives its your responsibility to make things right. This movie was not an attempt to blur lines but to show motivational reasons for why good people can turn bad but still be redeemed if they are truly sorry

    • From many movies, we as Catholic parents can find the good in them and share those messages with our children. I do not think, though, that the wonderful meaning that you gleaned from it was the true intentions of the film makers. I believe it is more likely that they do not believe in sin or evil as we would define it. My big problem is that Maleficent has been evil since the Brothers Grimm first conceived her over 300 years ago. My children grew up with her calling upon “all the powers of Hell” in her attempt to defeat Prince Philip. The Maleficent of this new movie is not the same Maleficent. The story writers explained away her evil. They gave her a chance of redemption. Not a bad thing, but not the real story. Nonetheless, it is great when we can share good morals from even questionable shows. I think it is in our human nature to want redemption for all people. Yet, I still have a problem with Maleficent being called a heroine.

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