I can’t think of a more perfect person to play this role than Angelina Jolie. If there was a live action version of the villain from Sleeping Beauty, it is her. The film has done a fantastic make-up job to complete the transformation. Some people had an issue with this reimagining, but I had never seen Sleeping Beauty before so was not hung up on how things were meant to be, I just enjoyed the film for what it was.
Jolie plays Maleficent, a fairy who is enjoying life when a prince seduces her and cuts her wings off. This prince eventually grows up to become a king (Sharlto Copley), and has to deal with the woman he once scorned. The king has a baby, and due to Maleficent wanting her revenge, she places a curse on the baby. The ins and outs of this curse have been well documented in the animated Disney classic, so I won’t go into too much detail here. Basically if she pricks her finger she falls asleep forever, until she feels true love’s kiss. This story is told from Maleficent’s point of view, where she begins to regret her decision to curse the child, despite her dad being a complete jerk. As Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) grows, and Maleficent slowly gets to know her, she wants to reverse her curse. Her attempts to do so are the climax of the film, so I won’t spoil anything for new viewers.
Jolie is perfect as the villainous Maleficent. I really enjoyed seeing this fairy tale told from a different point of view. Giving some humanity to this classic villain could have ended horribly, but the film does a good job of showing us why she did the terrible things she did, and while you may not agree with her putting a curse on an infant, you can certainly understand why she was so upset. One of the stories I like about this film was when Maleficent is stalking Aurora as a toddler. Every child cast in this role would end up crying at Jolie’s appearance, ruining the take. The only child that could portray the curious Aurora properly was Jolie’s own child Vivienne. I love little stories like this, it makes perfect sense, Jolie in makeup with her huge horns was going to scare just about any two year old. Only her own child would see her mother there and act the way the script said.
Maleficent is a fun re-imagining of an already classic tale. There are always going to be people that don’t like it when Hollywood messes with their childhood, but I had no issues with it and enjoyed the movie. Jolie’s performance elevates it from your standard fantasy film. She is terrific as the wronged fairy.
I grew up in the 1990s, long before Disney princesses were being aggressively marketed to little girls. No one was telling me that I ought to aspire to be the princess, and maybe it was because of this that I instead got really into Disney villains. It’s not that I didn’t like any of the heroines– Belle was a favorite thanks to her love of books– it’s just that the villains were often much more interesting.
This is especially true of Maleficent, the evil witch who curses Princess Aurora. Sleeping Beauty is my favorite Disney animated feature, but this has little to do with the movie’s hero and heroine. Maleficent steals the show. The scenes without her are saved only by the film’s beautiful medieval/illuminated text/stain glass window inspired visual style. Maleficent gives Sleeping Beauty edge, and it makes complete sense that she would be singled out for her own story.
Maleficent is not just the backstory of this memorable villain, but a re-imagining of the classic fairytale. The Maleficent presented here is not a just a mean party crasher– she is a wronged woman, betrayed by her best friend and first love, Stefan. She sets out to take her revenge on him through his daughter, Aurora, but comes to love the girl as if she were her own. Maleficent is not only a more complex character, but the story also redefines the concept of “true love” in a more contemporary and relatable way. (Hint: the fabled kiss that wakes Sleeping Beauty from her slumber isn’t delivered by some guy she’s just met.)
And then there’s that rape scene… Some context for those of you who have not seen the movie: Stefan is desperate to become king, and in order to inherit the throne from the current monarch he gets Maleficent drunk and cuts off her wings. She awakens in pain, and quickly realizes that the man she loved and trusted has taken advantage of her affections for him. I’m supportive of this being included in the movie. It would be disingenuous to make an adaptation of Sleeping Beauty that didn’t include some mention or allusion to rape. The original fairy tale literally has the prince have sex with Aurora while she sleeps, and she is woken by giving birth to a child that’s been conceived without her knowledge or consent. If that didn’t traumatize kids way back when, then I doubt this somewhat subtler version is going to give kids today nightmares.
Of course, I can’t end my review without talking about Angelina Jolie’s performance. This is a role she was born to play. Only a mother could so perfectly portray this Maleficent– she is genuinely annoyed by Princess Aurora at times, but still loves and cares for her– and I’m sure Jolie’s had more practice balancing these feelings with her six kids than most. Also, she totally rocks those cheekbones.