Aleteia logoAleteia logoAleteia
Wednesday 22 May |
Saint of the Day: St. Rita of Cascia
Aleteia logo
separateurCreated with Sketch.

Review of Disney’s “Maleficent”



David Ives - published on 05/30/14

Angelina Jolie shines in this otherwise grim fairy tale.

“I know you, I walked with you once upon a dream. I know you, that look in your eyes is so familiar a gleam.” Perhaps you’ve been humming that old tune from Sleeping Beauty to yourself to get psyched for “Maleficent,” Disney’s new live action update of their classic animated motion picture featuring Angelina Jolie as the titular character. Well, you can stop humming now, because this Maleficent isn’t anyone you’re familiar with at all.

Gone is one of animation’s most memorable villains, the cold and cruel queen of all evil who put a curse on a newborn princess–just because nobody in the castle thought it would be a good idea to extend an invitation to a creature with all the powers of Hell at her command to the child’s christening.  No, that wicked person has been replaced by a nice fairy from the forest next door who loses her way for awhile because her man done her wrong.  Sigh.

“Maleficent” tells a tale of two kingdoms. One is an enchanted place full of magical creatures who exist in harmony with nature and one another. This world of wonder is watched over by Maleficent, a young fairy so concerned with her homeland that she takes the time to mend each broken twig. The other kingdom is full of men, which automatically makes it an awful place because all men are greedy.  How do we know they’re all greedy?  Because the narrator tells us they are, so shut up.  Due to mankind’s excessive greed, Maleficent doesn’t trust humans and so uses her great powers to prevent them from entering her woods. The human King Henry learns this firsthand after Maleficent and her tree-people soldiers (who aren’t Ents, because those are one of the few things Disney doesn’t own) thrash him and his army severely in a border skirmish.

One fateful day, however, Maleficent runs across Stefan, a poor peasant lad who has snuck into the magic kingdom (wait, I have to say it) in hopes of finding something valuable to steal. The two hit it off and become fast friends, spending their days together frolicking around the forest. And once they reach their teens (apparently fairies age and reach puberty at roughly the same rate as humans), romance naturally develops between the two. On Maleficent’s sixteenth birthday, Stefan embraces the fairy and bestows upon her what he describes as “love’s true kiss." Then he promptly disappears from Maleficent’s life. (I trust I don’t have to explain the subtext of this scene to you young ladies out there.)

Years later, after Maleficent has grown up to be Angelina Jolie, Stefan returns and wishes to renew their relationship. It turns out to be a ruse, though, as Stefan soon slips the too-trusting Maleficent a knock-out potion and proceeds to violate her by cutting off her wings. (If any of you young ladies need the subtext of this scene explained to you, please ask your parents.) Stefan intends to use the wings as proof that he has slain Maleficent, a deed which will earn him the throne once King Henry passes away.

At this point, the movie enters slightly more familiar territory as it re-hashes the opening scenes from Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty.” The now-King Stefan and his human queen have a child they name Aurora, and they throw a lavish ceremony for her christening. Three nice fairies show up to grant the child gifts, but are interrupted by Maleficent, who appears to pronounce the infamous curse that on the child’s sixteenth birthday, Aurora will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall into eternal sleep. But even though this mirrors the scene in the 1959 original, this new version immediately begins to play with the well-worn narrative. It is Maleficent herself, not one of the other fairies, who makes the pronouncement that Aurora’s curse can be lifted by love’s true kiss. She does this, of course, because she no longer believes such a thing as true love can exist in the hearts of men.

This is a pattern that repeats itself throughout the film.  Anytime someone in the original version was shown doing anything to benefit Aurora, they are replaced in this updated version by Maleficent. It’s one thing to try and rehabilitate your fairy- tale villains by giving them a tragic backstory (as tired as that trope is becoming), but when you make them just about the only decent and competent person in the movie, you’re laying it on a bit thick.  Seriously, outside of Aurora and (maybe) the completely useless Prince Phillip, there isn’t a single human in the movie who is worth a dime. If there is any moral for your children to take away from “Maleficent,” it’s the simple fact that all humans stink.  Because they’re just too darn greedy.

Okay, maybe I’m being too harsh on the movie. After all, it’s not like greed isn’t a problem in the world. The desire to amass earthly goods without limit and the avarice arising from a passion for riches and their attendant power is strictly forbidden in the tenth commandment. Greed is bad, I get it.  But it feels like “Maleficent” goes overboard. Instead of sticking with a single villain whose greedy personal choices lead to his downfall (which, to be fair, it does show with Stefan), the movie broadly paints the entirety of mankind as being consumed with greed and, therefore, an enemy of nature. It’s like the film wants to preach some weird form of environmental Calvinism, and frankly, I just wasn’t in the mood for it.

Still, the movie has its good parts. The enchanted glade in which Maleficent lives is wonderfully realized, full of whimsical creatures that look like something Hieronymus Bosch might have designed if he were illustrating a Dr. Seuss book. Kudos to the art department for bringing a fresh take on the fairy world and not just recycling creatures from past movies.

And I readily admit that Angelina Jolie makes for a fine Maleficent. She makes you feel for her when she awakens to find her wings stolen and she makes you fear her when she unleashes her wrath. But it’s the scenes involving Maleficent and the young Aurora where Jolie really shines. From the moment Maleficent stands over the baby’s crib and tells the infant how much she hates it, to the later years where she begrudgingly begins to protect the child that could have been hers had Stefan chosen differently, the movie is a joy to watch. The Maleficent we’re given in this part of the film may not be the one we’re familiar with from the old stories, but it’s a Maleficent we want to watch anyway, and all the credit for that goes to Jolie’s performance.

So, in the end, “Maleficent” isn’t a terrible movie, it’s just not a particularly good one either. If you don’t mind the tinkering the film does with the original story by making the villain the hero, and can overlook the film’s vague underlying theme that mankind is a blight on the face of the Earth, then “Maleficent” is a pleasant enough (and mercifully short enough) diversion for a Saturday matinee with the kids. Sure, it doesn’t have that old Disney magic, but truth be told, it doesn’t really want it in the first place.

In a world he didn’t create, in a time he didn’t choose, one man looks for signs of God in the world by… watching movies. When he’s not reviewing new releases for Aleteia, David Ives spends his time exploring the intersection of low-budget/cult cinema and Catholicism at The B-Movie Catechism.

Enjoying your time on Aleteia?

Articles like these are sponsored free for every Catholic through the support of generous readers just like you.

Help us continue to bring the Gospel to people everywhere through uplifting Catholic news, stories, spirituality, and more.

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.