Movie Review: Maleficent

[TW: mention of sexual assault]

Some spoilers ahead.

Let me first preface this by saying that while I watched and enjoyed Disney’s rendition of Sleeping Beauty (and, well, I grew up on a steady diet of Disney films) it wasn’t really one of my favourites, although I thought Prince Philip was the greatest because unlike the princes in Cinderella and Snow White, Philip actually had something resembling a personality.

So when I heard about Maleficent, I was kind of meh, about it. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a great villain. She has a very great presence in the movie, but somehow she just didn’t leave that much of an impression on me.

However, I’m a sucker for stories from the villain’s point of view, and after watching a clip from the Christening scene (which is very close to how it is in the original) I knew I had to see it.

Maleficentis set in a land with two neibouring kingdoms, a kingdom of humans, and a land filled with magical creatures known as the Moors (which technically isn’t a kingdom because it has no king or queen but details details). Maleficent is a young and powerful fairy who lives an idyllic life in the Moors until an encounter with a peasant boy named Stefan who aspires to become king in the human kingdom turns her life upside down and sets her on the path of revenge.

Maleficent isn’t just “Sleeping Beauty from the villain’s point of view” although there are plenty of references to the original film and you probably won’t enjoy it as much if you haven’t seen the original. (Case in point: I went with someone who hadn’t and they absolutely did not enjoy the film.) It expands on Sleeping Beauty in many ways, but it’s also more of an alternate universe, “what could have been” or “the tales lie, here’s the real story” kind of deal.

It’s also a movie where most of the men are portrayed as power hungry tyrants (King Stefan) or bumbling comic relief (Prince Philip), Maleficent’s raven companion, Diaval (called Diablo in the original) is given way more characterization and is a total scene stealer. Rather, the focus of the film is Maleficent’s relationship with Aurora, which is a very refreshing take on the original (even though considering both Brave and Frozen, it’s not completely unexpected from Disney).

It should go without saying because this is Disney and Disney knows how to do artsy stuff, but the CGI is top notch (Maleficent’s wings are amazing, shut up they are) and the scenery in general is gorgeous. Angelina Jolie absolutely hams it up as Maleficent. On the flip side, I found the Scottish accents of some of the characters (particularly Stefan) to be kind of annoying and distracting, especially since in Stefan’s case his accent starts slipping at times.

I did have some gripes with the movie. It’s a bit slow at times. (There’s a particularly intentionally awkward scene between Philip and Aurora that just kind of dragged on) and I didn’t really like how the three fairies (Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather, renamed Knotgrass, Thistlewhit, and Flittle respectively) went from being semi-competent to so utterly incompetent that Aurora would have never reached her sixteenth birthday under their care.

The one potentially triggery scene in the movie occurs when Stefan betrays Maleficent in a way that looks suspiciously like (but isn’t) sexual assault. At least, this is how the scene came across to me, especially taking into account Maleficent’s reaction to the event. 0tuer reviewers have noted that this scene draws some interesting parallels between earlier versions of Sleeping Beauty. On the other hand, yay another female villain motivated by assault! Joy.

Overall, I don’t know what I was expecting from this movie. If you’re looking for an absolutely faithful adaptation of Sleeping Beauty from the villain’s P.O.V. then you’re going to be very disappointed and probably very angry, but as a “what could have been” alternate universe sort of thing, it’s not bad. I don’t think it’s the kind of movie a lot of fans were expecting, but as someone who was very “meh” about the whole thing to begin with, it was kind of surprising how much I liked it.

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