Maleficent explores the untold story of Disney’s most iconic villain from the classic “Sleeping Beauty” and the elements of her betrayal that ultimately turn her into the devious character we are previously familiar with. A fierce revenge boils up inside of her and causes her to choose cruelty to protect the moors she calls home. Most of us know the story at this point. She places a curse upon Aurora, the king’s only child, which will come to fruition on her sixteenth birthday. Aurora goes to live with the three faeries in a forest cottage for protection as she grows. But, that’s where the similarities end. Disney’s Maleficent goes beyond to explore not just what happened, but possibly why it happened. This is not your mother’s Sleeping Beauty. It is something far deeper.
Maleficent has been my favorite Disney villainess for as long as I can remember. Even as a child I was amazed by her beauty, the horns, the raven — the entire package that exuded power and regal bearing along with darkness. My expectations were high and my risk of disappointment great — more so than any film I’ve previewed in the past. Would I be pleased, or would I come from the theater angry that they’d left a dark mark on the character I loved? I sat waiting, excitedly chatting with the other writers around me. I was determined to take the experience lightly as to avoid being crushed if I found too many flaws. As the film rolled, I realized ‘lightly’ was not how this film should be taken. It is magical. It is dark. It is breathtaking. It also dips into the human psyche in a way no other Disney film ever has.
Maleficent Goes Beyond The Curse
From the beginning, we find out that Maleficent wasn’t the spoiled brat bad girl we thought, tossing out curses simply because she wasn’t invited to a party. She was once a benevolent, warmhearted being who is the guardian of the Moors and all of the creatures that reside there. We meet beings who frolic and laugh their days away — separated, yet curious, about the human realm close by.
After daring to reach out and connect the two worlds, Maleficent is betrayed in one of the most harsh ways imaginable; both mentally and physically torn down. This gut wrenching scene of angst and torment is left out of reviews because it is a pivotal moment in the plot (and I can’t bare to spoil it for you either). Unfortunately, that secret moment is also what made me gasp, lean in and become fully invested in this film. From that point on, all you think you knew of Sleeping Beauty is cast aside and personalities, motivations and the real evil is revealed.
As the story moves on, we come to the revisiting of the original tale. Lines are marked, countenances change and Maleficent becomes the stoic, cold matron of revenge. We see a fantastic representation of how exerting harsh power is used to protect ourselves once we feel vulnerable. Maleficent transforms from the kind queen of the forest to an ironfisted dictator bent on collecting her pound of flesh.
She does make her appearance at the christening and does cast her dark curse over Aurora, even tossing out insults to her fellow fae and the royalty in attendance. You want to hate her, see her stopped. But, at the same time, you know what has happened to bring her to this point and you feel her pain.
Throughout the movie you watch her fight within herself. Her companion, Diaval, becoming her conscience — lending gentle advice in those moments where she doubts her actions. Is she good? Is she evil? Does her experience justify her punishment against the royal family? Many critics claim this is a weakness in the plot, but I found it to be a great strength. The fact that a person can be conflicted and at war with who they are is precisely how the heart and mind work. Sometimes good people do bad things and sometimes bad people remember there is good in them. Instead of the harshly drawn line of light vs dark most family movies contain, Maleficent explores how we can be affected and changed by things that happen to us. And, just because we lash out in our pain doesn’t make us irrevocably bad. It makes us human (or, in this case, fae).
There is always a chance to turn, a point of redemption. And this is demonstrated in the second half of the movie as Maleficent and Aurora come to know each other and grow together. We watch as Maleficent’s pain begins to deplete and her heart warms again – focusing on this child who simply wants to be her friend. She watches as Aurora shows that not all humans are callous and biased against things they don’t understand. The princess is not afraid, nor is she intimidated simply because something looks odd or even scary at first. Through these interactions as Aurora grows, Maleficent realizes a grave mistake has taken place and seeks to rectify it. Saving Aurora while saving herself….the self she used to be.
The final scenes of the movie also show us that regret does not create instant salvation and we must still pay for the choices we make before rebuilding our world and the connections to people in it. It brings to a close the circle of trust – hurt – revenge – regret – repair.
I walked away from Maleficent feeling torn apart and put back together again. The film tapped into a part of me that understands, has been there, and may be there again in the future. Forget sweet love songs, dance numbers and friendly forest creatures while you pick berries and wait for a prince to save you. This is a movie that tackles what people go through, how it changes them, and how they can still emerge whole in the end.
Is this okay for my children to see?
That answer depends on age, maturity level, and their previous experience with live action movies. There are no scenes that are traditionally ‘scary’. Nothing is going to pop out at you, no gore, no creepy crawlies to give you the shivers. However, there are intense scenes that use very large, powerful creatures in moments of anger. Younger viewers may not understand that the beings are good and only protecting themselves. There is also hand to hand combat, one of which takes place between a male and female. Whether your child should see this kind of confrontation is at your discretion.
All in all, I think Maleficent offers a great opportunity to have discussion with children about hurt, trust and how to handle feelings that arise when you are angry. It also speaks to you about acceptance of those who are different from you.
Should we bother seeing it in 3D?
Absolutely. Unlike other 3D films I’ve seen recently that pick and choose which areas to bring to life, Maleficent completely submerges you in scenes that live and breathe. Everything from flowing grass to darting fireflies to floating princesses make this experience one worth having.
Maleficent premieres nation wide TODAY. You can get more information, watch clips and even order tickets on Disney.com