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Disney’s “Maleficent” unfolds the innocent past of the “Sleeping Beauty” antihero

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.

As characters like Walter White and the Underwoods dominate television, it’s no surprise that Disney has its first movie centered around an anti-hero, “Maleficent.” Angelina Jolie plays the titular “Maleficent,” and the film tells the “untold” story of her past as an innocent, altruistic fairy of the moors all the way to her role in the Sleeping Beauty story.

Maleficent has always been one of the most terrifying Disney villains. Eerily green and guilty of luring Princess Aurora to prick her finger on the spinning wheel, this Disney devil is equaled only by the Evil Queen from “Snow White.”

I doubt Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent will be as memorable as the original, but I do applaud the movie as a whole for taking the Sleeping Beauty story in an unexpected direction. The real staying power of this movie is its core message.  For years, Disney has been telling stories about true love, focusing on the romantic kind of love, but recently, the focus has expanded to other types of love. The moments that really count in “Maleficent” are genuinely heartfelt.

Cinematographically, this is far from a perfect movie.  The storytelling and the pacing are uneven. It explores hackneyed ideas such greedy, power-hungry humans fighting the nature-loving fairies and borrows heavily from other films.  The “moors” that the fairies live in look like a strange mix of “Avatar” and “The Lord of the Rings.”

Though the movie features a talented cast that includes Elle Fanning as Aurora, Sharlto Copley as Stefan, and Sam Riley as Diaval, most of the characters are one-dimensional and not given much to do. Jolie does most of the heavy lifting as Maleficent is the only fully developed character in the movie. There are brief glimpses at an amusing dynamic between Maleficent and her servant, Diaval, but not enough of them to count for much.  The “good fairies” (Lesley Manville, Imelda Stauton, and Juno Temple) who take care of Aurora are meant to be comic relief, but they are honestly so shrill and callow, I cringed every time they came on screen.      Overall, “Maleficent” is certainly an interesting new addition to the Disney mythology. Despite its flaws, it’s worth seeing the movie just for its core message.

 

Contact Mei-Hsin Cheng at meihsin “at” stanford.edu.