Angelina Jolie is spectacular as the misunderstood fairy/witch, Maleficent, and the special effects provide some dazzling visuals, but the overall package fails to replace or even compete with the original Walt Disney film Sleeping Beauty (1959). To be fair, the original is my favorite “classic” Disney tale, but I left the theater today wondering, “what was the point?” That can never be a good thing when it comes to any work of art, remake or not.
In naive adolescence, the fairy Maleficent (Ella Purnell) lives at peace in the moors, where all of the magical creatures live in harmony (think Shrek’s swamp). In the neighboring land of the humans, the greedy king first attempts to wrestle Maleficent’s power away, and then places a bounty on her head. Her one-time friend and true love, Stefan (Sharlto Copley as an adult), grows up to be king, only after robbing her of her most special gift. This betrayal leads to the famous curse on Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), “on her sixteenth birthday, she will prick her finger and fall into a deep sleep like death.”
The film doesn’t just provide us with a view of Maleficent’s motivation but it paints her as the victim of mankind’s (stress on the man) greed and avarice. She’s not really critiqued for the fact that the response to her betrayal is to curse a baby, or that she doesn’t intervene at times when she could to save lives. She’s the hero here, even when turning her pet raven/man, Diaval (Sam Riley), into the dragon from the end of the original story. To be clear, Stefan’s betrayal and descent into madness (caused by grief, shame) drives him farther from his daughter (Innocence, for this paradigm) and proves that he is the Evil that Maleficent warned Aurora of while she was living in the forest with the three, haplessly-overwhelmed fairies (yes, they’re color-coded here, too).
Again, there’s an agenda but not a point: Man is evil, and the older, more experienced woman must educate, protect, and nurture the younger woman. It deconstructs the family, breaks up the fairy tale ending (but not in the same reconstructive way as Frozen, which argues for female independence in a positive way), and tells a story that seems founded in bitterness and pain. I knew it would be different, but I found myself disturbed by the PG rating and agenda. This one isn’t family friendly (and you can take that several ways). It looks good but what’s lurking underneath isn’t anything I find admirable.