I took Miss C to see Maleficent this week.
I’ve never been a fan of the original Sleeping Beauty*. I always found it kind of boring and as an adult, Prince Philip is a creeper. See a pretty girl laying there, unconscious? Go ahead and kiss her! You don’t even know her but it’s True Love’s First Kiss so smooching all over a girl who is passed out is totes okay. Ahem. Not.
Maleficent is so much better than Sleeping Beauty, there’s really no comparison. It’s not just that it’s live action; the plot really develops the characters. You know what motivates them (well, King Stefan not so much. Why was he such a jerk?). They change over the course of time, as we all do. There are no cardboard cutouts here. Even the fairies, “who don’t need a king because they trust each other”, don’t have perfect relationships. They annoy each other, help each other, and act basically like a family.
It’s a fairy tale, so there are the slapstick characters and the side kicks, and it’s a Disney fairytale so of course there is an absentee father, although in this case, Aurora’s father is trying to keep her safe, and obviously still provides for her material needs even though he is physically absent.
Angelina Jolie is fan-freaking-tastic. She IS Maleficent. I haven’t always enjoyed her other films but she is spot on, here. She makes you believe that Maleficent is good, that she is bad, that she’s not quite all the way bad, and her redemption is credible because we know her. I can’t imagine any other actress in the role and I think this will become one of her iconic performances.
Spoilers ahead, and all that. Because really, how are you going to write a movie review without revealing some plot points?
The movie centers on the relationship and conflict between Stefan and Maleficent. The Human kingdom and the Magical Kingdom of the Moors hate each other. However, when a human boy wanders into the moors, Maleficent the fairy and Stefan the human, both children, become friends. Their friendship turns to love and on Maleficent’s 16th birthday, Stefan kisses her. Eventually they drift apart; he his sights set on power and politics, and she is the most powerful fairy in her realm and becomes its protector, commanding Ent-like guardians of the moors.
Meanwhile, the human kingdom is ruled by a “vain and greedy king”, King Henry. King Henry attacks the magical realm and it soundly routed. Maleficent fatally injures King Henry, and he is taken back to the castle. King Henry declares that anyomne who avenges him and brings him Maleficent’s head will become his successor and the protector of his daughter.
Stefan sees his chance, and knowing that he is welcome in the magical realm goes there to seek Maleficent. The two friends are reunited and rekindle their friendship, but Stefan’s lust for power trumps his love for Maleficent. When she falls asleep, he can’t bring himself to kill her but he does mutilate her and take her wings to the king. His reward is the throne.
Fast forward a few years, and King Stefan is married with a new baby. Jolie’s reaction to hearing the news is perfect- a tight little “Oh. Really.” Her anger then grows and she decides to get revenge on Stefan for his betrayal and for taking her wings. She shows up at the christening and curses baby Aurora with a sleep like death on her 16th birthday. When King Stefan begs, she allows that the curse can be broken by True Love’s Kiss; otherwise Aurora will sleep forever.
King Stefan entrusts baby Aurora to a trio of bumbling fairies who bundle her off to an isolated cottage to keep her safe. Maleficent quickly finds where the baby is being kept and decides to keep an eye on things. Over the years, Aurora grows and Maleficent keeps her from being harmed by the neglectful, incompetent fairies entrusted to her care. Eventually Maleficent and Aurora talk and begin spending a lot of time together, and Aurora decides to move to the magical kingdom permanently to live with her friend. Maleficent tries to remove the curse but cannot; she hopes that living in the magic kingdom will keep Aurora safe.
Meanwhile, King Stefan is consumed by paranoia and the lust for revenge. He sends his men to conquer the magical realm. He goes insane, thinking only of how he will kill Maleficent. He lays an elaborate trap for her at the castle, convinced that she will come to him once her curse fails. He’s sure Aurora is safe with the fairies in the woods.
Things don’t quite work out. Aurora does indeed prick her finger and fall into a sleep like death. Maleficent does go to the castle, and Stefan and Maleficent have their final confrontation. I’ll let you watch the conclusion yourself!
One more note: this is a truly beautiful movie. The cinematography, set, and costumes are breathtaking. Well done, Disney!
Your questions answered!
What ages is it appropriate for?
This movie is live action, and there are some intense scenes. I would say 5 and up, or even older if your child is sensitive. There was a small girl sitting next to me, about 3 years old and she was terrified. Her father had to take her out halfway through.
Is it scary? Violent?
This movie has violent battle scenes. There are two big fight scenes, one towards the beginning and one at the climax of the movie. It’s live action, not cartoon so violence that isn’t too scary for kids in say, Brave, is frightening in this movie.
The first scene pits the humans against the magical creatures of the moors, who Maleficent protects. There is a medieval-type army, with armor, swords, battle axes, etc. who try to invade the magical kingdom and are rebuffed. While you don’t see any actual blood and gore, the action is similar to a scene from Braveheart. Men are tossed in the air and crash to the ground, horses are felled, the magical creatures devour a few soldiers. You don’t see anyone die, there are no pools of blood or dangling limbs, but it’s quite obvious there are heavy losses.
The climax is similar, except this time there is a dragon who sets things on fire and archers. Maleficent is burned (but quickly heals.) At the very end, a man falls from a parapet and the camera shows Maleficent standing over his obviously dead body, laying splayed on the cobblestones. No blood but he is very definitely dead from his fall.
Finally, there is a scene where Maleficent is mutilated by Stefan, her true love. While not graphic, Maleficents wails and cries are heartwrenching and disturbing.
Maleficent’s appearance- with the horns and dressed all in black- calls to mind the witches and evil of other pop culture hits but she’s not demonic in this movie. Her sidekick is a raven, normally seen as an evil omen in other movies but in this one he’s quite likeable and helpful. She is at her most terrifying when she appears at the christening.’
Maleficent is rated PG- Parental Guidance, and I think that’s appropriate. You know your own kids. If Brave, Snow White and the Huntsman, or The Lord of the Rings were too scary, this movie is too scary for them too. If your kids can make it through an Avengers movie, this will be fine.
Is it too Princess/Girly for boys?
Well, that’s a loaded question! My boys enjoyed Frozen, for example even though that was definitely a Princess movie. This movie would appeal across the board to children with a sense of adventure or who are charmed by fairy tales, magic, dragons, and entrancing worlds.
The overall story line is light on the romance, and the story focuses mainly on Maleficent and Aurora’s relationship. Of course True Love’s Kiss is featured, but it is not something that is dwelt on. It’s certainly no more “girly” than Shrek or The Princess Bride, and actually has more action and less romance.
No one breaks out into song. No power ballads, no love montages, no funny dancing animals.
Do they ruin it with a hokey “Villain with a Heart of Gold” ending?
No. The movie centers on Maleficent’s character arc and emotional journey. She starts out “good”, but after being/ attacked, betrayed, and mutilated decides to extract revenge on the one who hurt her. She does not kill anyone but she also is somewhat amoral. She doesn’t like babies but she also won’t let harm befall innocent children (aside from her curse of Aurora, which also isn’t a death curse.) She is teases and annoys the fairies for entertainment, and laughs at their expense. However, as the movie progresses her heart softens. She tries to remove the curse on Aurora but cannot, and then devotes her energies to protecting and keeping Aurora safe. She is full of regrets and even at the end, decides not to hurt King Stefan, but rather to walk away. “It is ended”, she says, signaling how her character has evolved and matured.
What about sex, romance, and modesty in Maleficent?
There is a refreshing LACK of sexy flirting! Maleficent and Aurora wear gowns that cover them from collarbone to ankle for most of the movie. There aren’t any heaving bosoms, close ups on backsides, or men controlled by lust. During the final battle scene, Maleficent loses her gown somehow and she is wearing leather pants underneath. Her gowns are also quite form fitting.
There are two romantic kisses, both are demure. One is shown in silhouette, the other is Prince Philip kissing Sleeping Beauty. Now the whole guy-kissing-unconscious-girl has always bothered me but they really tone it down in this movie and he hesitates until the fairies, who are protecting Aurora, insist. Not perfect, but much better than the previous story where the Prince happens across a sleeping girl and kisses her.
Also a nice change? Prince Philip barely knows Aurora, having met her briefly just once. His kiss is not True Love’s Kiss – how could it be? They don’t even know each other, let alone love each other. Finally Disney seems to be coming around that just because a pretty girl is a princess, the first random rich guy who shows an interest in her is probably not her True Love.
I also liked that the old king- the one who attacked the magical creatures- does not “award” his daughter to his successor but rather says that his successor must protect her. I assume that the king’s daughter is later the woman King Stefan is married to (Aurora’s mother) but it’s not explicitly stated and it’s not any part of the plot. Stefan isn’t trying to win the old king’s daughter as a prize; he’s after the throne.
Overall, women in this movie aren’t treated as things to be traded, won, or lost at all. Hurray!
What about drinking, drugs, and smoking?
There isn’t any in this movie. No one gets drunk, there aren’t any medicines, drugs, potions, or poisons. It is implied that Stefan may have given Maleficent a sleeping potion of some kind but it’s not explicitly clear if she falls asleep from the drink of water he gives her or because she’s tired.
There aren’t really any religious elements in the movie at all, even though it takes place in a medieval style world where usually monks play a part. The magical creatures are just magical- there is no explanation about what makes them so, or any higher power or evil power.
Aurora has a christening but it’s described as a “celebration for a baby”, and there is no clergy present or officiating when the king and queen receive gifts on Aurora’s behalf. No one goes to church or prays to anyone or anything. Maleficent curses Aurora but there is no mention of how or why the curse has power. Evil powers, devils, or demons are not mentioned or alluded to.
Maleficent has powers. For example, she can change a bird into a man, but there’s no explanation about how this happens, no chants or spells, no amulets or magic potions. The magic is just a background element of how this world seems to work.
Overall, I really liked this movie. I do wish Aurora had a bit more to do than be cheerful and charming, and a few plot points are glossed over (why is Stefan so power mad? Why to the fairies want a queen? Why is Maleficent wearing designer leather pants under her dress?) but the message is powerful.
We all do things in anger we later regret, and they can’t always be undone. Lives are richer with the love of friends. Betrayal has consequences that we can’t always see. Throwing mud is fun. Things work out in the end, even if they don’t work out perfectly.
Have you seen this movie yet? Tell me what I missed!
Full disclosure: I was given an invite to attend a special showing for press and bloggers. I wasn’t paid to review it or actually required to write about the movie- we received a complimentary admission with no strings attached. This post contains affiliate links, marked with a *. Thanks for helping support this blog!