Maleficent is one of Disney’s most iconic villains — a terrifying fairy and master of dark magic who curses the infant Princess Aurora, better known as “Sleeping Beauty.” She’s heartless and irredeemably evil … or is she? Disney’s new film “Maleficent” offers a different twist on the classic fairy tale, presenting Maleficent as a damaged antihero whose heart wasn’t always bent on revenge.
“Maleficent” takes places in a fantasy land divided into two realms: humans and magical creatures. The young fairy Maleficent befriends Stefan, a human who wanders across the border between the realms. She falls in love with him, but he betrays her in order to become next in line to succeed to the throne. Enraged and heartbroken, Maleficent plans the perfect revenge: she curses Stefan’s newborn daughter, Aurora, to prick her finger on a spinning wheel on her 16th birthday and fall into a sleep like death.
However, events transpire a bit differently than in the animated “Sleeping Beauty” film. As Maleficent watches Aurora grow up, her heart is touched by the young girl’s innocence and compassion, and she begins to question whether she should use the princess as the instrument of her revenge. The curse is too powerful to be stopped, but are love and forgiveness powerful enough to break it once it takes hold?
Although “Maleficent” has received mixed reviews from critics, most seem to agree the main strength is Angelina Jolie, who stars as Maleficent. Jolie is the perfect fit for the role; not only does she look the part, thanks to great costume and make-up work, she brings more depth to a character that was previously a one-dimensional villain. She conveys a sense of regal but dangerous power, and she’s terrifying when she unleashes the full force of her wrath on King Stefan. The visuals and special effects are darkly gorgeous, taking on a more gothic feel as Maleficent’s wrath casts a shadow across the land.
While it is nice to have a family film option in the summer release schedule, especially since it seems like it’s been a while since there’s been one that’s live action, I did find myself wondering what “Maleficent” would have been like if film makers had been allowed to make it a little darker and grittier. 2012’s “Snow White and the Huntsman” wasn’t flawless, but one of the things I liked best about the film was the fact it wasn’t afraid to be dark and gritty, and it was fun to see the classic fairy tale presented as a gothic fantasy.
Although this version’s Maleficent does some bad things, one could argue she’s never actually truly evil; she even “softens” her curse after King Stefan begs for mercy. If script writers had pushed Maleficent a little farther to the dark side, her eventual return to the light would have had even more emotional impact (à la Darth Vader in “Return of the Jedi”). It also might have been nice to see some deeper character development from some of the other players: perhaps a more nuanced King Stefan and more background on Maleficent’s shape-shifting henchman, Diaval.
Still, the movie is definitely worth watching for Jolie’s performance and the breath-taking visuals. Also make sure you stay for the credits — they feature a haunting, eerie re-imagining of the “Sleeping Beauty” song “Once Upon a Dream” by Lana Del Rey.