Two kingdoms exist side by side, yet forever divided by their differences. One kingdom contains the humans, with all their greed and ambition. The other kingdom is full of magical creatures, faeries and beasts alike. It is said that only a great hero or a great villain can unite them.
Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy/Ella Purnell/Angelina Jolie) is the largest and most powerful of the faeries. She has appointed herself the protector of the magical kingdom. One day, a young boy named Stefan (Michael Higgins/Jackson Bews/Sharlto Copley) is found stealing gems from the magical kingdom. The young Maleficent befriends the boy, and the two become close.
Several years later, King Henry (Kenneth Cranham), of the human realm, launches an attack on Maleficent’s kingdom. During the battle, King Henry is mortally wounded. While awaiting his death back in his castle, King Henry tells his men, Stefan included, that they have sworn their allegiance to him and, therefore, must avenge his death. He promises that whoever vanquishes the winged beast will succeed him on the throne.
After being betrayed, Maleficent vows her own revenge on the humans. Her hatred for them intensifies her powers. When she learns that Stefan has a newborn daughter, Aurora (Elle Fanning), Maleficent casts a spell on her that will cast her into an eternal sleep, only to be awakened by true love’s kiss.
Maleficent takes the story of Sleeping Beauty, one of my least favorite Disney movies, and gives us the other side of the tale. Instead of focusing on the raising and protecting of Princess Aurora, we learn why Maleficent is so reviled and puts a curse on the infant princess. We are also given a glimpse at an entirely different relationship between the evil faerie and the beautiful princess. One that is not explored in Disney’s 1959 animated version. It is a bit unexpected.
Director Robert Stromberg could not have made a better choice than casting Angelina Jolie as the titular villain. Jolie’s look alone, especially when enhanced by even more sculpted cheek bones, pale skin, and blood-red lips, would make her a good fit. Add to that Jolie’s acting ability, and Maleficent comes to life. Isobelle Molloy, who plays the young Maleficent gives us a stark contrast to Jolie’s transformed faerie. The young Maleficent is sweet and innocent, only turning to evil when forced.
Elle Fanning also gives us an innocent, yet wiser than everyone around her, Aurora. It isn’t the damsel in distress we are used to seeing in Disney movies. She is more sure of herself, not as afraid of her surroundings. Sharlto Copley also plays a different Stefan than you will remember. Rather than the bumbling king from Sleeping Beauty, who apparently thinks about his cursed daughter infrequently, Sharlto’s Stefan is obsessed with protecting his daughter and defeating Maleficent. Driven to the point of madness.
While some of the creatures in the magical kingdom come across a little cutesy for the tone of the film, overall, it is very well done visually. I have to say, my favorite scene in the movie is the one scene you will recognize. It is the scene where Maleficent comes to Aurora’s birth celebration and puts the curse on her. It is almost identical to the same scene in Sleeping Beauty. Word for word. Yet, Angelina Jolie puts a little of her charm into the character, making for a nice tie-in between the two stories.
Maleficent is a much darker movie than Sleeping Beauty. It has a similar feel to Snow White and the Huntsman. I don’t know that it is fit for younger children. In fact, my 4-year-old has no desire to see it, despite the fact that Sleeping Beauty is probably her favorite movie. She has seen more than enough from the commercials. In fact, she even said that we shouldn’t see it, as it is too scary. Older children might enjoy it, though.
As an adult, I have to say that I definitely prefer Maleficent to Sleeping Beauty. It is a well executed flipping of the story.