Film Review: Disney’s Maleficent

When I first heard that Disney were making a film about Maleficent, I was SO EXCITED. She is my favourite character from their version of Sleeping Beauty, and so little is revealed about her. I was eager for her story to be told.

Angelina Jolie Maleficent
Angelina Jolie looking fabulous. Image from Wikipedia.

Maleficent was released last month – over 50 years after Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (which I discussed in my last post). This film takes the previous story, fleshes it out and then shakes it up a bit to make a new resolution. Whilst I love how it gives Maleficent a motive for cursing Aurora and provides an entirely new perspective for the story, I do have a few of problems with it.

Maleficent is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, showing what happened before the story. Maleficent was a powerful fairy, dedicated to protecting the moors where she lived along with a host of other benevolent supernatural creatures. She befriends a human, who just happens to become King Stefan, but he betrays her, which is what sets her on the path for revenge and leads to Aurora’s curse.

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM HERE ON!

This is the third trailer which was released for the film – the one which got me slightly more excited as at 1:56 there is a bad-ass dragon. Not quite the same as in the animated film, but still, it’s a dragon! Also, check out Maleficent herself. I love her woods-y style and wings; she’s looks like some sort of ancient warrior princess. Bit of a change from the green skin and gothic cape that we’ve seen her in before.

The main concern I had prior to watching this film was that it would make Maleficent too good. She is well-known for being one of Disney’s finest villains, and if she was suddenly portrayed as being heroic then she would lose that status. In Sleeping Beauty, we are given no reason for her decision to curse Aurora aside from that she is ‘evil.’ However, in Maleficent, her betrayal at the hands of Stefan provides her with a plausible motive. She becomes bitter and angry, which leads to her ‘evil’ acts, but by the end of the film she has mellowed and fights for Aurora’s life. So okay, yes, she is good, and not exactly the ultimate villain, but she retains her cunning nature and calm confidence. She is no less bad-ass, and you probably wouldn’t want to meet her in a dark alley. But at the same time she evokes a degree of sympathy which, if anything, instead of taking away her evilness just makes her a little bit easier to understand.

Ella Fanning Maleficent
Elle Fanning as Aurora. Image from Ace Showbiz.

Aurora is a slightly less meek character. She has the same innocent and naive air about her, but she is also curious, playful, and confident. She is not afraid to approach Maleficent, or to take control of her own life. Her ambition is to live on the fairy moors, not to find true love, which is a bit of an improvement. It pushes her into action, and as the film reaches its climax Aurora is the one to help save herself and her companions. Prince Phillip is a minor character; the emphasis here is entirely on Maleficent’s and Aurora’s story. His only function, as I see it, is to demonstrate that true love cannot be achieved by only meeting someone once. His kiss fails to awaken Aurora this time, providing a new vision of what true love must involve.

Maleficent’s curse is a little different to how it was before. The third good fairy never gives her gift; Maleficent covers it all by saying Aurora will fall into a sleep like death, only to be awoken by true love’s kiss. Because Maleficent doesn’t believe in true love, she thinks there is no way to revive her. But just for good measure, she adds that ‘this curse will last until the end of time’ and ‘no power on earth can change it.’ Very thorough, much to her later regret. Maleficent keeps watch on Aurora as she grows, and becomes fond of her, showing that she is not completely ‘evil.’ Merely temporarily driven to it by hatred. Personally, I liked seeing this side of her. It was sweet and an interesting take on the story, and also done in a tactful way which makes her come across as both a hero and villain.

Due to her affection towards Aurora, Maleficent tries to revoke her curse but is unable to because of how she worded it. So, Aurora does prick her finger and fall asleep. Now, this is something I found a bit convenient: instead of ordering all the spinning wheels in the kingdom to be burnt, King Stefan simply locks them in a dungeon. In the castle. Y’know, where Aurora is. So she can go wandering around and, of course, just happen to find them. Lazy writing. However, most of them are broken so the curse magically puts one together to fulfil its purpose. So, if the curse can magically create a spinning wheel then why not have it do just that? Why have a random spinning wheel graveyard when it’s not necessary?

Anyway, she falls asleep. As I mentioned earlier, Prince Phillip doesn’t manage to wake her up. So, who does? Take a guess. None other than the former ‘Mistress of all Evil’ herself — Maleficent. On the surface, I didn’t have a problem with this. Looking at the story of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ as a whole, never before has the bad fairy been the one to break the curse, and never before has ‘true love’s kiss’ meant anything apart from romance. I love this as an innovation on the story, and think it’s a positive concept to show — that love comes in many forms.

BUT. Oh Disney, you’ve done this before. And recently, too! Remember Frozen?

WARNING: Frozen spoilers below!

Frozen
Elsa proving that you don’t need a man to have true love – sisters are doing it for themselves these days! Image from Disney Wikia.

At the end, Anna sacrifices herself to save her sister’s life. In doing so, she also breaks the spell upon herself which she was told could only be broken by true love. Instead of romance, her love for her sister was strong enough to save them both.

The same thing can be seen in Maleficent: Prince Phillip’s affection just won’t cut it, same as Kristoff’s couldn’t help Anna. Then, when they believe all is lost because they have no other potential partners, it turns out that they don’t need one after all. Like I said before, I am all for showing that love comes in many forms, and that women are capable of being saved whilst lacking a relationship. But if Disney are going to go down this same route now in every film then it’s going to start feeling a bit forced. 

Overall, Maleficent is not a bad film. It’s a decent retelling of ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ and has a plot which holds together pretty well apart from a few odd points. It’s an interesting focus on Maleficent’s character, even if her evil nature is somewhat diluted. I would recommend this to curious fairy tale fans, and anyone who has seen Disney’s original film and wants to see a bit extra. It’s also a great family film — fairy tale magic for children who want something less princess-y, but are not yet ready for more hardcore fantasy.

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Amelia Starling is a writer, editor, and folklorist. She graduated from the University of Winchester with a degree in Creative Writing, and currently lives in Japan and works as an English teacher. She is also a content editor for Folklore Thursday. Folklore-wise, she's particularly interested in the selkies, witches, and spinning wheels. In her spare time she enjoys travelling, photography, and attempting to play guitar.

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