Huzzah, Maleficent is finally here! Ace wrote about this project back in November, which seems like a long time ago, but one could say this movie has been in the making much longer than that. The awe-inspiring “Mistress of All Evil” hails from Walt Disney’s 1959 film Sleeping Beauty. This means that for fifty-five years she has managed to captivate the imagination and fascination of viewers everywhere, culminating in this 2014 blockbuster starring one of Hollywood’s most famous actresses. Now, the wicked fairy has been a staple of original Sleeping Beauty-esque myths since their centuries-old origins; originally she is nameless, later she’s occasionally known as Carabosse, before making her unforgettable debut as Maleficent in Disney’s version of the tale. Maleficent’s unique aesthetics and commanding voice have made her sinister presence singularly stand out among many Disney villains, and Angelina Jolie captured these characteristics masterfully in her film. But aside from its powerhouse main character, how did the rest of the movie stack up? Unfortunately, I’d give it an “eh”.
The Narrator introduces us to a new, updated geo-political milieu for the fairytale—there are two neighboring kingdoms at odds with each other: one is the kingdom of men, known for its greed and desire for conquest; the other is the Moors, the realm of the fairies, known for its egalitarianism and utopian peaceful co-existence. We then meet a young Maleficent, a fairy girl who, despite her large horns and bird-of-prey type wings, is one of the few fairies that actually looks human. Why does she look so human/so different from the other inhabitants of the fairyland? Why would someone name their newborn, innocent fairy child Maleficent, which means “causing or capable of producing evil or mischief; harmful or baleful“? These are questions that go unanswered.
A human boy, Stefan, gets lost in the fairy woods, and naturally he and Maleficent become best buddies. Of course, since no one can ever just be friends, as Stefan and Maleficent grow up, they fall in love. Stefan drifts away into more responsibilities in the human world, but returns years later with a dark purpose. Maleficent is overjoyed at his return, not knowing he has come there to kill her to win favor with the king. After drugging her, he finds himself unable to kill her, but he nevertheless cuts off her wings to bring to the king as a trophy, securing himself succession to the throne. Understandably distraught at the betrayal and mutilation at the hands of the man she thought had loved her, a hardened and vengeful Maleficent appears at the castle during a celebration for King Stefan’s new daughter, Aurora. She interrupts three small fairies giving gifts to the child to bestow a curse on her: on her sixteenth birthday, the girl will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fall in to a death-like sleep. The only force on earth that can break the curse is true love’s kiss.
Aurora is sent into the care of the three fairies (who are unnecessarily re-named from the Disney film) to live in seclusion from the kingdom, in hopes of keeping her safe. The only catch: turns out, they are total idiots entirely incapable of raising a child. In fact, Maleficent spends all of Aurora’s childhood and adolescence just out of sight, using her magic to help the girl when inevitably the three fairies prove incompetent. I’m not entirely sure why she puts so much effort into helping a girl she just cursed—perhaps it’s simply because she wants to make sure Aurora actually lives long enough for the curse to take effect (the fairies are that bad at child-rearing), or possibly it’s to show that despite bestowing such a powerful curse, Maleficent hasn’t lost all traces of decency in her heart. Either way, the way she is always watching from the shadows ends up feeling oddly voyeuristic, even if it’s to protect the girl. One day, now almost sixteen, Aurora finally meets Maleficent, and rather than being frightened, she calls Maleficent her “fairy godmother” and knows that she’s been looking out for her. The two grow close, and Maleficent regrets her curse and even tries to revoke it; however, true to her original word, the curse cannot be broken by anything besides true love’s kiss.
Lo and behold, on her sixteenth birthday, Aurora finds herself back at the castle, where she falls victim to the curse. Luckily, shortly before, she ran into a lost boy of her own: a young Prince Phillip from a nearby kingdom. They seemed to hit it off despite having just met, so Maleficent brings him to the castle to revive Aurora. Unfortunately, his kiss doesn’t work, and they are back to square one. Maleficent sits next to the sleeping Aurora and tearfully apologizes for what she has done. She kisses Aurora on the forehead, and as she gets up to leave, Aurora’s eyes flutter open. But of course! True love needn’t be romantic, and Maleficent had truly grown to love Aurora. (Aurora had been asleep for maybe ten minutes tops. Shortest curse ever!)
By now, King Stefan knows Maleficent is in the castle, and a battle ensues. Things look bad for Maleficent until Aurora frees her wings from where they are being kept. Reunited with her wings, Maleficent overpowers the guards and King Stefan, who falls to his doom. Maleficent takes Aurora back to the Moors, where she is named ruler of both fairies and humans. There is much rejoicing.
So did I like it? Well, Angelina Jolie was amazing. She brought Maleficent to life extremely well. However, I think there were some problematic points to her character. In many of these revisionist fairytales, the (generally female) villain goes from sweet and well-meaning hero to evil, wrathful monster because some man broke their heart. Now, Maleficent was also physically maimed by her former lover, which adds huge levels of pain and anger beyond just heartbreak, but at the core, is it still offering the message that women cannot help but become monstrous in response to male spurning and violence? (Remember Mila Kunis’s character becoming the Wicked Witch of the West in last year’s Oz the Great and Powerful?) Though Maleficent does ultimately seek a higher path by the end of the film, she first takes her rage out by cursing Stefan’s innocent, newborn daughter. Kinda seems to me like playing into “my ex is a crazy bitch” stereotypes men seem to love to share with each other. Couldn’t she have become stronger, understandably harder or colder even, without becoming “evil” per sé? Responding to violence with more violence only initiates a vicious cycle; the film was pretty clear in showing Stefan becoming more unhinged in his quest against Maleficent after the cursing of the infant Aurora.
Speaking of Oz the Great and Powerful, anyone else feel like they were watching the same movie again during portions of Maleficent? That’s probably because it was the directorial debut of Robert Stromberg, the art director/production designer of OtGP. While I was a little more forgiving in Oz, I found the Moors to be pretty kitschy for Maleficent. You know on this blog, I’ve talked about Hannibal, American Horror Story,and Penny Dreadful among others; I like my grim and dark, and I was expecting/hoping for something a little edgier and darker from this movie. Come on, did you hear how creepy Lana Del Rey’s cover of “Once Upon a Dream” sounded in this grim trailer?
There was another thing that made me uncomfortable: the character of Diaval. He is a crow that Maleficent transforms into a human to save his life. As payment, he says he will now forever be her servant. Um. Throughout the movie, she continues to change his shape whenever she wants to, depending on what will be most useful to her at the time. He responds angrily once, but only after she turns him into a wolf, saying that he doesn’t like dogs. The rest of the time, he doesn’t seem much to mind what his “master” does with him. Talk about total loss of bodily agency! Oh, and the iconic, climactic dragon fight scene from the end of Sleeping Beauty? In this film, it’s not even Maleficent! That’s like her thing! But nope, in this film, she has instead transformed Diaval into a dragon.
I suppose I have one last bone to pick: that true love’s kiss. In a pre-Frozen world, it would have been magical, but coming out just a few months after that incredibly popular movie, it doesn’t feel original or ground-breaking or even surprising. From the moment that we saw Maleficent regrets her curse but is unable to remove it, I was pretty much sure that she was gonna be the one to free Aurora with true love’s kiss. Of course, had release dates been reversed it would’ve been Frozen’s true love that seemed unoriginal. Oh, well.
In short, despite Angelina Jolie’s performance and some stunning visuals, I was a little disappointed in the film. However, I think this was more due to my particular expectations for the movie, and not necessarily a commentary on the quality of writing. What did you all think of the film? Let me know your thoughts, comments, and criticisms down below!