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.