Despite a torrent of steady buzz around the movie, I only recently sat down to watch Maleficent, Disney’s creative reimagining of the original animated film, Sleeping Beauty. This new incarnation starred Angelina Jolie as Maleficent, the fairy turned sorceress, and Elle Fanning as Aurora, the cursed princess doomed to sleep forever.
Overall, I enjoyed the movie. I know some Sleeping Beauty fans who were turned off by the film’s much darker portrayal of the Disney classic, but the darker treatment didn’t bother me. The darkness was the setup for Maleficent’s fall and redemption, which was a loftier subjects than the original fairytale. They also reflected the darker elements of the original story’s roots.
Angelina Jolie was dynamic in her role. Elle Fanning was iridescent in her innocence. They made a good pair—polar opposites of moral extremes. Dark and light. Hate and love. Maleficent’s innocence was stolen by a cynical man who had once befriended her when they were children, then used that friendship to further his political gains.
I especially enjoyed the cinematography and the way they fit Jolie into the scenes as a design element for maximum effect. Maleficent was lovingly staged and a visual feast. Jolie bore those horns as if they were actually a part of her. When Maleficent perched in the shadows and stared out with those piercing eyes, I felt as if she was truly magical. Menacing, yet beautiful, Jolie was constantly a joy to watch.
In contrast, Elle Fanning was so gosh darn adorable that she brightened each scene as if she glowed from within. It takes skill to act innocent and sweet without being sappy and cloying. Fanning was a perfect counterpart to the roiling, seething anger of a Maleficent spurned and betrayed.
Unfortunately, the story was often predictable. My youngest daughter deeply regretted watching Maleficent with me after a while as I predicted the plot twists. I’d even predict the scene cuts. My favorite moment was when I said “Cue the prince!” and snapped my fingers a nanosecond before he arrived. I remember when my oldest daughters used to think it was magical when I did things like that, but my youngest daughter just wanted to clobber me. The only thing that I didn’t predict was the iron netting. I even predicted the true kiss that would save Aurora, which earned me a murderous gaze. She had seen the movie before, but I hadn’t, so some of these plot points should have been harder to predict for me than they were.
The male characters were surprisingly flat compared to the female characters. I disliked watching any scene Stephan the adult was in. I needed to see him change from young lad with drive into a craven, duplicitous cad—not have it narrated to me. I simply didn’t buy his motivation, and his portrayal of a half-mad king was more of a caricature than the 2D cartoon he was based on. Was that a problem with Shallot Copley’s acting? Considering how one dimensional the other males were, I don’t believe so.
As for the “rape” scene, it certainly was a powerful scene of betrayal, but a bit dark for a Disney flick. The medieval date rape drug was a bit over the top as well. However, the scene was heartbreakingly acted by Jolie, making her healing through the innocence of the child of her “rapist” all the more poignant—a wonderful character arc. Jolie has gone on record stating that the scene where her wings were stolen was based on rape. The symbolism seems hard to miss, but I have met many adults and children simply saw the scene as wing theft.
Maleficent was an aggressive retelling of the original Sleeping Beauty, focusing on women’s issues and turning the character Maleficent into a living, breathing, sympathetic person that the audience will grow to love. I definitely recommend seeing it.
Release Date: May 30, 2014 (USA)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Alcohol/Drugs: 3 (strong mead, and medieval roofie)
Language: 1 (mild)
Sexuality: 5 (wing theft depicted metaphorically as date rape)
Violence: 3 (death, conflict, wing rape)