Hell hath no fury like a fairy whose wings have been forcibly amputated. Veering from the well-known Disney interpretation of the Sleeping Beauty tale, Maleficent offers a justification for the titular character’s animosity toward Aurora (Elle Fanning) – and it’s not unjustified.
In the beginning of the film, we meet a young Maleficent, whose horns are only half-matured and whose wings carry her on the back of the wind. A protector of the wooded knoll, Maleficent encounters Stefan (Sharlto Copley), a young peasant who desires to one day inhabit the mountain-top castle that resides in the distance. Their attraction feels real, and perhaps this is because of the childhood innocence thus far untainted by power and greed.
But soon, Stefan enters adult-hood and disappears from Maleficent’s life. She matures and continues to protect the knoll from human invaders, and Stefan’s desire for power grows as he battles in the king’s army – soon plotting to fulfill the king’s request that Maleficient’s head be brought to his table like John the Baptist’s. While Stefan can’t bring himself to decapitate his former infatuation, he can conjure enough temerity to shear off her wings and offer them as payment for the eventual crown that will reside upon his head.
From this point forward, the film gets dark, with Maleficent cursing Stefan’s ultimate progeny, Aurora, and enveloping the knoll with blackened trees with twisted, intertwining roots and branches. Stefan’s insanity and paranoia seems to grow, his wife appears to have perished toward the end of the film, and Aurora is sent to live with three rather incompetent, yet funny, winged fairies.
Maleficent and her minion Diaval (Sam Riley) follow Aurora – initially to stalk her but eventually to protect her, and ultimately, Maleficent becomes the mysterious “true love” that will break the spell placed on Aurora.
While this interpretation is rather well done, the more interesting aspect of the film is its content. This is the second film released by Disney this year – and the third in the last two years – wherein women are the heroes of the film. More importantly, along with Frozen, this is the second film in the last two years in which the concept of true love is an organic phenomenon and not something derived from a doe-eyed glance. Both films also dispel the notion that love is guaranteed.
Frozen suggests that Anna and Kristoff might fall in love, but the film leaves us with the two kissing and getting to know each other better. Maleficent offers the same with Maleficent and Stefan. The two have fun and scamper as young adults, but there’s always something a bit parasitic about Stefan. Even though time separates their encounters, we find that theirs is not true love. We also find that Aurora and Prince Philip’s (Brenton Thwaites) relationship – if it can be called that – is very young. They are both tyros and seem to be embracing such instead of forcing the happy, neatly put together ending.
The downside of Maleficent, surprisingly – I think – is Angelina Jolie. For some reason, her performance feels stiff and unnecessarily Anglo-Saxon. I suppose that everyone has a bit of British-tinged accent in Fairy tales, but hers is rather spotty, and I begin to wonder if it’s because of the amount of green-screen usage in Maleficent. This is not to say that the effects are unbelievable. Actually they’re quite good. However, the younger generation of actors in the film, seem to have an easier time interacting on screen and seem a bit less stiff. Perhaps their scenes were filmed on a real soundstage with other actors around them. However, it’s plausible that Jolie was filmed mostly on a separate stage. Her wings and magical powers alone suggest that she was in front of a green screen the majority of the time. And this ultimately makes Maleficent’s character feel like an add-on, instead of the titular hero.