MALEFICENT is a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, from the evil fairy’s point of view. I had considered rewatching Disney’s SLEEPING BEAUTY (the animated feature) as background, but decided against it, to give this story a chance to stand on its own. I didn’t need to worry. The writers did a great job with MALEFICENT. Full disclosure: I hate spoilers in reviews, so there won’t be any in this MALEFICENT review – continue reading for more details.
MALEFICENT is a Disney Villain and the Disney Villains have been on the rise recently. This is the first telling of a Disney Villains’s story (that I can think of – please correct me, if I’m wrong). There must be a reason for her evilness, right? A better reason than the missing invitation to Aurora’s christening, one hopes. With MALEFICENT, Linda Woolverton, the screenwriter, has created a rich backstory, starting with a charming childhood (are young “fair people” called children?) in the Magical Moors, and carrying through to what caused her to turn evil. Through her interactions with Aurora, she sees the “girl” she once was.
The story weaves in and out of the original fairy tale (as SLEEPING BEAUTY did), expanding on some elements (the mystery of why the animated Maleficent doesn’t have wings, for example) and blending in other types of fairy tale elements (greed, betrayal, revenge) to create credible backstories for the characters. Each little story has its own Aesopian moral, but the viewer isn’t beaten over the head with the messages, making for excellent talking points with children.
MALEFICENT addresses a wide range of negativity – anger, ambition, revenge – and the consequences resulting from actions based on those emotions. I would say that consequences and our reactions to those consequences are the primary lessons of the movie, though these themes may be beyond the reach of younger viewers, which could lead to some interesting conversations after the movie. It is rare that a movie, especially one for children, shows such depth of character, the good in the bad and the bad in the good, but this story is an excellent example of just how well this can be done.
Months ago, Disney released Lana del Rey’s cover of “Once Upon a Dream” in the MALEFICENT trailer – an eerie rendition with confusing (to me) brighter notes. Having seen the movie, I now know that this “Once Upon a Dream” is a brilliant take on the tone of the film.
As far as the acting goes, I’m not a fan of Angelina Jolie, but this performance impressed me even beyond my low expectations. Having her daughter, Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, play a young Aurora was a stroke of genius, creating a stand-out scene in which Aurora encounters Maleficent for the first time.
Elle Fanning was charming as Aurora and Sharlto Copley was very convincing as King Stefan (Aurora’s father). Comic relief is provided by the three very-sisterly pixies, Flittle (blue, played by Lesley Manville), Thistletwit (green, played by Juno Temple) and Knotgrass (pink, played by Imelda Staunton) and they are brilliant at it.
I loved the special effects. My favorite special effect-driven scene is where Maleficent utters the curse (SLEEPING BEAUTY fans will not be disappointed) and a close runner-up reminds me of the Sleeping Beauty Castle walk-through at Disneyland (would that be an Easter egg?). Maleficent’s interactions with Diaval (played by Sam Riley) were fun to watch, too.
MALEFICENT is a wonderful movie. Parts of it may be “too scary” for younger children, but it’s a great family film for families of/with tweens, teens and adults. If your reaction is anything like mine, you and your family will come out of the theater talking about all of the various elements and the connections to SLEEPING BEAUTY and, if your children are readers, to the fairy tale, too. There is some physical violence, including battle scenes, but nothing too gory. The emotional violence is pretty intense, so sensitive youngsters may be disturbed by those scenes, as well.
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