The summer blockbusters keep coming, and I predict Maleficent to be one of the biggest. In my own opinion, it is one of the best. On its face, the movie doesn't seem that new. There have been other live-action re-tellings of animated fairy tales (Snow White and the Huntsman; Mirror, Mirror), both with Academy Award winning female leads playing the evil role. But Maleficient seems different, more important. The premise is not just that a silly fairy tale has more nuance or detail to it but that an important story has been intentionally mistold to whitewash a powerful man's guilt and villainize a victim. Moreover, evil exists in the world, and we all must account for how we respond to it and let it shape our actions. Now don't get me wrong, kids will like it as much as other scary, dark Disney movies (the original Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast). But, on another level, its a PG-version of Extremities.
The trailer doesn't give much up about the plot of the movie, and if you want everything to be a surprise, you may want to stop reading. From the trailer, we know that Maleficent, played by Angelina Jolie, alludes to the fact that she used to have wings. In the first scenes of the movie, we see a young Maleficent happily winging (not really flitting -- her wings are huge) over the moors, where the fairy creatures live in harmony with one another, out of the way of humans. There is some suggestion that humans have warred with them before. Maleficent is anything but evil -- she is happy, strong, forgiving, and playful. Then she meets Stefan, who we know from watching Disney movies grows up to be King Stefan, father of Aurora. But in opening scenes he is a peasant, dreaming of being king, who becomes quite close to Maleficent as they grow up together. When she is 16, he kisses her, calling it "true love's kiss." She obviously loves him, but does not pine for him as he goes out to find his fortune, something she does not understand but does not seem to resent.
So, at this point we know that something is going to happen to turn Maleficent against Stefan. I was really, really hoping that it would not be a romantic betrayal -- that he finds love elsewhere, marries, etc. And it's not. (You may want to stop reading now.) The human King promises to give his throne to whichever of his loyal soldiers can vanquish Maleficent. Stefan wants to be king. He pretends to warn Maleficent of the King's reward offering, then drugs her. He does not kill her, but he takes her wings, her identity, the physical embodiment of her soul. You can see this as sort of the Snow White-Huntsman compromise or as something much more insidious. Maleficent's pain on waking without her wings is very hard to watch. Anyway, Stefan becomes King, and Maleficent becomes, well, Maleficent, with a single purpose -- to destroy King Stefan.
The christening scene is almost word-for-word a rendition of the animated movie's scene, which makes the differences even more rich. Maleficent curses the baby, leaving King Stefan to descend into madness over the next 16 years, knowing that he has brought this on his house. The baby is taken to the cottage in the glen by the three "good" fairies, who are comic relief in a much different way than in the original. Then the amazing part of the movie begins -- the relationship between Maleficent and Aurora, and how Maleficent finds redemption without revenge. The entirety of the movie is played out on Jolie's face, from Stefan's betrayal to the end.
The movie will undoubtedly find its audience both with moms of this generation who have elevated loving one's children to an art form and with teenage girls who would rather have Angelina Jolie as a Fairy Godmother than a boyfriend. (Prince Philip here looks like he mistakenly wandered off the set of a Disney channel show.) That's fine with me -- I think it's nice to have a crop of movies that tell teenage girls that love at first sight with a stranger isn't really love at all (Frozen, Brave).
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