Hey y’all! This week, I went to see Disney’s latest movie, Maleficent. Ever since I saw the musical Wicked I’ve been fascinated with the idea of stories told from the villain’s perspective. Sometimes, villains are just as evil as they seem. But other times, such as the case of Elphaba in Wicked and Maleficent in her film, there’s a whole other story that needs to be told. Maleficent takes a look at the evil fairy in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and answers the question that led writer Linda Woolverton to the story in the first place: if she’s a fairy, where are her wings?
(Warning: This review discusses aspects of the film relating to sexual violence and assault)
The film begins with a young Maleficent, wings and all, living happy and carefree in The Moors, a magical land that borders the human kingdom. It is bright and beautiful, but human greed knows no bounds and the king is the greediest of all. Young Maleficent meets a young boy named Stefan with greed and ambition of his own. They grow up together and seem to fall in love, until Stefan’s ambition tears him away.
As Maleficent grows older, she becomes a master of magic and flight, and defender of The Moors when the king attempts to conquer it. Enraged at his defeat at the hands (or perhaps wings) of Maleficent, he promises his kingdom to anyone that can kill her. Stefan returns to The Moors, and Maleficent is happy to see him again. But that night he drugs her, and while she is asleep, attempts to kill her. When he cannot do it, he cuts off her wings and presents them to the king as proof of her demise. He is married to the king’s daughter and crowned, while Maleficent burns with hatred and a desire for revenge. Which leads us to the plot of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty as we know it.
Angelina Jolie was spectacular as Maleficent. Disney was afraid of covering up her face at first—the green skin was scrapped almost immediately—but Jolie insisted on the cheekbones, and I have to say they worked. There have been countless comparisons of the christening scene from Sleeping Beauty to Maleficent, and many have agreed that Maleficent captures the spirit and tone of the original. As Maleficent, Jolie was equal parts beautiful and powerful, just what a dark fairy should be. And as she watched Aurora grow up, you only had to see the expression on Jolie’s face to know that the little girl was growing on her as well. The subtle expressions and raw emotions were what made that character work as well as she did, and that’s all thanks to Angelina Jolie.
The specials effects were not overdone nor over simplified either. There were just enough of them needed to tell the story, especially considering the magic that Maleficent and the other fairies controlled. The film did a good job of condensing the 16 years of Aurora’s life (as the most crucial parts of the plot happened before her birth and after her curse took effect) while also showing how both the girl and the fairy changed over time and grew to care for one another. And while Maleficent was slowly finding redemption, King Stefan spiraled in the opposite direction, into madness and obsession. Some parts seemed a bit rushed, as the film had to be edited to fit the ninety minutes. If it were two hours, the ending may have been more fleshed out and satisfying (not that it was totally unsatisfying, but it was one of the parts that seemed a little rushed and perhaps left a loose end or two).
Many people have pointed out the metaphor in the theft of Maleficent’s wings. Maleficent is drugged and unconscious, and wakes up violated and injured—it isn’t too difficult to see the similarities to rape. This terrible event leads her to revenge, but also to redemption. This moment of weakness leads to many moments of power afterwards, and even if the rape metaphor was unintentional, it was handled very well. Maleficent not only survives the attack, but she gains power and takes control. The film isn’t about her victimhood, it’s about her path to happiness. And it wouldn’t be a Disney movie without a happily ever after, now would it?
I am no great film critic, and professional critics have certainly been harsher on this film than I have. What I am is a Disney fan, and a fan of stories of redemption. Maleficent’s path from innocent to dark fairy to hero was compelling and entertaining and worth seeing in theatres. At the very least, I’d say it’s better than Frozen (though a different genre so perhaps it’s apples to oranges). Despite her dark times, Maleficent is a protagonist you can root for—one you want to root for. You certainly won’t see Sleeping Beauty the same way ever again.
-Angelina Jolie’s great acting.
-Great twist on a Disney classic.
-The film was too short.
-Scenes were rushed and the ending had loose ends.