I’m a sucker for a good fairy tale story, but given that Sleeping Beauty was never one of my favorite Disney movies, I was only passingly interested in Maleficent. That is, until the trailers came out. Then, my interest went from “passing” to “I CAN’T WAIT.”
Thankfully, Maleficent lived up to my hopes, and even surpassed them in some respects. I adored the way they twisted the original story, and overall it was a gorgeous movie, completely enjoyable, despite a few hiccups.
Given the title, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the entire movie is about Maleficent, starting with her childhood (insofar as fairies have childhoods) in the moors, and her friendship with a human boy named Stefan.
However, Stefan has big dreams: dreams that involve him becoming the king of the human kingdom that neighbors Maleficent’s moors. And as we see, he’s willing to do just about anything to achieve those dreams, even if it means betraying someone he’s claimed to love.
His betrayal may get him what he wants, but it also earns him the enmity of the most powerful fairy in the moors. And Maleficent is just as determined to get her revenge as Stefan was to earn the crown.
The christening scene, where Maleficent casts her curse on Aurora, was my favorite scene in the entire movie. It’s one of the most iconic Maleficent scenes from the animated Sleeping Beauty, and to say Angelina Jolie nails it is an understatement in the highest degree. She’s absolutely note-perfect in every aspect of it: her tone, her mannerisms, her facial expressions, the chilling desire for revenge. It’s amazing.
And with the additional backstory between Stefan and Maleficent from the first 30 minutes of the movie, it becomes clear just how much of that curse is designed to strike directly at him. It’s a fantastic scene, and I’m pretty sure that alone is worth the price of admission.
After that, we’re in familiar territory: Stefan sends his infant daughter into the woods to be raised by three fairies, orders all spinning wheels destroyed, and then proceeds to spend the next sixteen years slowly spiraling into madness, driven by his own desire for revenge, to see Maleficent utterly destroyed.
Meanwhile, the three fairies raise Aurora, and we also reach one of the few things that didn’t work about the film for me. The fairies are funny, but they’re also horrifically incompetent, to the point that it’s almost stunning Aurora survives to adulthood. It’s one of the largest departures from the original, I think, and there are times when it hurts the movie more than it helps it.
The movie also glossed over why these fairies, as residents of the moors, would be attending Aurora’s christening. We got a perfunctory explanation, but I really didn’t know why they would so deliberately go against Maleficent—even if they had succeeded in making it a gesture of peace, there was no guarantee that she would follow the gesture.
But the core of the movie is Maleficent’s growth: the loss of her innocence, her cold vengeance, and then the slow build of her relationship with Aurora. While the three fairies are bickering, Maleficent, strangely, ends up being the one to ensure the baby doesn’t die. She watches from the shadows, keeping an eye on Aurora as she grows, and that new relationship is the most intriguing thing about this movie. Aurora is absolutely adorable, and you can see why Maleficent starts to have second thoughts about what she’s done.
I don’t want to talk too much more about it, because they do a good enough job of twisting the story that I’d rather not spoil it. Suffice it to say, if you’ve considered seeing Maleficent, or if you at all like fairy tales, I would really encourage you to go. It’s a great story and a wonderful retelling of the Sleeping Beauty tale.