Wednesday, July 16, 2014


So I just got around to seeing Maleficent.

I'm a really big fan of the original animated Sleeping Beauty, so I was really excited to see it brought to live-action. As it happens, it wasn't really the same story at all.

I really liked the movie overall, but I do have some big problems with it. I'm gonna go into crazy spoiler territory here, so if you haven't seen the movie yet (and it is worth seeing), don't read any further.

In Disney's Sleeping Beauty, the baby Princess Aurora is cursed by by Maleficent, "the mistress of all evil," who decrees that on her 16th birthday, Aurora will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die. In order to protect Aurora, the Three Good Fairies are able to slightly alter the curse so that Aurora will not die, but rather fall into a permanent sleep. Additionally, the fairies take Aurora deep into the woods and raise her as their own daughter, hiding her away from Maleficent's gaze. As Aurora's 16th birthday nears, she meets and immediately falls in love with Prince Phillip. Meanwhile, Maleficent finally discovers where Aurora has been hidden, and the curse is finally fulfilled. Prince Phillip, with the aid of the Good Fairies, is able to slay Maleficent. Aurora is still comatose, but awakens when Phillip kisses her.

Maleficent is much more complicated, and I don't want to summarize the entire thing here. But essentially, in this new movie, Maleficent replaces Three Good Fairies and Prince Phillip. Those characters still exist in Maleficent, but they're entirely useless. The Three Fairies completely fail in their task in every conceivable way; they add absolutely nothing to the story. Aurora herself seems to not even care that they exist. Where Prince Phillip's romantic kiss broke the spell in the original movie, Maleficent's change of heart and motherly love broke it in this one. Maleficent takes on the motherly traits of the fairies as well as the heroic traits of Phillip, meaning that those characters are rendered worthless. Even Aurora herself isn't much of a character, though that's not much of a change from the original. And in order to make Maleficent an anti-hero rather than a full villain, there must be someone even more evil than she is. King Stefan takes on that role, being nearly as all-consumingly evil as Maleficent was in the original film.

Where the animated film had somewhat of an ensemble cast, with no single protagonist but a group of heroes united against a villain, Maleficent is singularly focused on Maleficent, giving her every role at once: hero, villain, mother, victim. It actually reaches the point where Maleficent herself doesn't at all resemble the original villain—the single greatest villain in all of Disney history, I might add.

This movie isn't about Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty; it's about a completely different character that merely looks and sounds similar. Such a complete reinvention isn't an intrinsically bad thing, of course, except that the movie itself is clearly a modern commentary on the original. It even ends with a voiceover saying, "this is how the story really happened..."
And that's the thing: if it wanted to be an original story, it shouldn't have bent over backwards to constantly reference the older movie. And on the other hand, if it wanted to caringly revisit that story, why did it effectively crap all over everything that actually worked about it?

Sleeping Beauty had a light-and-dark moral tale, with clearly defined heroes and villains. It's often criticized for being too simplistic, but it works. Maleficent is a story that tries so hard to rework Maleficent into a positive character that every other character in the story is either evil or useless.

Now, I did say that I really liked the movie, and overall I did. I just don't like some of the plot choices that were made. Maleficent's story works on its own, even if it's just odd in comparison to the original.

I think I'm gonna watch the animated movie tonight, and I'll definitely watch Maleficent again when it comes out on blu-ray.

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