If there’s one thing I have learned from Maleficent, it’s that Disney has changed. I mean, Disney used to be kind of ruthless if you think about it. The villains were heartless villains and nothing more. No main characters ever had mothers, and if they did they were killed off (damn you, Bambi). Step-mothers were usually evil (oh, Cinderella). Women basically sold their souls to the devil for a man (wtf, Little Mermaid). Even the images from Fantasia were frightening as hell. But now, villains aren’t always just villains and “true love” isn’t always the conventional type you think of when you hear it.
Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), despite being born with a name that means “evil,” is a charming young fairy at the beginning of the movie who watches over her kingdom. She forms a friendship with a young human boy named Stefan. She eventually falls in love with Stefan, but Stefan is a complete jerk who only cares about power. Years later, when the King is lying on his deathbed after failing to kill Maleficent, he promises the crown to whatever man can kill her. So, Stefan, being the ass that he is, tricks Maleficent and drugs her so she’ll sleep and then he cuts off her wings. When she realizes what happened, she promises revenge on Stefan, and she slips into a darkness and becomes angry, somewhat evil Maleficent. Then when Stefan, who is now King, has a baby girl named Aurora (Elle Fanning), Maleficent comes and curses her so that on her 16th birthday she’ll prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall into a sleep-like death, only to be awakened by “true love’s kiss.” So the king sends her away for 16 years to live with the three stooges…I mean…the three good fairies who are so stupid they can’t take care of the child, and Maleficent ends up taking care of her in the shadows. When Aurora gets older and crosses paths with her, they become friends, which is odd. Then, Maleficent pretty much saves her life.
I have to say I have some complaints with this movie. Other people may like the differences in this story as opposed to the original Sleeping Beauty, but I’m not so much a fan of them. They more or less took the baddest, most famous villain in classic Disney history and turned her into a softy. I like villains. Villains drive the story, villains are what make heroes, and villains are just simply badass. When you take away the bad guys, the story falls flat. I understand wanting to make Maleficent into more than just a one-dimensional, purely evil character, but come on. She is too good in this movie. She might as well be a real fairy godmother, as Aurora calls her. Wait Maleficent, I think I hear Cinderella calling, you might as well go help her too, fairy godmother. Even the raven who is supposed to be an evil bird, Diaval (Sam Riley), is soft-hearted as well. He’s just a sweet bird-man-thing that ends up indebted to her because she saves his life. He is also the one who gets turned into a dragon, Maleficent doesn’t turn into one herself. Damn it. I will say that I like that Maleficent actually has a legitimate reason to curse Aurora, as opposed to just being “offended” that she didn’t get invited to the christening. I don’t have much a problem with her origin story, but more so with the fact that she is both the hero and the villain. It’s like the writers couldn’t make up their mind as to whether she will be good or bad. You can’t just put a curse on someone and then later be like, “I take it back!” That’s cheap, in my opinion.
I’ll admit I kind of like the way Disney is making up for all the sexism in their movie history and are bringing in a bit more feminism. Frozen, for example, established that “true love” didn’t have to mean romantic love between a man and woman, but sisterly love can pass for that as well. Now, it’s like they’re saying, “You don’t need man, just a good sister, or perhaps a good-turned-evil-turned-good-again fairy.” Alright, so I’m taking the lack of villainy thing a little too personally. Perhaps the feminism is a little too feminist. I mean, the reason for Maleficent turning evil is the betrayal by King Stefan. How does that quote go? “Behind every crazy bitch is a man who made her that way.” Yeah, that’s the one. That actually happens here.
I must say that Angelina Jolie has found an iconic role in Maleficent. I couldn’t think of anyone else who could play the part better, and this is coming from someone who isn’t necessarily a Jolie fan. She carries a movie with an underdeveloped story that relies a little too much on special effects. I saw this in IMAX 3D, and I will admit that the effects are cool. Even Maleficent’s kingdom after she turns it all dark and thorny is beautiful. However, they act as only some of the few redeeming qualities. The problem with the amazing special effects filmmakers can pull off in movies these days is that they tend to act as a crutch and an excuse for bad storytelling. This movie was also a little bit short, running at 97 minutes, which is another factor contributing to the underdevelopment of the story and characters. So really, it’s not just the fact that Maleficent is no longer a true villain, but also that the story really didn’t have time to reveal itself fully. There was a lot of potential here that I feel just wasn’t reached.
So all in all, the effects were nice, the costumes and make-up were awesome, Jolie was perfect, and I liked that they gave Maleficent a motive for being vengeful, but I didn’t like that she’s an iconic villain who isn’t really a villain. She’s just an angry fairy, until she has a few years to calm down and get over it–like any regular human being. But, I guess I can’t really hate on a movie too much just because it panders to children. I’m sure children and some adults will love it. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.