Maleficent vs Cinderella and the Heroes We Give Our Children

I almost didn't go to see Disney's new Cinderella, and I certainly didn't plan to take my daughters to see it. Why? Because I saw Maleficent.

Maleficent is everything that's wrong with a modern re-imagining of a classic story. It takes a tale of good vs evil and twists it into moral relativism. It is a movie marketed to children that features the mutilation (intended by the actress and filmmakers to symbolize the rape) of our heroine by her childhood sweetheart, and then uses that act of violence to excuse her descent into tyranny and violence. The worldview of this film is that true romantic love does not exist. Maleficent is betrayed and dismembered by the man she loved, in order that he might gain power and prestige. And, in the climax of the film, as Princess Aurora lays in a death-like sleep, under the curse placed upon her by the spiteful Maleficent, Prince Philip kisses her . . . and she doesn't awaken. Only Maleficent's own warped pseudo-maternal love is true enough to awaken the princess.

So. Messed. Up.

I very nearly swore off Disney live action remakes forever. But . . . what can I say, I'm a romantic. Once I starting hearing good things about Cinderella, I decided that the girls and I should give it a chance.

So we got ourselves gussied up (Betty is Cinderella, Anita is her mouse friend) . . .

and we went to go see it.

I am very glad we did.

I haven't loved every bit of a movie this much since I saw Les Miserables. That movie, of course, isn't for kids. But this one is for everyone. I sat next to my daughters in the theater as they laughed aloud at the jokes, and gasped in awe at the beauty, and cried rolling tears at the tragedy, and applauded at the triumphs, and swooned at the romance. Every second of it was a joy to behold and to share.

Cinderella gets everything right where Maleficent got it wrong. Cinderella also suffers tragedy and cruelty, but instead of descending into evil herself, she follows the advice given to her by her dying mother: to "have courage, and be kind."

Cinderella the character is strong where Maleficent the character is weak, and Cinderella the film is true where Maleficent the film is false.

Cinderella is the best of all worlds. The cinematography and sets are breathtaking. Going into it, I couldn't imagine how they were going to do the mice, but they totally pull it off. The estate and the grounds and Cinderella's attic are all filled with the most extraordinary details. Her carriage and the palace are all beautifully over the top, as are all the dresses.

The writing is great, the casting is great. The romance is perfect. The character development is excellent. Maleficent completely dispenses with the canon of Sleeping Beauty by telling us that we think we know what happened, but . . . really we don't. And then they just totally change EVERYTHING. In contrast, the new Cinderella is utterly true to the spirit and the general plot of the Disney cartoon and is enhanced by extra elements from the Perrault fairy tale. It's better than its source material.

As in real life, in the movie there are people who are noble and try to do good and there are people who are ignoble, scarred by selfishness and damaged by their choices. The writers give Cinderella's stepmother and stepsisters reasons, but not excuses. And Cinderella's responses to their cruelty just get more and more beautiful as the movie progresses.

Maleficent wants to tell my daughters that love is not to be trusted, that men who seem to love you will betray you, and hurt you, and you'll have no choice but to become evil. Maleficent wants to tell my sons that sometimes a man will violate the woman he loves in order to gain professional advancement, and that sometimes a man is just an impotent pretty boy who cannot save the woman he loves, who cannot even truly love the woman he loves.

But Cinderella believes in love. Cinderella teaches my daughters that they are worthy of love. Cinderella's parents love and cherish her, their love and their lessons make her strong enough to survive their deaths, and their legacy is that she can suffer cruelty with her charity intact. Cinderella teaches my daughter that a good and noble man could love her for her strength and honesty and courage and kindness, despite the obstacles between them. Cinderella teaches my sons that they can be good and loving husbands, fathers, sons, and friends.

I think those lessons matter. I really do. I think the movies we love as children color our worldview.

I am, frankly, astounded that a movie as full of goodness and self-sacrifice, and truth and beauty even exists. I am grateful to have seen it with my daughters. I have every intention of having my boys watch it as well. I'm not sure what they'll make of it. But it's that good. I have to try.

I can't encourage you enough to go out and support this movie. If you have the means, please go see it in the theaters. This is what we want in our entertainment, this is what we want influencing our daughters and our culture. It is a true and good and beautiful movie.

For a deeper look at how Cinderella really does get it right, check out:

Charity Has Power and How Disney Didn’t Ruin Cinderella

P.S. For pretty much exactly these same reasons (right down to the first-love-turned-ambitious-murderous-maniac and the ineffective true love's kiss), my family owns Tangled, but not Frozen. There's a right way and a wrong way for young ladies to react to adversity. And I don't want my daughters to doubt for one second that true love is real and has the power to save them.

You might also enjoy . . .

What Went Right With Les Misérables: and Why I'm Sad My Kids Can't See It Yet

There's a Right Way and a Wrong Way to Fracture a Fairy Tale . . .

Update: Based on the very interesting comment thread going on Facebook from when I posted this this morning, I should clarify something. . . .

I didn't personally enjoy watching Maleficent, but different folks have different taste in movies. I do not have a problem with adults watching it, and I understand that for some people who have already experienced tragic or violent relationships, Maleficent can feel empowering and give them hope.
However, the movie is rated PG, it's based on a beloved children's cartoon, and it was very clearly marketed to children and families. I think Maleficent sends a confusing and inappropriate message to children about how best to confront the difficulties and cruelties that all children will face in their lives (although, I pray, not to the extent that Maleficent and Cinderella do). Cinderella also faces cruelty and tragedies, but chooses to approach them in a way that, in the end, makes HER happier and more empowered. That is the kind of inspiration I want for my children.

If there's any question as to how it was marketed, I submit the following promotional still . . .

‪#‎teamcinderella‬ That's all.