Serial: What's in a name?
Malevolent, Maleficence, Magnificent
You didn’t think the name discussion was over, did you? So many villains, so little time.
Maleficent, as opposed to Ursula, is a brilliant choice for a villain's name. In Latin, the name literally means “causing or capable of producing evil or mischief; harmful.” There is no happy-go-Mickey meaning to it. Even if we break it down into roots and suffixes and so forth, the word “mal” means evil. Don’t know what “ficent” means? Don’t want to look it up? No problems (and me either). Magnificent. I write the word for the reason that, if we just know that “mal” means bad, and combine that with magnificent, the villain’s name would mean “a sublime evil.”
Yeah, Disney got it right this time.
It’s hard to find any redeeming qualities in the original version of Maleficent. And, quite literally, her name says it all. She has one purpose in the movie, the story, and that is to be evil.
But Grimm didn’t give her a name beyond “wise woman,” and the original fairy tale villain was present in the story for about three sentences, if.
A sublime evil indeed, to fall in love with a nameless villain who exists only in the mind.
Then again, a girl who dies from pricking her finger on a spinning wheel? No-no, not unless there is something else wrong with her (and ignoring the whole “magic” thing).
Still, the name here has a particular beauty to it.
When the perfect name appears in a story, it is sublime, it enhances the characters beyond what animation or description can do. If we know nothing more about the character than a name such as above, that’s all we need to realize we should stay the heck away from her!
Of course, part of the fun is tempting evil to redemption, learning why she/he is so evil in the first place. If a father or mother named a baby Maleficent, can the child really be blamed for living up to her name? That question is with the hope that by the time we get around to asking it, she hasn’t killed us already.
And then we have the redemption movies themselves. Disney already sanitized the original origins of our favorite fairy tales. Not saying that’s a bad thing. If I read the Grimm fairy tales as a child I might still be hiding under my bed. But we don’t need nameless villains anymore since we already have so many horrors in the real world to frighten us. By naming our villains, finding ways to overcome then, it gives us hope of a future where happily ever after is a possibility, even if we know it is really just a fairy tale. Given the chance to save a life, to convert evil to goodness, we, those with a heart at least, ignoring the fact that bright-line statements are almost always lies, long for the chance to save another.
So Disney’s latest adaptation of Sleeping Beauty where Maleficent is the good guy? Yeah, I’ll believe it. Considering Cinderella’s evil stepmother’s broken heart and her determination not to be hurt again? Sure, I’m willing to forgive that, a little, so long as I can live my life separate from hers (and a castle is definitely the place to be living in). But even as we forgive, those happy-ish endings lack realism, because good and evil are not black and white and there’s a little darkness in everyone. We need the villains to be bad and stay bad, no matter how much we wish they were really just misunderstood people in need of a bright smile and warm hug.
Don’t fall into the trap of wishing for an origin story that has a happy ending. Maleficent is a wonderful name for a villain; let her be evil like she is meant to be. Sure, it’s a provocative name for an anti-hero, but Maleficent isn’t supposed to be the hero, the anti-hero, the saved. And I forgot why I’m up on this soap-box, but names people! Names! At least in the original Disney movie, she had a name that meant what it’s supposed to, a much better name than Ursula without a doubt. Cephala might have worked better for the sea witch. It has that pretty sort of sound to it while evoking the image of a giant sea squid that will crush you in its tentacles! Because a cephalopod or an octopus are terrifying creatures, but we named one after a bear… Apparently I can’t get over that. Oh well. Octopussy! No, that one was already taken at the time. That would have worked too though.
But the point is this, a name acts as the initial introduction to a character. Best to choose the right name, not necessarily the pretty one. (I mean: Arielle means Lion of God…perfect for a little mermaid, right?)