wicked!elsa

Frozen Fever (2015)

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G | 8 min | Animation, Short, Adventure | 13 March 2015 (USA)

On Anna’s birthday, Elsa and Kristoff are determined to give her the best celebration ever, but Elsa’s icy powers may put more than just the party at risk.

Directors: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

Writers: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

Stars: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff

7

Great Witches in Film Series: Maleficent (the epitome of fantasy evil)

In 1959, when Maleficent entitled herself “THE MISTRESS OF ALL EVIL,” the world agreed and sure as hell wouldn’t question it.  Picture a girl of about 5'4’’ with blond hair, blue eyes, and a pixie’s build.  Now, add to this hypothetical girl the audacity, bravery, straight-up animal ferocity, and endowed with enough boldness to punch a man three times her size in the face…and have him conceding before the blow is actually struck.  This hypothetical personal is my actual sister.  The woman is scared of VERY few things (I’m certainly not the bravest member of my family).  What one thing scares my sister?  Maleficent.  From the witch’s cackle to cloak, my sister has been petrified of this model villain as long as I’ve been alive.  Until I was in middle-school, this fear of Maleficent was part of my programming.  I remember thinking, as a very young child, “When I grow up, I can watch Sleeping Beauty.”  You know, THE CHILDREN’S CARTOON.  I read a few articles about how a creation perfect as Maleficent almost never came to be.  Her original designs were more Madam Mim.  One of the artist’s saw a picture of flames in a Renaissance painting–which given the film’s superb attention to every minor detail with a focus on a tapestry-like aesthetic is plausible–he began to conceive of her visual appearance extremely differently.  What came was an awesome black robe with a purple finish.  Then came the horns.  The reasoning of their creation was simple enough to the animator: “horns like the devil.”

A few minor details were necessary before the piece of transcendent art that is Maleficent was to come to life.  Being the master of dark sorcery par excellence, she needed a staff.  It’s simple enough to act as an extension of her power but not gaudy enough to draw our attention to where Maleficent’s magic is conjured: her voice.  Eleanor Audley, who has triumphantly voiced Lady Tremaine–one of Disney’s easiest-to-hate villains–brought a voice to the character that carried on the theme of the character as pure, merciless evil itself but also an evil with endless sophistication.  Her voice expresses regality, politeness, all of which are ironic given that she makes no attempt to hide her truly insidiousness.  Disney films of this caliber–though there are few comparable to this particular movie–flourish with as many details as possible in order to make all events of the narrative so logical that the viewer leaves their doubt and disbelief at the opening of the expositional book of fairy tales.  Maleficent’s decaying castle, full of grotesques, is the best shadow we have of the inner Maleficent.  This is not a villain who takes time for granted.  She sees time how many mortals see time: the unwinding of the yarn of fate.  Her job is to make all fate horror, and she can play with time at her leisure.  Time works towards a happy ending in a fairy tale, and all of Maleficent’s villainous acts work to counter the happy nature of time moving forward to a point of Utopian bliss.  For example, what better way than to damn a Kingdom to an eventual death by means of cursing the sole heir to the throne?  Fate, in many respects, is on Maleficent’s side because she understands how easily it can be changed, and how irreparable the damage this change has caused can be.  

She couldn’t have hoped for anyone better than Prince Phillip when she “set her trap for a peasant.”  I’ve probably talked about this before, but, to me, the depth of Maleficent’s cruelty is not victory so much as making sure the victim knows the full pain of their defeat.  This is why her talk with Prince Phillip about his 100-year sentence is so nefarious and also essential to understanding Maleficent’s grand design.  She is deliberately perverting the fairy tale protagonist’s destiny, which she seems knows all too well. Releasing Prince Phillip, if he is even still alive, in 100 years would send a message to the world.  Aurora’s ageless sleep would still be in effect, but Phillip, were he to survive, would be as feeble as you could probably get.  The couple might be reunited under those terms, but it would be a complete inversion of the designs of the characters (not only of Phillip and Aurora, but also those hopes of the royal families and the Fairies).  Maleficent would allow the “happy ending” to come to pass but only through her terms, and the happy ending is definitely more of a harsh and abrudt ending rather than a happy conclusion.  She would have closed the book of Sleeping Beauty by destroying all of the faith invested in the future of the titular princess. 

One final note, and this is a point I feel makes Maleficent even more intriguing.  People tend to have made up their minds on what Maleficent actually is.  Typically, they defer to the heritage of the fairy tale and classify her as a wicked fairy.  Since she doesn’t seem to bear any of the traits of the other fairies in the film, many think of her as a witch.  She is only ever really described as a witch, but her appearance and abilities render that definition inaccurate.  I may have mentioned this before, but, given her ambiguous and (as I’ve argued in the past) somewhat queer [queer in the sense of being deliberately ambiguous in order to defy and subvert the power given to methods of supposedly clear classification] ontology, I prefer to think of her as a type of demon.  Given that dragons like the kind Maleficent becomes have outright satanic connotations in European history, I’m hesitant to say that the title “witch” can accurately articulated what she is.  Also, I think this ambiguity of her identity was a stroke of genius by the artists.  Such indeterminacy makes her power and what she represents more ominous due to its ineffable sense of evil.  The Villains wikia, which is an absolutely fabulous resource, has created a special definition for warlocks.  

Warlocks are a specific kind of Sorcerer, one that engages in dark worship and often has dark qualities themselves. Unlike your standard ‘evil wizard" or “Sorcerer, a Warlock tends to be as much a creature of darkness as he is a man and will have access to near-unlimited dark powers.

The classification is not referring to male witches but is rather a useful category for assessing creatures who seem like humans with magic but seem to have a more demonic ontology.  While not included on her page said wiki (yet), Maleficent seems to perfectly fit this category.  Though, I do feel that she continues to escape our attempts to define her, which makes her all the more endearing.  I would also add that recent attempts to define her have only resulted in piss-poor dilutions of a magnificent, original, and wholly unique character that was a powerful change from the source material.  Think about the major problems with the Maleficent film.  She is given a backstory that is not worthy of her, but this backstory is only made possible by her definition as one of the fairy folk.  It deprives that interpretation of the ambiguity that makes her such an intriguing mystery in the first place, not to mention subsequently denying us the pleasure of her very unapologetic brand of evil.  I would recommend not buying into Disney’s recent attempt to clarify what Maleficent is through their ability to arbitrarily dictate what is “official.”  The Disney corporation that was responsible for Sleeping Beauty no longer exists: the Disney we know now is drastically different.  Even Kingdom Hearts has defined her as a sorceress, which is a much more frustrating title (see the character guide in the first game).  For a more unique and artistically ambitious viewing of the film, don’t rely on these brittle understandings of superbly complex character.  I’d encourage you to view the film with a formalist approach, wherein the work of art exists in and of itself without the distracting and reductionist rhetoric that has only narrowed our understanding of the single greatest animated witch/fairy/demoness.  I find this to be a much richer way to approach the work and understand Maleficent for what she is: Hell on Earth.