They meet, fall in love, make big plans, and promise each other eternal faithfulness. Everything seems to be getting better and better--until pride takes over, and personal rather than shared interests come into play.
Thus the dream ends: the two separate from each other, or worse, begin to hate each other and make war. They forget that they dreamed to accomplish great things together and that they swore unending love.
It is a typical plot in the world of literature and on the big screen, one which many viewers who have experienced fading feelings, or who have changed their mind because of betrayal or abandonment, can relate to.
Disney recently revisited this plot with the story of Maleficent, the famous "wicked witch" from the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, whose story is told in a completely original way in a movie directed by Robert Stromberg. The film marked his debut as a director with Angelina Jolie playing the part of the protagonist.
The story began long before Princess Aurora was enchanted into a perpetual sleep on her sixteenth birthday, long before the fairy even earned her role as anti-hero in the story.
Maleficent is a charming creature, both good and honest. She is still a girl when a young and humble farmer arrives by chance on the moor where she lives. The two begin to date, fall in love, and live a relationship together. Everything however, was fated to end. He lets himself become consumed by the desire for power, and places his personal success above their union. He ends up preferring prestigious "palace life" over the sweet fairy, in service to a kingdom that among other things, seeks to destroy the moor where Maleficent lives.
The kingdom's hostility towards the moor's inhabitants grows to such a point that the King, old and wounded from a fight, promises to give his throne to whoever can kill Maleficent. During this time, she had in fact become a sort of Fairy Queen who defended her land from the human kingdom's unjust threats.
Realizing the situation, the man who once loved Maleficent went back to her. After putting her on her guard from the dangers that were brewing, the two end by talking and embracing, and the feelings from long ago seem to reappear. As evening arrives, Maleficent falls asleep in his arms. The man however, seeing her asleep, cannot resist the temptation to cut her wings, depriving her of the greatest gift she had ever received, the ability to fly. He would bring them to his king as a sign of victory and thus become his heir. His wretched betrayal would bring him succession to the throne, but would turn Maleficent wicked and begin between them a hate filled feud.
Having become king, the man marries a beautiful princess who soon gives birth to a child named Aurora. For Maleficent, it is her opportunity for the greatest revenge. According to this story, the enchantment placed on Princess Aurora has the sole purpose of making her father suffer. The child should be able to grow up healthy and beautiful, but in the future, on her sixteenth birthday, she would instead prick her finger with a spinning wheel needle and fall asleep forever, unless she could receive a kiss from her true love.
Aurora is a small, helpless, and above all, innocent creature, but as often happens in reality too, she is caught in a family eroded by hate, deprived of her human dignity, and used as a weapon. In this way, the little princess represents every child who is "used," or sought after and treated as a battle ground on which the two parents think only of winning the war they have begun between themselves, even at the expense of their child's wellbeing.
Returning to the story: upon hearing of the curse, the king asks that all the spinning wheels in his kingdom be burned and makes sure his child is cared for in a small cottage in the forest, far from the palace, by three distracted and careless fairies. Maleficent, thanks to one of her faithful servants, does not lose sight of the girl, and quite the contrary, ends up living so close to her that she becomes attached. To compensate for her lack of stable and trustworthy parents, Maleficent even becomes a sort of adoptive mother for the child: she hears her utter her first words, take her first steps, watches her first smile bloom on her lips, and hears her first tears.
As the years pass by, Maleficent regrets ever having cast her curse: she stops hating, and even feels redeemed by the love she has for Aurora. She tries to undo the spell, but cannot. When she cast it, she had in fact specified that no earthly power would be able to undo it. Only love would be able to save her. Yet Maleficent, mindful of the failure of her only relationship, could not bring herself to believe in true love, and had been certain that once Aurora had fallen asleep, she would sleep forever. Little by little however, as the day of Aurora's sixteenth birthday drew closer, Maleficent grew sadder and blamed herself more and more for what she had done.
The king's interior journey could not contrast more with that of Maleficent. He never stops seeing the salvation of his child as only a question of principle. For him, the good of his daughter doesn't mean anything--nothing means anything if he does not win the battle and have the last word. It is so true of him that, while his sick wife is dying, he doesn't want to be disturbed. He prefers to remain alone in a dark room, speaking with Maleficent's wings that are enclosed in a case, promising once again that he would win. When the girl, on the day of her sixteenth birthday, returns to the palace and hugs him, his feelings are unmoved (even though it was the first time after sixteen years that he saw his daughter). The only thing he manages to say is, "I said that she should not return until the day after her sixteenth birthday, not that same day." His objective was certainly not to hug his daughter back and make her live happily, but only to show Maleficent and his subordinates that he was stronger than her enchantments.
In this story, the king is the anti-hero. He represents the parent that cannot escape his cage of pride and is incapable of allowing love to win for the sake of his child, due to the weight of his ego and his hatred for his old flame.
Aurora stings her finger and falls asleep. They try to bring a prince to kiss her, but it proves useless. Aurora will awaken only when Maleficent, after asking for her forgiveness, kisses her on the forehead. This was the true love which, in that moment, the girl needed.
The story seems to teach that the love of a parent is irreplaceable and that healing the wounds of one's children (natural, or adoptive as in this case) requires knowing how to ask for forgiveness, put down one's guard and concentrate on them.
In the end, after a final decisive fight between the King and Maleficent (the King wanted to kill Maleficent at all costs and ends by killing himself, falling off of a tower) Aurora, now an orphan, goes to live in the moor with Maleficent.
Disney wanted to give a second chance to one of its productions' traditionally most evil characters. It wanted to show that not everyone who is evil is that way for the simple taste of being so. Some become evil after suffering a great pain, and not everyone remains that way for ever. For every "evil one," there exists in fact the possibility of redemption. Furthermore, it wanted to offer this strong message in a society where many families are destroyed by their parents' failed love.