Tl:dr review of Maleficent: I loved it!
Warning: The following may contain spoilers.
Once upon a time, humans led an egalitarian, feminist, peaceful, earth-based way of life. Warrior men came down from a mountain and brought violence and patriarchy.
This myth is at the heart of many stories. We’ve seen it in the 2001 TV miniseries The Mists of Avalon, Agora, and the 2009 Czech film The Pagan Queen. In these stories, it never goes well for women or pagans. With Maleficent, Disney gives us a different ending.
In 1937, Disney released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Disney drew clear lines between good and evil characters. Snow White was very good. The Evil Queen was, well, evil. We didn’t know why she was evil or how she became evil. We didn’t wonder about what kind of man produced a child like Snow White and married an evil woman.
Disney introduced complexity into this trope with Beauty and the Beast. Belle is smart, brave, and tough, but the story of a woman who falls in love with her beastly captor is not without its problems. Since then, Disney has been delivering more interesting, smarter, and tougher female characters. Disney gave us Esmeralda, Megara, Mulan, and Merida. Most recently, Frozen is being hailed as Disney’s most progressive animated film yet.
Disney has been exploring what it means to be a woman living in the enchanted forest of good and evil. Its ABC series Once Upon a Time gives Snow White and the Evil Queen new depth. The show explores the boundaries of good and evil. It presents motherhood with more nuance. Maleficent does the same for another “Mistress of All Evil”.
In Disney’s new live-action film, Maleficent begins as a good-hearted fairy. As queen of the Moors, she kindly rules over and protects the magical realm bordering a human kingdom. Maleficent befriends and falls in love with Stefan, a peasant boy from the human kingdom. In his dark ambition to become king, Stefan betrays her. He becomes king and we know the next bit.
After Maleficent curses Aurora, she remains close and watches the girl as she grows up. Despite her initial hatred of the child, Maleficent grows fond of her, but there’s the problem of the curse. Meanwhile, Stefan’s obsession with Maleficent grows.
Maleficent isn’t so much a retelling of Sleeping Beauty as it is a vindication of its antagonist. For Disney, it’s further proof that it’s willing to move beyond fairy tale tropes. It is a feast for the eyes and Angelina Jolie is perfect in the title role. She is beautiful, powerful, mysterious, and lends subtle emotional richness to the role. This is a movie that adults and children can enjoy.