Movies or books that revisit the tragic origin stories of villains are nothing new (i.e., the Star Wars prequels, Wicked), in which the motivations and internal struggle of the main character and soon-to-be antagonist are revealed. Disney’s Maleficent, however, throws that notion out the window and delivers a disjointed film that tries to capitalize on the themes of more popular movies of its time.
Maleficent was half of a good movie. I say half because – much like Hancock (2008) – it was an interesting premise until the plot took an unpredicted and uncharacteristic twist for the worst. As mentioned above, villain origin stories are nothing new and are in fact, quite interesting, but each of those stories end the same way: with the villain being the villain (even if they are just misunderstood). For whatever reason, the creators of Maleficent decided to completely go against Maleficent’s established character and make her the good guy at the end.
Now, some of you may say, “But David, at the very beginning of the movies, Maleficent tells the audience that this story is different from what they have heard before.” That’s true and I could respect that little workaround that the writers clearly put in, but if only for the obvious parallels between this movie and its parent, Disney’s 1959 animated classic Sleeping Beauty. One such obvious parallel besides the characters and story is the filmmakers use of Eleanor Audley’s iconic cackle from Sleeping Beauty. It may have been intended just as a nod to Audley’s memorable performance, but it only serves to further tie the two films together.
This movie is obviously designed to be the prequel of Sleeping Beauty, to tell the story of the Mistress of all Evil (as she describes herself), but the movie loses its purpose halfway through its plot. Maleficent is bad. Like, really bad. She’s the only Disney villain to curse in an animated movie. She’s been bad in every iteration of her character since Sleeping Beauty. If you doubt my evaluation of her evil, watch Belated Media’s video on the Top 8 Disney Villains, of which Maleficent is pretty high up there.
Like I said, Maleficent was half of a good movie. I really enjoyed seeing her beauty, benevolence, and power horrendously twisted by King Stefan’s greed (if you didn’t quite catch that, that is a nice allusion to man’s parasitic relationship with nature). Telling that story revealed just why Maleficent was so evil and why she put a curse on this innocent baby. I liked that. I liked it even more after Maleficent watched the baby from afar, sometimes intervening to save her from the negligence of her bumbling (and very annoyingly portrayed) fairy caretakers. But all the while, we have this suspicion that Maleficent is only taking care of “Little Beastie” because she will serve as the instrument of King Stefan’s downfall.
The two grow attached, they have conversations, Aurora sees Maleficent as her guardian angel, and then everything goes wrong. We get a scene where Maleficent tries to remove her curse from Aurora because she realizes what she’s done is wrong, but she can’t because of the deep, deep magic or some convoluted crap like that. Then, the curse goes on, the crow becomes a dragon, and Maleficent saves Aurora with a kiss of fraternal love instead of a romantic love – a theme that was made popular (and was executed much more effectively imo) in Frozen. Then, Maleficent is the hero and everything is happy.
Let me tell you how the story should have gone. Maleficent is bad. We all know this. We all know where she is going to end up and what’s going to happen, because we’ve all seen Sleeping Beauty. The only question we have is how not what. So, let’s go back in time to this scene where Maleficent is trying to remove the spell and just throw out everything in the script after that.
Instead, Aurora somehow comes to learn that Maleficent placed this curse on her. Aurora comes to her guardian angel in tears, unable to understand why she would do this to her; doesn’t she love her? Then, we hear Maleficent’s low, sultry voice say, “I do love you, but I hate your father more. You will be the tool of your father’s downfall and I will not remove the curse.” (Not because she cannot, but because she will not). “Your father will die, even if it means my heart must break again.”
Wow. And like that, Maleficent becomes even more tragic and it adds layers and layers of depth to her character. We see a character that is consumed by her rage and hatred, and honestly, we can sympathize with her because we all saw it; Stefan really screwed her over!
After that, Aurora runs into the woods and meets the charming Prince Phillip. We see a relationship that is very parallel to Maleficent’s relationship with Stefan at the beginning, but we soon learn that Phillip is not consumed by greed like Stefan was and is actually a good guy. We see the two develop a relationship and fall in love.
Then, the story continues very akin to how Sleeping Beauty played out with elements from Maleficent thrown in. Aurora pricks her finger, Maleficent storms the castle to take her vengeance on Stefan, and Phillip races to save his love. As Phillip and Aurora’s pure love story plays out, we see the flip side of their love in the epic lover’s spat between Maleficent and Stefan. It’s an emotional fight with Maleficent unleashing her fury on Stefan and blaming him for what he made her. Her hatred could lead to carelessness and in fact endanger Aurora’s life or the life of her savior, Prince Phillip, but she is so consumed by her hatred that she doesn’t even notice. Eventually, Phillip reaches Aurora and awakens her with true love’s kiss. Just in time for Aurora to see her father killed by Maleficent.
Ever the valiant knight, Phillip races to avenge his fallen king and we get to watch along with Aurora as this climatic fight unfolds between Aurora’s true love and her guardian angel. With some magical help from the fairies, Phillip defeats Maleficent and she lay on the steps slowly dying. Then, we see Aurora step into view through the fog and blurring edges of Maleficent’s vision. She looks over Maleficent and we are sure that Aurora is going to let her have it now. Instead she says, “I forgive you.” And then, Maleficent dies with a smile on her face.
Boom. And there we have a contrasting comparison between the constraining effects of hate and the liberating power of forgiveness. Maleficent was shackled by her hate for years, she was a slave to it. Aurora refuses to be consumed by that same life and resolves to forgive the woman that basically tried to use her as a human weapon (oddly similar to how King Stefan used Maleficent at the beginning of the movie). Ah, the self-perpetuating cycle of violence… Broken by forgiveness and compassion, we must not fail to note!
We are left sad and aching for Maleficent, with just a hint of satisfaction at her victory over Stefan, but we also have a story that perfectly parallels with the story of Sleeping Beauty, which is what this movie was to be a reimagining of.
I’m not one to go see a movie because Angelina Jolie is in it.
Then again, I’m not one to not go see a movie because Angelina Jolie is in it. I must say, however, I really enjoyed her portrayal of Maleficent. I think her natural beauty and alluring voice just worked so well in bringing the Mistress of all Evil to life.
As for everyone else in the movie…? I can honestly say they didn’t leave any real impressions on me, except for one of annoyance as far as the three fairy caretakers are concerned. There was no stand out acting and no real stand out characters besides Maleficent.
You really can’t go wrong with James Newton Howard composing your music, with such credits under his belt as The Dark Knight, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and many others. The music may be the best part of this movie…
Is it okay to take kids to see Maleficent? Yes. Convoluted and ill-developed plot aside, this is a movie kids would enjoy. It has action, fairies, and slapstick humor. Action scenes, a scary dragon, and Stefan’s off-screen mutilating of Maleficent’s wings may be scary for some kids.
Maleficent is a half-baked movie, with no memorable performances outside of Angelina Jolie’s portrayal of Maleficent, and a wonderful score composed by James Newton Howard. However, Jolie and Howard’s powers combined cannot save this sloppy movie.
I give Maleficent a…
What do you think? Was I too harsh on this movie? Do you agree with my proposed plot for the movie or do you have your own? Let me know in the comments below!