Reluctantly, I must admit to confusing this movie with Snow White. Professionalism at its best. You’ll forgive me for not making a distinction between that and Sleeping Beauty. The similarities seem obvious: two genetically-blessed princesses are forced to leave their castles thanks to evil women, and end up falling into an eternal slumber awaiting true love’s arrival with a kiss.
I think I can come to terms with myself.
Maleficent isn’t concerned with the romantic idealism of either. It’s a brave rendition that tells something more thorough. Akin to Noah, it takes material that’s considered classic and has the audacity to make it better – filling in the lines to achieve a story with emotional awareness.
Maleficent is far more interested in messing with fairy tales. Part origin story and part re-imagining, it follows a young fairy’s friendship and eventual romance with a human boy, Stefan, who betrays Maleficent’s trust by cutting off her wings and presenting them to the king so as to inherit the crown. Stefan becomes king and has a baby girl named Aurora who Maleficent curses to fall into slumber on her 16th birthday at the prick of a spinning needle. Consequently, the king sends his daughter away to the forest, under the care of a trio of near-unbearable fairies, so to prevent the curse.
After a somewhat adequate first act, the lady clad in black proceeds to watch Aurora as she grows. She is amusingly taken with the clumsiness of the small girl she calls ‘beastie’, and curiously enchanted by her innocence and glee.
What eventuates is the difference that makes Maleficent a better version of the original story. Understandably vindictive and resentful after being double-crossed by the person she trusted most, Maleficent’s sorrow turns to hopelessness, and this reluctance to trust nurtures itself into malice (and there’s a Star Wars joke hiding somewhere). It revises an intangibly evil villainess for a wounded human being, with a buried benevolence and hints at the possibility of redemption.
I normally don’t mention actors unless the performance calls for it, which is why I’m going to say that Angelina Jolie is exquisite as Maleficent. She plays it with a delicacy that’s positively delectable. Even downright yummy. Or perhaps I’m thinking of Tomb Raider.
The story takes many brave leaps, and goes so far as to rewire the romantic motivations of the original for something far more real, and to be honest, realistic. That being said, there are things it also really shouldn’t have; ’cause Aurora’s character is almost a joke. She’s impossibly merry, all the time…about everything. You’d think she sneezed glitter! And she doesn’t have any reason to be other than the ‘wish’ the fairies made upon her. If anything, she should be bored. Even if this is a fairy tale where stuff like this ‘kind of’ makes sense, her relentless jolliness isn’t good characterisation, it’s just ridiculous.
The same could be said for the three fairies. Say what you may about Aurora but at least she was funny to watch. These three are not, though they’re supposed to be – and that makes them tedious.
It’s comforting that the studio who rethought this popular story are also the ones who established so many of our vintage ideals growing up. That Disney has re-evaluated their conceptions of traditional romance and the good/evil dichotomy they were so influential in maintaining, notions that weren’t necessarily helpful – gives me hope for the stories children are experiencing. Tales like this one and Frozen, look deeper than surface-level into motivations and understanding, and present stories with layers of complexity.