I attended a complimentary press screening of Maleficent to facilitate this review.
I always thought I liked Sleeping Beauty more than I did. I saw a re-release in the theater as a kid, and I remember really liking when Maleficent turned into a dragon and Prince Phillip has to battle her. But I popped in the DVD a few years ago, and it doesn’t have the heft that Snow White, Pinocchio, and Cinderella do. I mean, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather are able to keep Aurora’s identity secret by not using magic until just before the curse was set to take effect? Gimme a break! Despite this, Maleficent has always been my favorite Disney villain. She’s as scary as Cruella de Vil, she’s got a fantastic costume, and did I mention she can turn into a dragon? Maleficent takes that villain and turns her into… not quite a hero. A mom? Momeficent? To quote the film, “the story is not quite as [we] were told.”
Once upon a time, there were two lands: One, a boring ole land with regular human folk like you and me, the other a wondrous kingdom, lush and replete with fairies, woodland animals, and cute little troll-like creatures. The residents of either side keep to themselves. Young Maleficent is the baddest fairy in fairyland, and we get to see her flying and just being generally adorable. This film is beautifully shot, the many flying scenes of Maleficent being an example of that, and the 3D works well. It’s crisp, and not at all annoying as it is in so many other features. Eventually, Maleficent encounters a humble, orphaned human boy named Stefan who stumbles onto fairy land. They become fast friends and when Stefan gets rid of his iron ring so he can touch Maleficent (Iron burns fairies), she starts crushing harder than a tween at a One Direction concert.
They grow older and spend lots of time together and eventually share “true love’s kiss.” But Stefan’s interest wanes, as “ambition pulled him away.” I would’ve liked to see how exactly his ambition pulled him away. Stefan becomes the king’s cupbearer/steward/page, and he’s obviously got designs on the throne, but just seeing him in this role wasn’t enough to illustrate his ambition. And that’s the problem with Stefan. Even in 3D, he’s a totally one-dimensional character. He goes from having a cool fairy girlfriend to wanting the throne because the script says so. So how does he go about getting the throne? After King Such-and-Such is defeated in battle by Maleficent and the same rock/tree creatures that helped Noah build his ark, the king decrees that whoever can kill Maleficent shall be named his successor. Again, the only reason for the king wanting to invade fairy land is because he’s just a big jerkface.
Stefan pounces and goes to see Maleficent. “Hey, remember me? We used to date. Sorry I haven’t come around that often. I’ve been busy. How’s everything?” But again, Maleficent is the one with the redeeming values in this story and she’s very quick to forgive. She obviously has no experience with human males because Stefan straight up roofies her and while she’s passed out, contemplates killing her. He can’t bring himself to do it, though, and instead mutilates her by tearing off her wings! This is a PG film. Consider the implications of drugging a woman and then mutilating her. Am I being a prude? Perhaps. So Stefan brings the wings to the king, and the king marries him to his daughter while Maleficent broods and begins her descent into darkness. She creates herself a throne and crown and erects giant thorn walls to keep everything and everyone out of her kingdom. Can you blame her though? But every baddie needs a sidekick, and she finds hers in the form of crow-turned-human Diaval, who one day informs her of the birth of King Stefan’s daughter Aurora. Guess who’s crashing the party!
As Maleficent arrives at the castle, the three fairies, here named Flittle, Knotgrass, and Thistletwit, are bestowing their gifts upon the baby Aurora. Now, these fairies are from Maleficent’s realm, but are somehow on King Stefan’s side. You’d think that after Stefan mutilated one of their own, they’d be on her side, but they must never have heard of “sisters before misters.”
Alas, Maleficent curses Aurora. Before her 16th birthday… you know how it goes. But it’s from this point on where things take a neat turn. You see, the three fairies are entrusted to care for Aurora, but it’s Maleficent from afar that does the mommying. She becomes a sort of fairy godmother.
She’s got a soft spot for little Aurora, and when Aurora is older, they finally meet and begin what is for all intents and purposes a mother-daughter relationship. It’s refreshing to see Disney take these relationships seriously. It’s a pattern that began in Brave and continues here. As clumsy a character as Stefan is, Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent is fleshed out. She loves the child, and is genuinely pained when she cannot undo her curse.
Aurora discovers who Maleficent is and that she herself is really a princess, and so she runs to the castle. Maleficent tries to explain but doesn’t stop Aurora when she runs away because it’s a movie and there must be a castle showdown. Oh, I forgot to mention that before all this, Aurora meets Prince Phillip. That’s important to what comes next. Aurora does indeed prick her finger and fall into a sleep.
The fairies whisk Phillip to Aurora, as she can only be awoken by “true love’s kiss.” However, she doesn’t wake up and a heartbroken Maleficent kisses the sleeping Aurora on the forehead. This time Aurora does wake up and just in case we were all unsure of what happened, Diaval lets us know. “Her true love.” Duh! After this, the big fight scene seems anticlimactic. There’s a dragon and Maleficent recovering her wings and trying to be merciful to Stefan, but him having none of it so you know what has to happen to him.
The mother-daughter stuff is the best thing about this movie, and at no point will you be bored. It’s leaps and bounds better than the dreadful Snow White and the Huntsman. I’m excited for the next villain getting her own live-action feature. I vote for Ursula.
Maleficent is now playing in theaters everywhere!