Disney’s Maleficent Offers a Twist on Sleeping Beauty

MaleficentLike many others, I was completely on board and excited for Disney’s live-action Maleficent, a new look at the “real story” of the dark fairy who we first meet in the classic Sleeping Beauty tale. I had previously fallen in love with the Wicked book series by Gregory Maguire, and thought the way in which it totally turned our thoughts and ideas of “good” and “evil” upside-down and gave us a whole new anti-hero to love. I had high hopes that Maleficent would do something similar and we would find a new appreciation and understanding of this mistress of evil. Unfortunately this was not exactly the case.

As a way of warning, I will note that while I usually keep my movie reviews spoiler-free or with a huge warning ahead of the spoiler parts, I am going to forego that this time, in favor of informing everyone exactly what to expect. If you’d prefer a spoiler-free review, I will not be offended if you leave now and find your information elsewhere. That said, there be spoilers ahead!

To summarize Maleficent, it is the tale of two lands, one is ruled by kings and men and we can understand it instantly as a generic European kingdom. The other is the Moor, a marshy forest full of magical and fantastical creatures of varying size and ability. Maleficent has sort of made herself the protector of the Moor and all who dwell within, who only want peace and to be undisturbed by humans. But a small boy appears, trying to steal a jewel. In pardoning him, Maleficent and the boy, Stephan, form a friendship that grows over the years until, on Maleficent’s 16th birthday, it blossoms into love in the form of a kiss. After that, Stephan disappears and is left to the kingdom of men and its corruption. What follows then is the familiar story with a few twists thrown in. She saves a raven, by transforming him into a man, who then becomes her servant as he owes her a life debt. It isn’t until after Maleficent’s spell is cast on the baby Aurora that the story begins to change and Maleficent’s hardened and betrayed heart soon grows again as she watches over Aurora. I’ll leave it at that, saying that it may not end the way you are expecting and it will certainly challenge your views of good and evil. And now on to my thoughts on Maleficent…

First, the Pros:

Angelina Jolie. She is a perfect, perfect choice for this role, as if she were born to play it, and I’d be happy if she walked around the rest of her life in her Maleficent attire saying “Well, well” whenever it seems to fit. I think, given the story she had to work with, she brought Maleficent to life in a charming, beguiling way and she truly makes the movie worth seeing, if nothing else.

The Special Effects. They are top notch, and definitely fun to watch…they don’t necessarily always make sense or get explained and sometimes seem to be used just for the sake of “look at this cool creature we can make!” but they should be appreciated nonetheless.

Maleficent’s Redemption. I’m all about redemption and second chances and understanding the misunderstood. I love that Maleficent is redeemed and isn’t labeled a villain and evil by movie’s end. I think the audience will be able to identify with most of her story and feel for her.

The Cons:

Character Development. This saddens me the most about this film, and is what dashed my hopes more than anything else. There was such an amazing chance to retell this story well, giving each character a solid backstory and enough development to be understood and appreciated. That simply didn’t happen. We get brief glimpses of a young Maleficent as well as a young Stephan, but there are still so many questions left unanswered. What happened to Maleficent’s parents? What happened to Stephan’s? Why is Maleficent the only fairy of her kind? What are the other kinds of creatures in the Moor all about? Why is Stephan so easily swayed to betray Maleficent and forget about their childhood experiences?

In addition, I think the use of Diavel as the raven we all know from Sleeping Beauty as Diablo, was almost a crutch to allow Maleficent to do anything she needed to do. If she had infinite magic, she could’ve done anything, but instead she used Diavle almost to the point of him wanting to leave. That said, I almost feel as though his character is the most solid. He has the conscience and keeps Maleficent in check when her anger or irresponsibility goes too far, before she sees the error of her ways.

The Special Effects. I know, I just put them in the “pros” section. But really, there are so many cool effects and creatures created for this film that we just can’t appreciate because we know nothing about them. I was reminded of Oz the Great and Powerful and the random creatures that first appear when Oz lands. I was definitely left with a “what was the point of that?” with many of the effects, both Maleficent’s powers and the creatures we see. I’m not saying taking the time to explain each creature and give it a backstory would’ve been the answer, but perhaps most of them just weren’t even necessary…focus on the characters and let the power of the story carry the film.

The Story. I could lump this together with character development but I think it needs its own section. I loved Maleficent’s story. I even loved Aurora’s story, though she doesn’t have much to do with it herself. But everything else happening around it, just left me disappointed. The three fairies who “care” for Aurora are so unlikable and annoying, I began to cringe every time they came on screen. The same with King Stephan. We don’t know enough about him to warrant his decent into a mad king who will stop at nothing to “protect” his daughter, though when confronted with her toward the end, shows absolutely no fatherly love whatsoever. Everyone but Maleficent was very frustrating to watch, and even then, there are many unanswered questions with her as well.

Maleficent dragon

 

PARENTS GUIDE: In my opinion, this is NOT a young-family-friendly Disney film. It is not bloody or full of gore, but as a mom of a pretty tough 5 year-old, I know I’d be dealing with nightmares from the tree and root creatures alone, not to mention some pretty tough scenes to watch like Maleficent waking up to discover her wings gone and the various fight scenes. It is definitely not a film for younger fans of Sleeping Beauty. I would place it on par with Lord of the Rings-type of action minus the gore. I’d compare it to Harry Potter, but the focus is not on children and their experiences, so I can’t say it would be received the same way to kids as the first few Potter films. Obviously each parent knows their kids the best and can decide with their children what they can handle, but I think some research should be done before blindly going in because it is based on a Disney princess movie.

So overall, I was sadly disappointed with Maleficent. I wish it could’ve been done better and been a film which would stand the test of time and offer a new sort of fairy tale and inspire kids and adults alike to look at things from a different point of view. As it stands, I can’t in good conscience recommend the film. Even if I’d read this review myself before seeing the film, I would’ve still seen it because I am a fan of Angelina Jolie and I would’ve wanted to see the story myself, but keep your expectations low if you choose to go to Maleficent this summer.





About Suzannah Mitchell

Boston girl living and blogging in Walt Disney World's backyard. Mom of 3, coffee addict, oh and Princess of course!