Deb Dana is Still Afraid of Maleficent

I watched a lot of Disney movies growing up: Peter Pan, 101 Dalmatians, Cinderella, Lady and the Tramp, The Fox and the Hound. I loved them all.

But by far, my favorite (at least until The Little Mermaid came out) was Sleeping Beauty. For starters, Princess Aurora was really pretty and had perfect hair, and although as an adult I know these attributes say nothing about a woman’s character, as a five-year old girl, they told me everything I needed to know. Princess Aurora beautiful and rocked every outfit she wore and could do nothing wrong, ever.

On top of this, Aurora had three hilarious sidekicks in the forms of the good fairies Flora, Fauna, and (my favorite) Merryweather. Given my previous posts, I know you will be shocked — shocked! — to learn that my favorite scene involved the three of them baking a cake for Princess Aurora’s birthday. To this day, when a recipe tells me to fold in eggs gently, I picture this scene:

But aside from the princess’ beauty and the fairies’ mishaps, the real reason I loved Sleeping Beauty was down to the movie’s villain. The one, the only…


Quite frankly, Maleficent scared the pants off me. Correction: scares. Present tense. I mean, come on. Look at this chick. Those eyes. Those horns! She is basically a child’s nightmare brought to life.

As her name suggests, Maleficent is pure evil.* Her MO is basically, “Oh, so you didn’t invite me to the party for your baby? Well, guess what? When she is 16, I’m going to make sure she DIES, in the most unnecessarily elaborate way possible.” Come on, lady. Take it down a notch.

But without her, Sleeping Beauty would be a boring story about a princess who skips around barefoot in the forest and sings with birds. Zzzzzz. As much as Maleficent scared (scares) me, her presence kept me glued to the screen. We need Maleficent. Without her there is no conflict, no tension, no surprise — no story.

The same goes with any book or movie. No matter how charming a protagonist is (or how perfectly she styles her hair), her story will be downright boring without a someone or something standing in her way, throwing up hurdles at every turn. That’s why we need an antagonist to gum up the works — someone or something to make the protagonist’s journey worth reading or watching.

I’m about to get a little wonky on you, but really, a villain is a subset of antagonist. All villains are antagonists, but not all antagonists are villains. Does that make sense? The distinction comes down to motivation. For example, as a villain, Maleficent’s sole motivation is to screw King Stefan and his family for not inviting her to baby Aurora’s party. Every move she makes is dictated by her desire to find Aurora and, ultimately, kill her.

An antagonist, however, doesn’t necessarily have to be a person — it can be a storm or a corrupt corporation. And when an antagonist is a person, he or she often has motivations and goals independent of the protagonist. These goals get in the protagonist’s way, preventing her from attaining her own goals, but this isn’t necessarily the antagonist’s aim. In The House of Sand and Fog, for example, both parties believe they are rightful owners to the same house, and they will do whatever it takes to make the house theirs. But their motivations are self-interested: they both want the house, for reasons financial and emotional. They get in each other’s way, but not for the mere sake of doing so.

For children, of course, a villain is the easiest type of antagonist to understand. There is no nuance. It’s Good vs. Evil, black and white. You may understand why the villain acts the way she does, but you don’t like her. A house fell on the Wicked Witch of the West’s sister, but does she have to be so mean about it? King Stefan dissed Maleficent by not inviting her to a party, but can’t she just harbor a grudge like a normal person? These villains terrorize their readers and viewers as much as they terrorize their protagonists and make the story that much more exciting.

What about you? Did (does?) Maleficent scare the crap out of you, too? What about Cruella de Ville? And do you agree or disagree with my distinction between villain and antagonist?

*As a random aside, when we were little, my brother was also terrified of Maleficent but could not pronounce her name, so he called her “Pagenti” (pronounced puh-JEN-tee). How he got Pagenti from Maleficent I will never know, but to this day, as far as I’m concerned, both names are synonymous with evil.

14 Replies to “Deb Dana is Still Afraid of Maleficent”

  1. Hmmm. I don’t remember being scared of Maleficent. I’m not sure why, other than that I’d already read the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty before I saw the movie, so I knew it would all come out okay. I did love this movie, though – and yes, I fell for the perfect hair and the lovely gowns and the funny fairies as well. As far as antagonist/villain goes, I think you’re spot on with that. Great post! And now I want to watch the movie. : )

    1. It’s funny — I watched that movie DOZENS of times, and yet Maleficent managed to scare me anew every time. It’s not as if I didn’t know how the story ended. But I think I also kind of liked that she scared me, if that makes sense. She kept the story exciting, even when I’d seen in twenty-five times.

      1. I read an essay by C.S. Lewis where he talks about this. He said – the child *wants* to be scared. Apparently he was right. : )

  2. Oh, yeah, Maleficent definitely scared Junior Me. The adult me doesn’t find pure evil to be as frightening as the more nuanced bad guys. It’s easier–and therefore deadlier–to be sucked in by the villains who have a bit of charm.

    1. Agreed. Although I hear Angelina Jolie is slated to play Maleficent in the eponymously titled film, due in 2014, and I’m guessing she will be more nuanced and therefore possibly scarier to the adult me.

      1. I’ve also seen the stills of Angelina Jolie as Maleficent in the upcoming movie – and frankly the very thought freaks me out completely. It was a perfect casting choice, and the movie (if done properly) should be absolutely amazing.

        Awesome choice of Maleficent for today, incidentally. I always loved her best (and feared her most) because she turns into a DRAGON. *I* wanted to turn into a dragon. I thought that would be the most awesome power ever. That said, she scared the heck out of me when she did it.

    1. Disney knows how to do villains. I mean, come on — Cruella de Ville? The witch in Snow White? Even Ursula in The Little Mermaid. Some scary ladies. (Interesting that some of the scariest are women, huh…?)

      1. I wonder if that’s something that turns some people off the Disney stories — you know, like the whole princess thing does. I happen to just think it’s all wonderful storytelling. I’m a sucker for anything Disney.

      2. Life mirrors art. Some of the scariest people I know in real life are women too. (I’m half kidding…) In all seriousness and NOT mysogyny, though, I think Disney caught onto something here. Men have relatively straightforward motivations – and when they have a problem they fight it over and work it out. Women tend to be far more … “creative” … with anger management and problem solving. A male villain will kill the hero and be done with it. A woman often wants to see the opponent suffer. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, in life as well as in art, but in my opinion women often make stronger antagonists than men because our minds work very differently.

  3. Maleficent scared me half to death when I was four years old. My parents took me to a drive-in to see “Sleeping Beauty.” Can you imagine a larger-than-life Maleficent? I shudder to think of it.

    P.S. I was happy to see others thought she was terrifying, too. All these years, I thought I was the only one.

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