Embrace the dark side of fairy tales.
Wicked witches aren’t so wicked anymore—at least, not in Hollywood. This May’s Maleficent offers up the spectacle of Angelina Jolie in full evilgoddess mode (like Lana Del Ray with horns and Freddy Krueger fingernails). Disney veteran Linda Woolverton’s screenplay tells the story from the title character’s point of view. If this makes it sound like Disney is angling for its own version of Wicked— the revisionist gloss on The Wizard of Oz that spawned one of the best Broadway musicals in decades—that’s because it is. Last year’s box-office-busting animated musical Frozen warmed up Hans Christian Andersen’s chilly children’s tale The Snow Queen into a story of sisterly love and empowerment—and featured voice work by Wicked’s Tony-winning star Idina Menzel.
Movie studios relying on fairy tales as source material is nothing new, of course; what’s interesting about the current crop of witch-centric films is their attempts to generate sympathy for characters who have typically endured in a variety of cultures as rankly unflattering female stereotypes. Maleficent is a case of clever casting: Tapping Jolie as a malevolent matriarch plays on the actress’ mother-of-the-year image while bringing an element of grown-up sexiness to what otherwise might be dismissed as kiddie fare. But it also means that a character previously imagined in counterpoint to a virtuously snoozy heroine will be granted her own strong, perhaps even overpowering, point of view— and that viewers will be encouraged to identify with her bad behaviour instead of simply fearing it. And, for the moment, it seems that filmmakers are less willing to condemn their villainesses to their respective unhappily-everafters without at least hearing their side of the story first. ADAM NAYMANh