Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Two Stories of Sismance1

Movie Poster
Recently Disney gave us two different stories based on classic fairy tales. In the case of Maleficent it is the Disney retelling the tale of its own Sleeping Beauty. This time from the point of view of the central villain, Maleficent. In the case of Frozen we get the story of the Snow Queen suitably and quite thoroughly disneyfied and turned into a tale of two sisters.

Of the two Maleficent is the most ambitious in it's retelling of the Sleeping Beauty tale and turning the villain into the hero so to speak. Frozen is in many ways more traditional than Maleficent. And of course Maleficent is a live action movie with lots of CGI and Frozen is a computer generated Pixerish cartoon.

Now Maleficent is in some ways a reversal of the story in Sleeping Beauty. In it Maleficent is a creature of a fantasy land which she is sworn to defend. She leads the magical creatures of he magic world in the successful defence against an aggressive human attack. A young man on the make, Stephen, tells the king he can destroy Maleficent for him. So he worms his way into Maleficent affections and then betrays her. Although he draws back from killing her he cuts off her wings rendering her unable to fly. And flying was a source of great joy to her.

Convincing the king that he has killed Maleficent, by displaying her wings, Stephen is made heir and becomes king when the old king dies. He then marries and has a daughter. Maleficent shows up and pronounces a curse that upon her 16th birthday the young princess Aurora will prick her finger upon a spinning wheel needle and fall into a eternal sleep and not wake up until "true loves first kiss".

During all this Maleficent creates a wall of thorns to protect her kingdom and makes herself lord of the magical realm ruling, it appears, fairly harshly. Stephen in desperation has the princess Aurora hidden away. However Maleficent knows where she is and watches her. Aurora is aware that she is being watched. Eventually Maleficent reveals herself to Aurora and then Maleficent reveals to Aurora her magical kingdom.

It becomes obvious that over the years of watching over Aurora Maleficent has come to love Aurora, and in desperation Maleficent tries to take back the curse but finds that she cannot.

This being a Disney movie; it ends happily and Maleficent is redeemed. However you can find out how by watching the movie.

Frozen takes place in mythical kingdom of Arendelle and is the story of two princesses the sisters Elsa and Anna The elder princess Elsa has the power of cold and ice, she is basically the Snow Queen. She can conjure up snow and ice by sheer will power. Through the use of her power Elsa nearly kills her sister and is thereby admonished to not use her powers at all. This creates a barrier between the two sisters. Then their parents are killed in a ship wreak and Elsa in terror of her powers retreats to her rooms and sees virtually no one.

A few years later Elsa is crowned Queen but then losses control over her powers and flees. Anna helps ignite matters by falling for a guy she just met. Elsa in her panic stricken flight puts all of Arendelle into a permanent deep freeze. Anna goes to find her sister to try to end the endless winter. There is a fight a snow monster, some silly sidekick antics a blizzard and of course the required Disney happy ending. In which love conquers all. 
Interestingly in both of these movies the central love story is not the usual Boy meets girl stuff but instead the affection between two women. This has led to certain brain dead idiots to claim that both movies are covert Lesbian propaganda.2 Well no! Both movies are about sisterly love. In the case of Frozen the love between two sisters and the case of Maleficent the love between a "Aunt" like character and her "niece". In other words both movies celebrate sismance. Strong affection between women. In both cases the central relationship is non-sexual the way a bromance is, but none the less it is strong, durable and able to overcome challenges both small and serious.

Such celebrations of affection between women are not exactly common in film and has such these films are a welcome relief from the perennial "buddy" film.

In terms of acting Angelina Jolie's performance has Maleficent is quite good. She manages to convey very successfully Maleficent descent into evil and her redemption through love of Aurora. Although the most satisfying scenes in the movie are definitely those scenes in which Jolie chews scenery uttering "evil" dialogue.

That the film owes something to Wicked is rather obvious. Sadly the other performances in the movie pale beside Angelina Jolie's performance. Elle Fanning who plays Aurora is especially overwhelmed even though she gives it a good try, she is simply is overwhelmed by Jolie.

Also the movie suffers from a very uneven script and direction, that along with too many lacklustre performances drags the movie down. Finally the movie suffers from a loss of nerve. The bottom line is that Maleficent's descent into evil doesn't go far enough and thus makes her redemption at the end not quite satisfying. The movie is in other words not dark enough. A good idea was rather pointlessly lightened up.

Still the movie does have Jolie's fine performance, good CGI and some splendid scenes. But it could have been so much more if the makers hadn't lost their nerve. Still the movie is indeed worth seeing.3

Frozen is in many respects a slap at the previous Disney Princess flicks. It even has Elsa tell Anna that she won't approve of her marrying someone she just met. And given that the central focus is on the relationship between two sisters that is also another change of focus.

The voice acting is good to stellar, especially Elsa, (Idina Menzel) and Olaf the sidekick, (Josh Gad).

The CGI is excellent with some of the most beautiful snow scenes I've ever seen in film. The CGI of the characters is excellent. The attention to detail is amazing. For example the way clothes seem to move naturally over limbs is quite realistic.

But since this is a Disney musical how is the sound track? Well it is actually pretty decent with songs like, Love is an Open Door, Do You Want to Build a Snowman? etc. However the sound track is dominated by that belt of song Let It Go., which will stick in your mind for hours and is done twice in the movie.4

But of course the centre piece  is the intense, but damaged relationship between Elsa and her sister Anna. Little things constantly remind us of the relationship. Like the way each character moves and yes how they regard each other. And the result is that the relationship is believable.

Overall the movie is satisfying viewing experience and different from previous Disney efforts in the Princess department. The script is good and fairly consistent and unlike Maleficent it is not undermined by weaknesses in script and acting.

Both movies show indeed that Sisters can do it for themselves.5

Movie Poster

1. I A word I made up - the female equivalent of Bromance.

2. I will NOT link to this idiocy.

3. And hearing the version of Once Upon a Dream sung during the closing credits is excellent.

4. One during the movie and during the closing credits.

5. Allusion to 80's song Sisters are Doing it for Themselves.

Pierre Cloutier

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