What if I told you that Maleficent, known as the greatest, most powerful, and most evil Disney Villain was… a Fairy Godmother? What? Oh, dear… what an awkward situation…
Maleficent is the re-telling of the Disney classic Sleeping Beauty, with the focus on the main villain of that film. People constantly compare this to the story of Wicked: they share the similar concept of the villain never truly being evil. Unlike Wicked, which was more of a “what you didn’t see” story, Maleficent has more of a “what-if” scenario, since they change almost every element of the original tale.
So, in this version, Maleficent (played by Angelina Jolie) started out as a kind and innocent fairy (who was somehow named Maleficent… if she’s not supposed to be evil, don’t give her a name which literally says “EVIL”!) who protected the land of the Moors, in a battle between the humans and the magical creatures. When she was younger, she encountered a peasant boy named Stephan (played by Sharlto Copley as an adult), who had the ambition of becoming the ruler of the land. They fall in love and share what Stephan called a “true love’s kiss”. However, Stephan was tempted by power, and in order to obtain the succession to the throne, he had to kill Maleficent. He instead cuts-off and steals her wings, claiming that he has killed her, and is crowned King. Maleficent, feeling betrayed and heartbroken, vows for revenge. Some time later, King Stephan hosts a christening for his newborn daughter, Aurora. As her revenge on Stephan, Maleficent arrives uninvited and curses the princess: on her 16th birthday, Aurora will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die (though she says “sleep-like death”, unlike the original story where one of the fairies changed death to sleep). To the King’s pleading, Maleficent adds that only a true love’s kiss can break the curse, but only because she doesn’t believe in true love’s kiss. You know the gist: Stephan sends his daughter away for her own protection to be raised by the three good fairies (played by Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville). Maleficent, seeing the princess grow over the years, begins to care for her, and at 15, Aurora (played by Elle Fanning) meets her and mistakes Maleficent for her Fairy Godmother.
The more I think about Maleficent, the less and less I like it. The idea is to change the way we see good and evil, but the film fails on that aspect, except for one thing (and you already know what I’m talking about): Angelina Jolie as Maleficent. And I don’t just mean the performance. I also like the way they re-told her backstory.
Some people were bothered by the whole “evil ex-girlfriend” revenge story, and some were bothered by the forced “rape” metaphor with the wings, but I think that it works here. From her betrayal, Maleficent feels love is nothing but a lie, and a tool used against her, which made her feel foolish and vulnerable, and has her lose something precious. When we see her form a relationship with Aurora, it makes her slowly realise that love is real, and that love is not a weakness, but a strength. Jolie’s performance adds to the emotion of the character, like the pain and sorrow when she loses her wings, making it understandable why it leads her to doing what she does. It’s also believable when we see her bond with Aurora (and I like that they used Jolie’s real-life daughter as infant-Aurora in one scene, which was really cute). The backstory also works, because it explains why the terms of the curse were included: why Aurora had to be 16, since she was 16 when she lost her wings, and why it was a sleep-like death, because Stephan drugged her. And the addition of the “true love’s kiss” to the curse was clever.
Jolie does a fantastic job playing Maleficent, whether she was playing the kind and playful girl, or the evil villainess we all know from the original Disney classic. Her performance and motivations were very consistent. On top of that, I loved her outfits and the make-up work they used on her (specifically the Lady-Gaga-inspired cheeks). When I went to the London Film and Comic Con, I wasn’t surprised to see about four different girls dressing-up as Maleficent. Angelina Jolie just made that character her own, just like how Johnny Depp made Jack Sparrow his own.
Anything else I liked before I get into the negative aspects? Well, the film looks very nice. It does look beautiful and stylistic. It keeps a glow-y, fairy tale look. I also liked how Maleficent can put a spell which puts people to sleep, and making them float mid-air when they’re unconscious, like they’re floating on water. It looks really cool. And I liked Maleficent’s raven Diaval, played by Sam Riley, who gets to be turned into a human (and other animals) so that Maleficent gets a buddy to talk to and assist her.
A performance that took me by surprise was Elle Fanning as Aurora. In her writing, she’s follows the “generic good” character. She isn’t as opinionated or rebellious as the original Aurora, who did respect and care for her aunts, but also wanted to get out and meet new people. Even so, I did get attracted to Aurora’s character in this film. In terms of performance, she has a very playful and lively personality that it’s hard not to like her. And like the original, she’s very kind, graceful and even a bit mischievous. Fanning was just lovely on screen and really makes a great Disney Princess.
Sadly, I can’t say the same for the rest of the characters in the film. Not only are they poorly written, but they are very unlikeable. It wasn’t the performances that ruined it, but the characters themselves.
King Stephan’s motivation is very confusing. He became corrupted by power, but he still loved Maleficent and never wanted to hurt her, but when we see him later, she somehow drives him mad, and he desperately wants her to be killed. Initially he wants his daughter to be protected, and we even see that later, but then he puts her daughter aside so he can try to kill Maleficent? Do you two even remember that you were once in love? Why is Stephan so psychotic? And what’s his priority: his daughter or killing Maleficent? In the end, he was just the bad guy and nothing else.
Prince Phillip has little to nothing to do in the film. Like the other characters, they downgraded him in order to focus on Maleficent’s relationship with Aurora. The original Prince Phillip was more developed (really the first developed Disney Prince), and he had a very big role in the story. Here, he just seems to be a decoy, if you know what I mean. It’s not the actor’s fault, as he has little to nothing to work with.
The worst offense has to be what they did to the three good fairies. They’re the worst thing about this film! They have them as small pixie versions of themselves, and the CGI faces look very fake and unnatural. Though later they use real actresses when they turn human size anyway, so what’s the point of turning them into fake CGI pixies? It’s also weird, because Maleficent is also a fairy, so she doesn’t have to turn herself into a pixie (though maybe there are different kinds of fairies, but they never touch upon it). But what’s worse is that these fairies are just horrible people. I know the idea was to make them so bad at their job so that they can make Maleficent become the surrogate mother for Aurora, but these fairies are just stupid and so inept at their job that it’s annoying and frustrating. No wonder Maleficent found Aurora so quickly! Sometimes Maleficent is using her magic on them, but none of them question anything. Nor do they seem to know where Aurora is going, because they’re so neglectful and are terrible at keeping Aurora safe, as it doesn’t even feel like they care about her at all. They do nothing but complain about having to take care of her, and having to live together with the fairies. No wonder Aurora doesn’t immediately tell them about Maleficent!
It’s such a shame, because the three fairies in the original were likable, funny, and were practically the main characters of the story! It was the fairies who have the idea to protect and raise Aurora, and eventually they rescue Phillip and assist him to defeating Maleficent, even enchanting the sword in order to kill the dragon! They’re the real heroes of the story! So to downgrade the fairies from the original film to such a degrading level is just… depressing.
The rest of the writing is just flat, and some of the logic doesn’t add up. If Maleficent’s able to make her crow transform into any creature she wants, including a dragon, why not grow her wings back herself? And if the humans and the magical creatures are at war, why were the three fairies allowed to bless the child during the christening? Why are the humans so against the Moors?
This film had so much potential and could have been something fantastic, but was just mediocre. Maleficent had so much going for it, because there was so much that was done with Angelina Jolie’s version of the character. The worst part is that there is so much that could have been fixed, but they didn’t, because they put Maleficent so front-and-centre that they forgot about everything else. While I did care for Maleficent and Aurora’s relationship, it’s so important to the story that it makes the rest of the characters less developed or shoved aside. They even just had Aurora’s real mother just dying off-screen during the film, like she’s not even important. How sad that Maleficent robbed her of that chance, and that it’s not even touched upon in the story!
It didn’t bother me that it’s a loose adaptation of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, and that they’re trying to make Maleficent a sympathetic character instead of the Disney Villain that we know, but if you want to see a film about Maleficent being evil, there’s very little of it here, and it might offend some Maleficent fans. I say stick to the original unless you’d like to see something different, or at least stick around to see Jolie at one of her best performances.