Maleficent: Second Opinion
I’m not going to sit here and pretend that they turned the animated villain of Sleeping Beauty into a live-action fantasy epic vehicle for Angelina Jolie for artistic reasons. It is an exercise in franchise marketability, but as an exercise in franchise marketability, Maleficent actually stumbles onto some relevant themes. Maleficent is about sympathizing with and redeeming one of cinema’s great villains, and it does that in a clever way too. However, I noticed it was really about the mistakes parents make and the guilt that plagues them forever after those mistakes.
Maleficent (Jolie) was very, very wronged by Stefan (Sharlto Copley). He cut off her wings to inherit the kingdom. Granted, he spared her life, but it’s still so wrong. She was a nice fairy before that. So by the time Stefan has a daughter, it’s understandable Maleficent would curse her. Not justified, but understandable. The sins of Stefan are visited upon his daughter.
Of course, Stefan tries to circumvent the curse the only way he knows how. Get rid of all the kingdom’s prickly looms, keep Aurora hidden until the curse expires, etc. Ask any parent how micromanaging usually works out. Better yet, ask their children. It also speaks to the notion of inevitability, that you can only micromanage for so long before nature runs its course. Or maybe the real curse was 16 years of Stefan ruling a kingdom in fear.
Here’s where it gets a little deeper than just “revenge has collateral damage.” Maleficent inadvertently becomes a mother figure to Aurora (Elle Fanning) as she grows up, and now she regrets the curse. She tries to take it back, but her original curse was so powerful even she can’t reverse it, as it should be. We rarely get takesies backsies for our decisions, so Maleficent has to live with her sin too.
If you know the story of Sleeping Beauty, you know there is a prince who comes along. Maleficent’s curse has a backhanded escape clause where it can be undone by true love’s kiss. This is added with cynicism though by a character who doesn’t believe true love exists, and it effectively punishes Stefan who made her that way because he doesn’t believe in love either.
There is a segment in the movie where well-meaning characters try to foist the prince on Aurora, hoping his true love will break the curse. Boy, let me tell you about people who are desperate to hook you up. It’s nice that they want you to have love and they’re rooting for you, but that’s one road everyone needs to walk for themselves. The clever way this aspect of Sleeping Beauty is twisted will remind you of another recent popular Disney movie, so I can’t spoilt it specifically. It’s still the right theme, even if it’s no longer original.
So there was a lot for me to like in Maleficent and certainly shifted the balance towards a solid recommendation, but it’s got a lot of problems too. Can we please get a different aesthetic for fantasy creatures please? The whole film is way too dark to be presented in 3D. The auntie shenanigans – with Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton and Juno Temple – are childish even for children. I did wonder, if this is a world where curses exist that are so powerful they can’t be undone, wouldn’t the whole world be buried in curses? Curses to avenge curses to avenge other curses? Maybe that can be the sequel.
Mainly, and this isn’t a problem for me so much as Disney marketing, but it’s this generation’s Return to Oz. To me, that’s great. Let kids have another movie that’s really too scary for them but they’ll appreciate it when they’re older. I mean, it’s really about a bunch of clanky knights brutalizing fairies. If your kids like it though, be sure to introduce them to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. That’s essentially what the film’s climax is.
Maleficent may be Angelina Jolie’s best action movie because it’s comprehensible. I’m being unfair to Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. I’m really just harping on Salt now but if she is going to be our icon of female empowerment, then get ready for a Maleficent as intense as Wanted. And also think about those themes I mentioned earlier. That’s what I really related to about Maleficent.