Last month at the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration, we were given a sneak peek at Disney’s newest movie, Maleficent. All phones and recording devices had to be put away in order to watch the exclusive extended clip from the film, which we all happily complied with in order to see a little bit more of this movie. At the time, I remember being in awe of the beautiful scene, from the costumes, to the set and scenery, and the commanding presence of Angelina Jolie as the evil fairy. I was already looking forward to this film, but after that nine minute scene, I couldn’t wait for the end of May to arrive.
And then? Maleficent herself made an appearance, dominating the room with her presence and ensuring we all understood her power. It’s rare anymore to see a Disney Villain in person if it isn’t Halloween, so this was lots of fun.
After she left the room, we had the chance to meet her out in the lobby. I can’t believe how nervous I felt as I waited to have my one-on-one with her.
What did we talk about? Magic, mostly. I asked her if you could learn magic or if it was something you were born with – of course she reminded me that only fairies have magic and therefore a person had to be born with it. That’s what happens when you’re nervous to meet someone – you think up dumb questions to ask them.
Anyway…the wait is finally over and Maleficent opens today! I went to a local preview screening on Wednesday night, still a little unsure of how it would compare to the well-loved story of Sleeping Beauty. How could a villain be the protagonist, and what new backstory would we learn about Maleficent?
Warning: some mild spoilers ahead, mostly about early parts of the film. But I’m not spoiling the ending at all.
(From the website) 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 pure heart to stone. Driven by revenge and a fierce desire to protect the moors over which she presides, Maleficent cruelly places an irrevocable curse upon the human king’s newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Aurora is caught in the middle of the seething conflict between the forest kingdom she has grown to love and the human kingdom that holds her legacy. Maleficent realizes that Aurora may hold the key to peace in the land and is forced to take dramatic actions that will change both worlds forever.
The film stars Angelina Jolie as Maleficent, Sharlto Copley, Elle Fanning, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville.
The film starts with a young Maleficent, a fairy child who doesn’t seem to have parents and is the protector of the moors – a fairy kingdom which has an uneasy relationship with their human neighbors. Enter the similarly parent-less Stefan, who enters the moors as a thief, but who strikes up a friendship – and ultimately, a romance, with the fairy. As time passes and the years move on, we learn that the human king wishes to take control of the moors, but Maleficent leads the charge in defending her land. Meanwhile, Stefan’s ambition takes him away from his first love, and into the service of the king.
When the king is injured in battle by Maleficent, his dying wish is to destroy her and reclaim the moors as a part of his kingdom, offering the crown to anyone who will fulfill his wish. Stefan’s ambition ultimately wins out over his loyalty to his lover, and as the old king dies, Stefan takes his place as the new King – while a betrayed Maleficent turns cold and bitter.
Incidentally, anyone who witnesses the moment where Jolie plays out Maleficent’s reaction to the betrayal and doesn’t feel their heart break, has no soul. It’s a masterful scene, and puts you completely on Maleficent’s side for the remainder of the film – if you weren’t there already.
This leads us to the throne room scene from Sleeping Beauty that we all know and love, where baby Aurora is showered with gifts and one nagging curse. Although Maleficent plays with a few details from the animated version, this is easily one of the best scenes in the entire film. Even though we already know what will happen, the tension and anticipation is palpable as the scene plays out.
From there, the story follows the one we know, only this time Maleficent is not hunting for the missing princess for nearly sixteen years, but in fact watches her grow from infant to child to young woman. Aurora becomes aware of her “fairy godmother,” never knowing the truth about her until near the end. The relationship between Aurora and Maleficent, almost one of child and mother, is fascinating to watch.
The film’s climax follows the similar broad path of Sleeping Beauty, but the details are different enough to make you feel either relieved or betrayed from how it varies, with saviors found in unexpected places, and villains found in others.
I knew a little bit about this film going into it. I was already aware of the history between Maleficent and Stefan and how it was his betrayal that led to the evil fairy in black we all know and love. For Maleficent to be sympathetic in any way, we had to have a backstory that humanized her, and even made her vengeance seem righteous, if misguided in who she targeted.
The romance between Maleficent and Stefan was rushed in the story. I’m sure cuts had to be made to keep the movie short enough for kids, but we didn’t get the chance to know Stefan enough before he turned against her. This left his character feeling flat: a one-dimensional ambitious, vengeful, and mad villain, willing to remove nearly anyone or anything in his way to winning against Maleficent. I had to wonder what she ever saw in him when they were younger.
But I wasn’t prepared for the amount of contact between Maleficent and Aurora as she grew up. Instead of Aurora relying on the nurture of the three fairies, Flittle, Thistletwit and Knotgrass are silly, useless creatures who manage to do nothing effective throughout the course of the film. They are Aurora’s appointed caregivers, but they’re unable to do even the most basic tasks, like know what to feed a baby, or keep the little girl out of danger.
Instead, it’s Maleficent hiding in the shadows, protecting the young girl so that Aurora has a chance at reaching sixteen in order to see the curse enacted. The reasons behind her protection change as the girl grows and Maleficent develops an affection for her.
The real highlight of this movie is Angelina Jolie as Maleficent. This role was intended for her, and she so completely becomes the character that it’s easy for the audience to join her in this magical world. She is a magnificent, striking presence on screen, beautiful and grand, and every word she speaks has just the right amount of weight and significance. Even through the makeup and effects, her emotions are both delicate and powerful.
Perhaps my favorite interactions are those between Maleficent and Diaval, the crow (and sometimes human). He is her loyal servant, and yet as the film progresses you can see a deeper relationship develop between them – not in a romantic way, but a deep trust in each other. In her lonely world, he is her constant, and unlike other magical creatures, he’s the one who is often unafraid to say what he thinks is right. In a way, his difference of opinion has him often serving as her conscience, and there is definitely a shared tenderness between them by the end.
Aurora (played by Elle Fanning) is delightfully innocent, and with that innocence is utterly fearless. Young girls will admire her ability to see beyond the facade and find the good inside. The animated Sleeping Beauty is somewhat of a dull character (partially due to the source material, since she’s asleep through much of the action), but with this Aurora we’re given more time to see her growing up, and learn more about the person under the pretty blonde hair.
I also appreciated that Aurora was played by an actress who is still a teen herself. Elle didn’t turn sixteen until after the film was done – we sang Happy Birthday to her at Disney Social Media Moms because it was just a couple of days after her sixteenth birthday!
The ending is handled a little differently from the animated film. I expect there will be debates on if this is a better ending or not, but because many haven’t seen the film yet, I won’t discuss the details here. I’ll say that I liked the ending and thought it was an interesting way to resolve the story. (Aaron did not like the ending as much, and we’ve debated it at length already.)
The biggest question is probably: is this movie for kids? Yes, I think it is. Cordy and Mira haven’t seen it yet, but I now have no worries about them seeing it. The preview trailers make the movie seem a lot darker than it actually is, both in tone and in actual darkness. I remember seeing the images of Maleficent meeting a young Aurora in a preview, and it looked almost like nighttime when they met. In the film, it’s a much brighter and cheery location.
There are a couple of scary scenes peppered through the film. These are mostly large battle scenes, with primarily nameless extras in danger. The dragon is present in the final battle, and looks just as fierce as the animated one, but knowing who the dragon is may make it seem less scary for kids. The overwhelming majority of the film isn’t frightening, though, and it provides so much beautiful visual stimulation that any of the short scary moments should soon be forgotten by the next scene.
You know your own child better than I do, so I can’t say yes, it’ll totally be fine. But other than one scene in the last 15 minutes that might upset more sensitive kids, I think it’s totally a kid-friendly film. (And I’ll update this if Cordy gets scared when she sees it.)
Speaking of the backdrop…Maleficent is SO pretty. There was so much enchanting scenery filling every edge of the screen, with the characters blending into this world seamlessly. It’s not a musical, so you won’t find characters breaking into song in the movie, but the haunting version of “Once Upon A Dream” at the start of the credits is worth sticking around for. (There’s nothing at the end of the credits, FYI.)
Overall, I’m glad I had the chance to see Maleficent and look forward to the second viewing with my kids. Your feelings on the ending will determine your ultimate love of the film, but even if you dislike the way the ending unfolds, you will still have plenty to praise in the acting, the stunning cinematography and CGI, and the touching emotional moments of the film. Personally, I loved this take on Maleficent, including the exploration of what drives someone to ultimate evil, and also what could possibly make someone reconsider their past actions and seek redemption.
No matter what, I think there’s going to be a new demand for the movie version of Maleficent to appear more often in the Disney Parks, in all of her evil glory. And that’s not a bad thing at all.
Disclosure: I received a pair of tickets to attend the preview screening of this film. Also, I was invited to attend the #DisneySMMoms Celebration. I paid my own conference and travel fees and received gifts during the conference from conference sponsors. All opinions, experiences and thoughts are my own.