Hollywood has valiantly tried and failed at revamping the ‘dark fairy tale’ template, producing movies like Jack the Giant Slayer, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. While I don’t mind sitting down and having that sort of thing in the background, I don’t think they had the same Twilight-esque success as the producers may have hoped for – partly because they just were not good movies. However, I think Maleficent (directed by Robert Stromberg) has just about crossed the boundary from flop to fantastic.
Most fairy tale adaptations nowadays leave me with a distinct ‘eh’ feeling, but Maleficent had me considering how much Disney has grown to make us ask ourselves – how twisted have our favourite tales become? What makes a villain? How can we label someone a villain without knowing their story? Maleficent’s story is so captivating and tragic that we can’t help but feel sorry for ever hating her.
When the young fairy Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) controversially befriends and falls in love with a human, Stefan, she not only gets herself but the whole kingdom of magical creatures in trouble when he betrays her. Having cut off her wings and used them to ascend to the throne, Stefan goes mad with greed and pride, trying to conquer Maleficent’s homeland. Meanwhile Maleficent lives up to her name; her unbridled anger and misery throw her kingdom into darkness. She curses Stefan’s newborn daughter as punishment for his actions and regrets doing so soon after. She slowly becomes attached the young girl by watching her grow up. Thus the battle between humans and magical creatures continues, whilst Maleficent attempts to withdraw her curse from innocent Aurora.
Like the more successful fairy-tale adaptations Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Once Upon a Time, Maleficent manages to create that all-important balance between dark irony and light-hearted silliness. Although Prince Philip and Aurora’s relationship is practically irrelevant, it adds that familiar, nostalgic Disney feeling the movie needs – and the three fairy godmothers provide a much needed laugh throughout the movie. The CGI and cinematography deliver a stunning contrast between the vibrant magical kingdom seen at the beginning of the movie and the darkness cast over it during the war—not forgetting, of course, the famous image of the forest of thorns. The landscapes of these mythical kingdoms are so wonderfully detailed that you wish you could step through the screen and experience them yourself, and the magical creatures are blissfully original and fun, too. Overall, the film is really beautiful to watch.
Angelina Jolie does an extraordinary job at conveying Maleficent’s tragedy. In what is probably the most terrifying scene of the movie, she wakes up to find that Stefan has tricked her and cut off her wings, her source of power and freedom, and lets out a chilling howl of pain. Jolie’s performance is haunting. It was after this scene that I decided I was definitely on Maleficent’s side, whether or not she was a villain.
The movie takes a very satisfactory turn, as Maleficent’s love for Aurora grows, which saves her from her own curse. It’s always nice to see different forms of non-romantic love saving the day, especially with a dose of girl power. Having said that, the topic of ‘strong female characters’ in Maleficent is a rather interesting one; while she is a refreshingly powerful and multi-dimensional character, it’s still quite frustrating the source of her devastating villainy came from a man’s betrayal. There are too many female villains out there who are evil because they’ve been slighted by men, and I think it would be interesting to have some who are they way they are without being moulded by the effects of a romantic relationship. Having said that, I still think Maleficent is a wonderful character and I’m glad that her character has been given more depth.
Maleficent is a surprisingly frightening movie, with moments that will make you giggle and others which will make you re-evaluate every myth you’ve ever heard, read or seen. This is not your average fairy tale adaptation.
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