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Evil is the New Black: Tim Burton to Reboot Sleeping Beauty to Give us ‘Maleficent’…

Looks like Tim Burton is getting quite comfortable at Disney – apparently he plans to follow his 3D spectacular Alice in Wonderland with a reboot of the classic Sleeping Beauty. Don’t worry (or do worry, depending on your opinion of the director), he’s not going to be offering a straight-forward adaptation – that would be much too straightforward. Instead, Burton is going to rework the story from the perspective of the evil queen: Maleficent. It seems that revisiting classic stories from the villain’s perspective is Hollywood’s new business plan, and – being honest – I’m equally worried and excited about it. Which, at the very least, means it is in someway daring.

Evil or misunderstood? It is going be a Burton film after all...

Of course, this isn’t the only revisionist fairytale to emerge in the past few years. The most famous is arguably the book (and later) musical Wicked – a retelling of The Wizard of Oz where the green one is but a champion of civil rights, the wizard is a dictator and Dorothy is a manipulated farmgirl one Brady short of a Bunch. Indeed, The Wizard of Oz seems to lend itself to creepier and darker adaptations: remember Return to Oz, the unofficial Walt Disney sequel? Okay, probably not, but trust us – it was dark. And there’s even a planned reboot on the way. And even blaxploitation adaptation The Wiz was scary – for its own reason (hey, giant crows freak me out).

In fairness, this trend seems to be a logical extension of the deconstructionist trend we’ve been seeing over the past few years. Movies like Hoodwinked and Shrek picked apart the core components of the fairytale story for our cynical and sarcastic times, so this would seem to be the next reasonable step. If Prince Charming isn’t a good guy and the wolf is an undercover police officer, surely we need to look at whether the characters we’ve been depicting as villains are actually villains, or if they’ve just been slandered for as long as the story has been told.

There’s a keen mind taking apart these stories and boiling them down to their core elements, and the observations can be astute – say what you will about the sequels, Lord Farquaad’s fantastic ethnic cleansing in the original Shrek was uncomfortably close to the centre of any number of bedtime stories about killing or maiming creatures that happen to be different. These sorts of fairytales are products of a different time, a time when children really needed to be scared of the world outside or when they needed to believe that their parents would abandon them in the forest if they misbehaved. The phrase ‘multicultural’ didn’t exist hundreds of years ago and the world was arguably a much more dangerous place to be wary of, rather than a beautiful place to be explored. The morals of these stories underscore the fear of unknown, which was a lot more rational then than it is now. It’s natural that they feel a little out of touch.

Disney must be feeling particularly out of touch. The Princess and the Frog, pre-hyped as the rebirth of classic animation, wasn’t a flop, but it didn’t exactly light a fire under the genre either. With the exception of the amazing work that Pixar turn out on an annual basis, Disney seems to be relying on stuff like G-Force and Bolt for box office bonanzas. It’s hard to believe that this is the study which churned out a laundry list of classics in the middle of the century – most of us can recite that list off by heart, such was its impact – given what they are producing now. The last truly classic animated Disney film was The Lion King. The last passable one was Piglet’s Big Movie (I saw it with my sister).

In their defense, it seems that these movies aren’t really for audiences in the twenty-first century regardless of quality. The Iron Giant is a cult classic, but never found widespread appeal. The same for foreign animated films as well. It seems like audiences have outgrown conventional animation and fairytales in favour of talking gerbils that sound like Nicolas Cage or Scottish ogres voiced by Mike Myers. Disney has pragmatically accepted this over the past few year – most notably with the purchase of Marvel as means of diversifying their market share and the focusing on brand like Hannah Montana.

Deconstructionist fare might seem the logical choice and I’m excited at the prospect of following a villain through a story I already know. My problem lies with the fact that we might end up with an attempt to humanise the character, to make them something we can relate to and empathise with. I hope that Tim Burton might be able to sidestep the issue – his adaptation of Sweeney Todd featured a slightly sympathetic villain as the lead, but that didn’t make the barber any less of a monster. As long as the movie doesn’t paint the character as a champion of gender equality in fairytale land (or some such) I think we’ll be grand – though I am worried that the movie will somehow twist ‘didn’t get an invitation to celebration of Sleeping Beauty’s birth so launching a vengeful campaign against her’ into some sort of noble campaign.

I also have an underlying concern which it isn’t real fair to point towards this specific project. Part of me wonders if this very adult deconstruction of fairytales is one of the countless reasons that childhood gets shorter. I mean, it must be difficult for kids to believe in Santa Claus when a movie they see very often has a fairytale land obviously modelled on Disneyland, for example. Or to accept the idea of the tooth fairy when these stories seem intent on reminding them that words like ‘good and bad’ are not absolutes, but relative terms enforced by stories and myths. Do kids absorb the cynicism of these movies and then filter their world through it? I don’t know. I’m not a sociologist, but the thought occurs to me.

Anyway, I hope we might see the movie aimed towards a more mature audience. I’m already seeing Sigourney Weaver in the lead part, assuming she can fight off Johnny Depp. Or maybe I should wait to see Alice in Wonderland before I give this too much thought one way or the other.

I’ll give this to Burton though, he may be polarising, but he’s never boring.

4 Responses

  1. Umm Malificient is from Sleeping Beauty, not Snow White.

    • Apologies, wrote that up too late one night. You are of course correct. I’ve updated the article and thanks for pointing it out.

      Now excuse me while I facepalm.

      • I’m not sure Disney could be convinced that Helena Bonham Carter could support a movie on her own, but it looks like they are willing to grant Burton quite a bit of creative freedom. I agree it would be a copout to portray her sympathetically, but I find it hard to believe we could have an entire movie centring around an unrepentent Disney baddie.

  2. I’m interested to see this, I wonder if he’ll he’ll cast HBC. I wouldn’t mind, but I doubt. I don’t think he’ll paint her sympathetically though, that’d be a copout. And even though it was not well received, Hoodwinked was a good movie, faulty in parts, but original.

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