[Important Note: For today’s Saturday column, we have decided to share editor Heather Greene’s analytical essay of the new Star Wars movie. Greene has both a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Film Studies, and has been writing about film for over twenty years. The following article contains spoilers. If you have not seen the movie, do not continue reading. You have been warned. ]
Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being. – Albert Camus
Disney’s most iconic animated villain has returned to the big screen in a live-action fantasy that twists and soars as it fractures the original fairy tale upon which it’s based. At its simplest level Maleficent is an extended re-imagining of Disney’s animated Sleeping Beauty (1959) with a focus on its well-known, dark-cloaked villain. However in presenting this alternative perspective, the live-action film dabbles in contemporary feminist, religious and ecological themes as it takes you through its fantasy world. The story begins with Maleficent as a young fairy living in the Moors, a world of enchantment and peace. She eventually meets Stephan, an orphan human boy from the greedy human world.
The Disney princess paradigm is defined by a system of American ideological and aesthetic codes that are known to the Disney artists and their viewers. The heroine is recognized when she stands on a balcony letting her long hair blow in the breeze, when she sings in the forest, or when she wishes for that which is beyond her grasp…The attributes are visual, narrative, and musical. Although the specifics have been updated, revised, and reformulated to conform to contemporary ideology, the essence of the Disney princess formula has remained intact. As Walt put it, we always root for ‘Cinderella and the Prince.’
I wrote that in 1998 after completing an extensive two-year study on nine of Disney’s animated heroines. Now let’s flash forward 15 years to 2013. Disney has released the latest edition to its Princess Collection: Frozen. How has the princess formula been “updated to conform to contemporary ideology”?
I am starting this journey in the early days of American cinema; from its inception in 1895 through its development into a viable culturally-influential industry. I’ve dated this period as “pre-1939.” Many of you will recognize 1939 as being the release date of Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM)’s classic film The Wizard of Oz, a film that contains the most iconic Hollywood witch in American cultural history. From 1895 to 1916 moving pictures were just a technical novelty. As film historian Jeanine Basinger said, “No one really took movies very seriously. It was thought that they were a fad.” Most early movies depicted actual events, landscape photography, historical re-enactments or popular stories.
Top Story: Pop-culture critics have been seemingly too distracted by the 3-D CGI spectacular that is “Avatar” to give much attention to the latest Disney 2-D hand-drawn “princess” movie. Luckily, Religion Dispatches delivers us temporarily from discussions about Hollywood’s pantheism to instead talk about presentations of New Orleans Voodoo in “The Princess and the Frog”. According to Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado, assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Miami, the film gives a “prejudiced and misinformed” reading of the often misunderstood religion. “I do not know where to begin my comments on how this film perpetuates offensive stereotypes about Voodoo. The loas are represented as evil spirits full of greed and anger …