Thursday, October 17, 2019

Iconic "Pricked Finger" Appears At 'Maleficent II' Premiere // Is This Movie Disney's 'Game Of Thrones'?? (+ Surprisingly Positive Reviews Have Our Attention!)

Blood & Magic On The Red Carpet
Fashion has long had a fascination with capturing the essence of fairy tale in a garment or outfit but Gucci not only captured the modern idea of princess and fantasy magic in this particular outfit, but managed to draw attention to the spellbinding side of the story too, drawing onlookers under their enchantment.

At the Hollywood premiere of Maleficent II, Elle Fanning's custom Gucci dress personified her character of Aurora and the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale revisited. Fanning, not only dressed as a princess but one recently put under enchantment, and the effect was stunning.

Fanning wore a pale-olive trailing green dress (a color most can't quite pull off), with gathered layers of chiffon echoing the romantic 'natural' wood-nymph style seen in mythic paintings (cue serious Persephone vibes), princess-tiered off-the-shoulder sleeves, jeweled straps and waistband, luxurious layers and mauve velvet ribbons, all freely woven together with dusky flowers, in both dress and hair. There are even subtle nods to all three of the colors of the bumbling fairies who raised her (see the layers, including ribbons, and the rings on her left hand).

The most mesmerizing aspect of the outfit, however, which sets it apart from other ensembles on the red carpet, were the sheer tulle gloves with the blood-red crystal droplets that began at Fanning's right 'pricked' index fingertip, trailed the back of her hand, then dripped down the right side of her dress.

Symbols, Spells & Statements
Just by holding up a "pricked" finger for the cameras, Fanning, as Aurora, was making an iconic statement. Not just: "I am Sleeping Beauty", but also, "Yes, I'm bleeding, but I'm finally awake!"

(Side Note: Angelina Jolie's Hollywood premiere outfit was so striking it almost overshadowed the Aurora dress! It had a prominent diamond-encrusted scorpion pinned the hip of her black, sequin-chainmail dress, which might have corresponded to Fanning's pricked finger, but perhaps not. Whatever the case, it was definitely intentional so feel free to speculate on what it might symbolize... See our bonus content at the end of the post for a little on the folklore of insect/arachnid pins, a.k.a. brooches, and how Lady Hale's symbolic use of pins started the #girlyswot movement, something Jolie would likely be happy to be included in. But back to Aurora's outfit and motifs!)

The concept, according to one of the stylists (Samantha MacMillen) was to have “Sleeping Beauty waking up in a field of flowers and walking to the red carpet”, and the effect was that not only the appealing magic of the fairy tale is present, but also the darker side of enchantment, and of fairy tales in general. (The design team did an amazing job.) Not only was the effect a fashion statement, but it took a step away from basic cosplay and costume, and continued to bring a fresh way to look at the fairy tale to the public, and keep the story of Sleeping Beauty alive. We also love the shots of Elle Fanning, dressed in this outfit, walking on the thorny black and white background, created for the premiere. That image makes a statement by itself.

As Kailey Flyte/@mermaidensblog said on Twitter (we have combined her tweets):
I am IN AWE! The DETAILS! The gorgeous woodland nymph feeling, but then the tying in to the darker side of the tale with the blood !!! THE LAYERS!! The fact that they made such a stunning, woodland nymph type of dress but still referencing the inherently macabre nature of fairytales.

We agree. We love magic and wonder, of course, but we also like our fairy tales to have teeth.

Finding the balance between creating a costume to represent an instantly recognizable fairy tale character (which can come off as kitsch), and a high-fashion style that appeals artistically (but can be lost on the public), is a tall order but Gucci - and the styling team - did exactly that.


It's truly wonderful to see storytelling  - and the revision of a fairy tale - be taken to different dimensions beyond film and print.
Consistently Positive Reviews Are Accumulating for Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (Surprise!)

To be honest, we're not sure folks are quite ready for another Maleficent movie right now, even a good one. Focus is elsewhere and Frozen II is stealing everyone's thunder. The marketing seemed to begin in one focus then headed in another direction entirely after the reveals of Maleficent's kinsmen, but ultimately, it's being marketed as a classic castle-fantasy movie with some epic creatures - something that should guarantee an audience - but the attention of social media is currently on Frozen II, Star Wars, HBO's His Dark Materials and the real-life issues of diversity, representation, insane politics. Apart from foks who are already fans there hasn't been a lot of buzz. But people are finally starting to pay attention. The lavish premieres, the fashion tie ins, the music videos and promises that it may have more relevant storylines than are immediately apparent - why? Because Maleficent II is getting consistently GREAT reviews from critics! 

The most repeated sentiment we've read is that this could be one of Disney's best live-action movies. Ever. (And that, as groundbreaking and blockbusting as the first one was, warts and all, this one is much better.) That's... a very bold statement for one reviewer or critic to make, but to see it echoed repeatedly has made us sit up and take notice.

It's clearly an unexpected response for critics (who were, admittedly, quite prepared to roast it) and we wonder whether part of this is to do with (perhaps) having low expectations of the film to start with. Though the trailers haven't done a great job of convincing us so far, reviews are surprisingly consistent in reporting that this is one of Disney's best live-action films to date (!). Generally, it seems to be agreed that this movie is much better written and crafted than the first, and is ultimately a satisfying revision and doesn't retread Disney's tired ground as a typical sequel or reboot. Nor is it a try-hard apologetic "correction" for the original property, which is a relief because, let's be honest, we are more than a tad tired of being preached to via the latest live-action batches, even if we agree with the basic sentiments.

Here are two excerpts from a review by Scott Mendelson for Forbes, which do a great job of summing up the many reviews we've read to date:
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is a breath of fresh air from Walt Disney’s sub-genre of live-action fairy tale adaptations. It is noticeably better than the previous Maleficent (which was allegedly stitched together via an assist from John E. Hancock) and the very best of these Disney fairy tales since the one-two-three punch of Cinderella (excellent), The Jungle Book (damn good) and Pete’s Dragon (spectacular). Okay, we’ll ignore Alice Through the Looking Glass for a moment, but you get the idea. The plot is almost as threadbare as the first one, but it makes A-to-B-to-C logic and exists as an excuse for a fantastical spectacle, some dynamite action and not a little camp melodrama. At its best, it’s a go-for-broke adventure that that avoids the mistakes that tripped up the last handful of Disney fairy tales 
...More so than any of these films since Pete’s DragonMaleficent: Mistress of Evil feels like Disney using the safety of a viable IP, or at least the protection of knowing that they will survive if this movie bombs, to just throw caution and fidelity to the wind. There’s a bare minimum of (to paraphrase Lindsey Ellis) “girl boss faux feminism,” attempts to “correct” the politically incorrect attitudes/ideologies of the original material or obsessive recreation of what came before to “appease the fans.” It’s a self-correction that brings (false?) hope to the next batch of presumably less slavishly faithful Disney adaptations coming down the pike. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is the Disney remake/fairy tale as kid-friendly heavy metal madness. It may not be a masterpiece of music, but it rocks and rocks hard.
And although it's not a retelling/revisioning of Disney's Sleeping Beauty, the film does continue on from the tale and, does appear to be solidly in the realm of 'fairy tale film' instead of just a fantasy. As we are currently attempting to avoid major plot spoilers, it is difficult to gauge how much of a 'fairy tale' this film may really be. For reviewers so far, at least, the words 'original fairy tale' (though based on characters and in a world we know) seems to be the consensus but we are not convinced. Earlier trailers hinted at more mythic themes (even alluding to Faust, Dante and possibly Icarus) while later trailers seemed more rooted in fairy tale tradition, (editing can be very misleading!) so we shall just have to wait and see. We can always hope that writer Linda Woolverton (who also wrote Maleficent, and has a long history of writing for Disney) decided to dig a little further into her intial inspiration and references of Spenser's Faerie Queene. Perhaps we will have a little of everything.

This Friday is the start of "opening weekend", and the public will have the chance to go see it (giving up their hard-earned cash to do so). Box office numbers say a lot, so we shall see if there's been enough buzz to consider this a hit or not. Will people flock to the theaters? We would be surprised if they did, but that doesn't mean the audience won't grow as word gets around. From all we're hearing of the movie, we hope this "risky" approach to filmmaking pays off. We could really use a bold approach to the upcoming swath of Disney's live-action reboots coming our way; fresh and fearless storytelling with unapologetic truths is something we really - really - need right now.

Is Maleficent II Disney's "Family Friendly Game Of Thrones"?
Although there is no gore, the body count for the final clash is reportedly the highest of any Disney movie yet (easily earning it's PG rating), but that is also where the intrigue and the payoff for the rest of the movie apparently comes together; in the "third act". But that's only where the parallels to HBO's Game Of Thrones begin. GOT had the stunning and lush visuals (and creatures) that attracted people of all ages, yet the subject matter and violence made it very clear this was not something you should be sharing with your kids! 

Maleficent II appears to have many of those things everyone loved about GOT (kids included, since they also could not escape the marketing and images while it ran): fantastic creatures, epic battles (though, in Maleficent, shown carefully and without gore), magic that's very real, impossibly beautiful things, transformations and classically epic scenes. It also includes that lavish fantasy look, that's so inviting such as lavish banquets, romantic-medieval architecture, glorious set design, lovingly detailed costumes, flying creatures of all kinds and a world that has both color and beauty and dreamy magic scenes, to dark and detailed ones. While this is dangerous in GOT as it's an entry point for so many who were not ready to experience where the show went visually and thematically, there is no concern here of exposing your kid to a "Red Wedding" or other very adult scenes that came to be a staple of GOT. 

GOT explored a lot of political dynamics in its run but ultimately it became clear it had a very uneasy relationship, in particular, to women in power. (It's one of the main criticisms of the HBO show.) In Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, relationships  - and the mother-daughter dynamic in particular - is explored in tandem with politics and reportedly does a great job of keeping the heart of the film (the relationships) central throughout. The fact that Disney is exploring aspects of power and politics through a cast of strong female leads, while including hot-topic themes (see paragraph below with hidden spoilers for details) is bold, brave and has potential for serious substance. 

A possibly-slightly-spoilery report (on the themes, not plot details per se) from Maleficent Brasil (account is in Portuguese) might be of interest as well. If you are interested, highlight the white space below to read it, auto-translated to English:

The film is also being considered as one of the most political of the year, addressing and allegorizing current issues such as the oppression of minorities and the destruction of forests. Queen Ingrith is being described as a Donald Trump-style ruler.
As a reminder, here are some of the trailers which, although they don't show all the teasers, give a decent intro to the premise.

We actually prefer the second below to this one but are including the EXTENDED COMPILATION TRAILER first, in case you have missed some of the more recent promos. Although there is some repeat footage (and it's not cut together very well) it hits all the important notes and includes some international promos too:
We like this one below much better as it gives a lot of insight into the driving forces behind the movie. (We wish more of these scenes had been used in earlier promotion). It's a compilation trailer too, with some non-spoilery behind the scenes views which are wonderful. Enjoy!
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil releases in US theaters this Friday, October 18, 2019.
Folklore Meets Fairy Tale Bonus of the Day:
Pins, Brooches & Accessories As Symbols, Statements & Messages
The women in Maleficent II are the prominent characters and run the politics in the various lands and territories of the movie (one of the reasons it's getting noticed) but even with women facing women, there are still so many assumptions made. Women in politics have a daunting job. Not just because it's difficult but because there is so much discrimination - still - just due to their gender. So it's no surprise that women in politics will sometimes use creative and unusual ways to help make their statements clear and unwavering. Fashion and the use of accessories is one of those tools (something Angelina Jolie is obviously aware of, hence speculation about her prominent scorpion to the premiere - but we'll come back to that).

In the UK, Lady Hale's announcement in September (2019) that "the prorogation of parliament was unlawful", was backed by the strong visual of her black outfit, with a large, jeweled spider brooch pinned below her collarbone. That visual statement was so strong it had people speculating on what messages Hale's spider was sending, and set off a wave of support and solidarity in the form of a movement called "Girly Swot", which used, as their symbol, the spider for t-shirts and other merchandise (most of the proceeds of which went to charity). One of the reasons it took off like it did was that Lady Hale is known to wear brooches specifically to make statements. And she's not the only powerful political woman who does. Madeleine Albright has her own stories with associated brooches, and even released a book called "Read My Pins: Stories From A Diplomat's Jewel Box".

So, considering the themes of the film, what message might Angelina Jolie's scorpion have been sending as she took the red carpet? Let's just say we were not surprised (though still delighted) to see what the most likely 'messages' might be. traditionally and folklorically speaking, that is. Looking at a variety of sources, we found the following symbology for scorpions in common. They are symbols of passion, dominance, defense, transformation, and rebirth. People who see the scorpion as representative of themselves tend to be self-reliant (sometimes to a fault), defensive and highly sensitive, yet also very resilient (like the animal). When these people love, "they do it to the fullest" and when they hate "it is with their whole being". In Egyptian mythology, scorpion amulets were made to protect people from evil, while in Africa shamans used scorpion venom to heal and venerated them as a medical source. 

That certainly sounds like the Maleficent of the first film and certainly suits what we've heard of the second. The words "transformation" and "rebirth" are part of the marketing campaign and feature over Maleficent finding others like herself and recovering from, what appears was meant to be, a killing blow.

The most common and current use for the scorpion as a symbol, however, is via the tale of The Scorpion and the Frog, a fable which has come back into social popularity with a force the past few years. In case you are unfamiliar with it, here is a quick retelling:
"A scorpion asks a frog to carry him over a river. The frog is afraid of being stung, but the scorpion argues that if it did so, both would sink and the scorpion would drown. The frog then agrees, but midway across the river the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When asked why, the scorpion points out that this is its nature." --Fable of the Scorpion and the Frog (via Forbes)
"The moral of the story is that, like the scorpion, vicious people often cannot help hurting others even when it is against their interests." (summarized by Wikipedia). It's a tale that is often referenced with regard to politics, leaders, and corporations and, worn by Jolie (as a statement on either her character, the message of the film or a political one she is sending herself), it makes for an interesting context, especially as we know the specific design  - including made to be very visible and noticed - was not only conceived by Jolie, it was chosen for the premiere night with a specific purpose. (And yes, Lady Hale's spider is referenced in the linked article too! Turns out we weren't the only one thinking Jolie may have taken her cue from another politically powerful woman.)

There is one additional layer to this scorpion, though, and that is, that Jolie (and her children) ate them (yes, they ate scorpions - spiders too). When visiting Cambodia for the premiere of her film "First They Killed My Father", about the genocide under Pol Phot's Khmer Rouge, Jolie was very focused on sharing with her children the humanitarian aspect of her work. It was a film about survival and Jolie was making a point of showing to her kids how people were able to survive:
'I think it's always been a part of the diet, the bugs,' (Jolie) explained. 'But I think there is a truth to the survival during the war of course.'She continued with a history lesson: 'When people were being starved they were able to survive on things like this and they did.'She was then asked when she first had the bugs and replied she first had then when she first visited the country. (2002 when adopting her eldest son Maddox - via that includes lots of pictures of spider cuisine being enjoyed by Jolie and her kids)
So for Jolie scorpions are associated with extreme survival and tenacity in the face of devastation. That fits with her role in the movie (as we understand it) too and is a common theme in all her chosen work these days, whether it's while working in film, or as an activist. Whatever the case, she's made sure we're paying attention!
Elle Fanning & Angelina Jolie at the European Premiere, dressed to reflect their mother & daughter roles

Note: We also wish to acknowledge the collaborative effort and artistry Fanning's Aurora look took, so here are the appropriate credits (and personal thanks) from stylist Samantha McMillen, as posted on her Instagram:
Details: Elle/Aurora in custom Gucci. Thank you @Gucci and @alessandro_michele for this incredible creation. You gave us everything we asked for and more! @justjenda and @erinayanianmonroe completed the vision with incredible hair and make up. Thank you @ellefanning for inspiring all of us. The creativity coming from this team brings me so much life and so much joy! #ellefanning #sleepingbeauty #aurora #gucci #alessandromichele

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