Special props to Alamo Drafthouse for displaying a respect and love of movies I have seldom seen in other theaters. Please check them out and support their venues, if you can 🙂
Before I get into the new movie, let me just say that the original voice actress, Eleanor Audley, really made the character of Maleficent for me.
She was smooth, cool, calculating, menacing, and she could turn to any emotion she needed on a dime. Her laugh was a chilling wonder to my ears. If I had to give a rough estimate, 40% of her is the character design, 20% is the music, and the remaining 40% was Audley.
Again, for me personally.
Ever since Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, whenever I’ve seen this delightful, demonic dame in anything else (predominantly Kingdom Hearts), all I’ve heard is people doing their best Audley impressions. And, while Susanne Blakslee continues to do the best that she can, I am never completely satisfied. It’s one of the few times I’m hopelessly stubborn, and nothing will help fix it.
So when I saw the casting choices for this movie, I got excited. I really wanted Angelina Jolie to make the character her own, and not just do her best shot at copy-pasting the old identity. It wasn’t just Maleficent anymore, after all. It was her Wicked-esque counterpart, capable, perhaps, of some level of good, and garnering some level of empathy from the audience. There was plenty of room for growth and character development, even for self-proclaimed “Mistress of All Evil.”
I had sort of high hopes for it, but went in as blind as I possibly could for the most natural reaction.
Having just returned from seeing the movie with my mom, still garbed in my Maleficent shirt (courtesy of Hot Topic), I’m eager to talk about what I’ve seen.
*Warning: Spoilers below this point. Skip to the bottom for overall rating
Also, this is not a straight up comparison of the two stories. I’m treating Maleficent as a separate thing from Sleeping Beauty, because that’s how it’s supposed to be anyway. That way, I’ll be guaranteed to nitpick less than I did with Cinderella 3.
The Plot + First Impressions
The story begins by pitting two worlds against one another; the one of the fairies and magical creatures (The Moors), and that of the humans, which for the purposes of this movie we will regard as just one kingdom. The humans don’t seem too concerned with the dealings of other humans anyway, but rather with the powerful and potentially dangerous fairy folk.
Maleficent, who I half expected would adopt the name later and begin with something more pleasant (because it sounds evil right from the start), is a young fairy with horns and big half-eagle, half-dragon wings. She is young, but appears to be the head of her realm, and, at least later, its primary protector.
One day, she finds a boy stealing a gem from a pool near the edge of the realm, and spares him. The two become fast friends and, as time goes on, “something more.”
Two things here:
1) The child actors for both young Maleficent and young Stephan aren’t anything special. I’m not sure if they just aren’t acting well, or if the script doesn’t give them much to work with. Their characters both have one note, which is to prepare the audience for the coming tragedy where they will be forced to part and become enemies. There is nothing wrong with simplicity, but their story together was rushed, and suffered for it by being not very compelling or interesting.
2) Here is where I rolled my eyes in the theatre. Yet another “woman becomes evil because men” plot. Didn’t we see this already in Oz the Great and Powerful last year? And a bunch of other movies before? Do women ever do anything without being compelled to by a man or his actions towards them?
That said, it’s decently done, aside from the aforementioned rushed start.
Stephan burned her by accident during their first meeting. He wore a ring made of iron, which is the only thing that hurts fairies. Not quite sure how that works, but okay. Maleficent was very moved when she told him about it and he immediately threw the ring away, not wanting to hurt his new friend.
But Stephan stops coming around. Right after he sort of kissed her and claimed it was true love (it was kind of on screen, but dark enough to maybe qualify as offscreen too. Meh).
Years later, Maleficent fends off an attack from the humans and their king, mortally wounding him in the process. She might have meant to kill him, but whether she did or not, a piece of iron on the king’s armor burned her, leading her to conclude that Stephan betrayed her and her kins’ only weakness to the other humans.
Back with said humans, King Henry is dying. He hesitates to name his successor, but angrily urges his men to avenge him.
Stephan, who has been swayed by greed and lust for power, goes back to Maleficent, seemingly trying to make peace with her. He essentially ruffies her so he can kill her easily, but in the midst of that crucial moment, he just can’t do it. So he does the next best thing.
Maleficent wakes the next day to find that her wings have been cut off. Stephan takes them back to the king, claims that he killed Maleficent, and King Henry gives him his daughter and the kingdom on the spot.
Maleficent responds accordingly.
So the fairy kingdom has sort of become her “Forbidden Mountain” from the original movie. The menace of it is a bit underwhelming, but then, she does pretty much leave the rest of the fairies alone.
My question here is: do they fear her because she’s making things all dark and scary? Or is it because all fairies have wings, and now that hers are gone, “shun the weirdo!”
Maleficent gets a sidekick in the form of a raven named Diaval, who she changes into a human to scare off the man who was about to beat him to death. He swears loyalty, to change as she requires and to be her “wings.”
Some time passes, and King Stephan and his still nameless queen (it was almost as laughable as her treatment in the original) have a baby. Three fairies, who hope to foster peace between their people and the humans, come to give the child magical blessings.
Maleficent comes in and screws things up for everyone.
Things to note here:
1) Being so wary and distrustful of magical creatures as he and his people are, I’m surprised Stephan let the fairies in at all.
2) How were the fairies planning to deal with Maleficent if Stephan accepted? She appears to be the only real thing standing between the peace of the two races…besides, you know, the insatiable greed and dominance of man.
3) What was the point of the third fairy’s gift being cut off in this version? Maleficent creates the condition by which the curse can be broken, though she does it with mocking irony, twisting in the knife that was the “lie” Stephan fed her as a girl. We never find out what the third gift was, and the fairy didn’t even use it to alleviate the spell afterward. So why?
4) Either Stephan had to do some serious trading and importing, or the kingdom must have undergone a serious shortage, with all those spinning wheels burned and locked away.
Maleficent quotes the dialogue from the original, almost word for word, until she’s almost finished casting the curse. Then she taunts King Stephan, making him beg in the sight of his entire kingdom, and curses Aurora anyway.
From here, the story takes an interesting turn.
The fairies, who are for some reason renamed despite almost all of the other major characters retaining their original names, take Aurora to the cottage in the forest. Where Maleficent finds them immediately.
The fairies, who were once inept at many things without the use of their magic (but at least didn’t neglect Aurora and almost let her kill herself), are horrible caretakers. Which makes sense, seeing as they’re now a size they aren’t used to, have never cared for infants before, and bicker just as much as their Sleeping Beauty counterparts.
This bickering was funny at times, but nowhere near as funny or endearing as Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather. These new fairies had a lot less personality; just plot props of basic idiocy, bumbling, and slapstick. Not necessarily a bad thing, though.
Maleficent and Diaval, instead of killing, tormenting, or even messing with Aurora, keep her safe and even play with her a little.
I was expecting the good-girl-gone-bad backstory, but truthfully, I wasn’t sure how far it would extend into the rest of the movie.
Maleficent, while trying to remain snarky and detached, protects the girl, slowly growing affection for her as time goes on. She does mess with the fairies, though, which is funny. Especially since one of them is played by Dolores Umbridge.
While this happens, Maleficent builds a giant thorny wall (similar to the “forest of thorns” she sets against Philip in the original), keeping her realm separate from Stephan’s. The king, now going mad with fear and desperation, sets his iron workers to the task of building devices he can use to bring the wicked fairy down.
Aurora grows into a 15-year-old, as you do, when Maleficent reveals herself. Maleficent takes her to the Moors, curious to see how she will react, and watches her mingle and play with the other fairy folk within. The two grow closer than ever, and Maleficent worries about the curse she placed, even going so far as to try to undo it one night while Aurora sleeps…
Sadly, the curse is stronger than her, and she can’t remove it.
Aurora asks to go and live with Maleficent forever in the Moors, and she happily accepts. On the way home, Aurora meets Prince Philip, from the Kingdom of Who Cares, who is off to see Stephan for I forget why (which is basically a footnote in the movie. Though it does have a reason). She asks to see him again sometime, and he says sure.
Could zis be love, perhaps?
Diaval mentions to Maleficent that this boy might be the key to freeing Aurora of the curse, but the fairy rebuffs him, saying that “true love’s kiss” does not exist.
When Aurora gets home, the useless fairies spill the beans. She quickly deduces who the caster of the curse is, and we have a classic 3rd act misunderstanding that separates her from Maleficent. I hate that trope and how often it’s used, especially in kids’ movies, but it’s not too egregious here.
It’s short, but manages to keep some of its potency.
While Maleficent knocks Philip out and rides to the castle with him (rather than trying to explain why a suspicious lady with horns is being friendly with him), King Stephan is preparing for her coming. Aurora comes in, and Stephan barely acknowledges her with a kind word or two, before locking her in her room until everything is over. The spell then calls to Aurora, leading her to the room where the spinning wheels were burned and magicking up a brand new one for her convenience.
Maleficent feels it as the spell enacts, but she is more determined than ever to get Philip there so he can try his kiss on her.
Surprise, surprise. Philip’s kiss doesn’t work!
Oh, Disney. You and you’re predictable unpredictability…
In the same vein as Frozen, Disney is determined to teach the kiddies that true love isn’t just a spouse/significant other thing. If you detect some sarcasm here, it is not me saying that it’s a bad message in any way. Just a trend I predict will keep on happening in as many ways as Disney can figure out.
Maleficent developed a sort of motherly affection for Aurora throughout the years, and she realized that she was hurting an innocent person, when she had only intended to wound the man who had wounded her. Her rage and hatred clouded her judgment and took hold of her, but it could not change the person she really was.
Maleficent kisses Aurora (on the forehead, lest you think what I thought for a split second in the theatre), which wakes her. Together, they leave to live in the Moors together, Aurora feeling no connection to a home and a father she never knew anyway.
Stephan intervenes, trapping Maleficent in a net of iron. As she severely weakens from her burns, she set Diaval on the soldiers, turning her confidant into a dragon.
Yay! Kind of random and it felt last-minute, but I’ll take it! Fight! Fight! Fight!
Aurora escapes into another room to avoid the fire and carnage, and she comes across Maleficent’s old wings, strung up like a trophy on Stephan’s wall. She frees them, and they fuse back onto their owner, giving her back strength and power.
She and Stephan fight a bit before she subdues him, giving him the oft-used “it’s over” line, before turning away.
Little did she know that the only way to stamp out a threat is to kill it. Don’t leave your enemies alive to plot and scheme or, worse, assume they’ll “reform.”
Stephan tries to kill her, they plummet to the ground together, and Maleficent throws him off at nearly the last second.
Maleficent steps down as Queen of the Moors and hands that title over to Aurora, basically uniting the two lands and making things bright and sunshiny again. With her wings back, she is free to fly again too.
And the elderly narrator was Aurora.
Pros, Cons, and Other Details
Angelina Jolie plays Maleficent very well, neither trying to be exactly like the original character nor straying too far from what made her awesome to begin with…well, except when she’s being “good.”
She brought some charm and class with her accent alone, adding in some freaky-contact eye rolling, widening, and creepy smiles for extra fun. Her enjoyment of the role definitely shines through.
Really, my only complaints with the acting are with the children, minus Aurora because none of her actresses got enough lines to really emote or convey much besides child-like wonder and whimsy. Or, when she’s a baby, pooping and crying. I’m torn about whether it is the fault of the kids or the director, but kids have more of an excuse by the very nature of them being kids.
It wasn’t a terribly big deal, but it did make the already short backstory a lot less strong than it could have been.
Some plot elements are vague, but they aren’t too distracting most of the time.
The music is very nice; the score was done by James Newton Howard, who most recently gave us the score for Hunger Games: Catching Fire. It’s epic, whimsical, and fantastical, at times reminding me of the Sleeping Beauty score, particularly in “ooh, Maleficent’s evil” songs.
The album can be found on iTunes and other streaming places. I definitely recommend “Maleficent Suite” and “Maleficent Flies.”
The story feels very small, somehow even smaller than the original, but that isn’t bad or even an odd thing. The story is meant to be a reimagining with a specific POV on the villain, who is not really a villain but a victim of cruel fate and circumstance. Wicked has begun a trend of stories, most recently and notably Frozen, where the supposed villainess is not what she seems, and a bunch of coincidental misunderstandings put her at odds with the other good people.
Maleficent does become genuinely evil for a portion of this movie, as she does cruel and hurtful things to deserving and undeserving people, but it’s very short-lived. She’s only a villain for maybe five minutes, before receding back into more of an anti-hero role. She’s funny, and we cheered for her plenty of times, Mom and I. Some of that was the novelty of her playing sarcastic babysitter to Aurora, but she did get some funny lines, and seemed neither too crotchety nor too loose and whimsical.
She does have some reputation to uphold, you know.
We get to see some powers, which are totally awesome. But I get the feeling that people will call it fan-pandering. I didn’t mind so much because: hey, powers. This movie would have been just a lot of talking otherwise.
The effects are really good; well-blended. They look pretty standard decent CG. If you’ve seen any movie in the last few years, these effects are right on par. I’m curious to see how much further CG can go, because these days it feels like it’s just spinning its wheels (haha, pun), not getting much better but not worse either, unless it’s a crap movie.
I think it was a wise decision to not make Jolie’s skin green. As we saw in Oz the Great and Powerful, it might make you look more silly than threatening.
Some elements from the original story seemed to be tossed aside for no better reason than “we couldn’t find time/a way to work it in,” but that’s adaptation in a nutshell.
You can bring your kids to this one; there were certainly kids in my theatre, oohing and awing at the effects. Be warned though: there is some nightmare fodder here. The main one that stood out to me was wolf Diaval, but just look at the star of the film. Maleficent. Mistress of All Evil.
You’ll definitely want to accompany your younger, more easily spooked offspring. I wasn’t scared of Maleficent as a kid (barring that one scene ^), but I knew a lot of kids who were.
Just a suggestion.
As I left the theatre with my mom, we were discussing Angelina Jolie’s recent surgeries.
Upon discovering that she had a gene that would increase her odds of breast cancer, the very same cancer that her mother had died of, she decided to remove her breasts, and later her ovaries.
We wondered together whether or not agreeing to star in this movie was a sort of symbolic speech; if she sympathized with the characterization of Maleficent, whose wings (her initial source of power and identifying feature as one of the fairy folk) were taken from her. Could she be speaking to our American culture on some level, (where big breasts, big hips, and fertility are still regarded by many as the defining characteristics of “womanhood,”) reclaiming and reaffirming her own identity?
In terms of this movie specifically, who knows?
As to my rating of the film overall, it was decent. I had much fun watching it.
I get the sense that plenty will call it underwhelming, an insult to the original character, yada yada yada. Others will say it was fan-pandering. “You want powers? Here! You want dragon? Here you go!”
It was a fun movie-going experience, and an interesting attempt to add a character outside of “mwahahahahahahahahahaha!”
To paraphrase the almighty Nostalgic Critic, new adaptations and reimaginings, however awful they might be, can’t take away value or hype from the original. Even if this new Maleficent isn’t as cool or wicked, it doesn’t change the fact that Sleeping Beauty made her one of the top Disney villains ever.
I’d say definitely check out Maleficent (2014) before you condemn it. It’s a nice mix of Disney, classic fairytale, and gritty reboot, all in one.
*Images/Video that do not belong to Disney are: Anchorman, M. Night Shyamalan, Harry Potter, Spongebob, and Star Trek. Nothing is mine, as usual, though I did take the picture of the movie poster 🙂