I am enjoying the current trend movie companies have of turning well established fairy tales upside down and giving us the villain’s perspective. Despite its many issues I enjoyed Snow White and the Huntsman (Charlize Theron saved that movie) because the baddies have always been so much more interesting than the goodies. And it’s the same with Maleficent. Unlike so many people I know she wasn’t my favourite Disney villain – in actual fact she scared the crap out of me. She was the villain I had nightmares about. And while I wanted to forget her and pretend I hadn’t heard the name Maleficent, I couldn’t. And even though the fear has (largely) gone I never did forget her.
In the live action movie Angelina Jolie plays the iconic Maleficent. She had the green magic, the horns, the greenish skin, a prosthetic nose and prosthetic cheekbones, all of which gave her a very angular face and just reminded me of Lady Gaga when Lady gaga decided to embrace extra, protuberant bones. In this movie she explains why Maleficent did what she did in the 1959 animated classic and there seem to be a lot of things that the original movie got wrong.
Notably Maleficent’s wings. We met the fairy when she is naught but a child (played by Isobelle Molloy) with epic, beautiful eagle wings. Her home is the Moors (which I assume make up with bulk of Yorkshire), just across from the Scottish border, full of other magical creatures. She is in love with her home and with the creatures that live there. She is happy. And then into her home comes a little boy. He comes from the palace across the border (Scotland) where the humans want what the Moors have. Maleficent and this boy grow up together and they fall in love. But as the voice over says, theirs won’t be a happy ending because Stephen is ambitious and when this ambition grows as he does, it turns into something violent and horrific.
King Henry asks for someone to kill the winged creature and Stephen (now played by Sharlto Copley) knows that this is his opportunity to secure his own future. But wanting to kill Maleficent and actually killing her are two different things. He drugs her and instead shears off her wings with iron. This scene was horrific and heart breaking and when she wakes up and discovers them gone Malaficent’s pain was visceral. I can see where the comparison to a rape survivor comes from and Jolie herself said they were very conscious of this fact. Maleficent was betrayed by someone she loved.
After this, we meet the Maleficent we all know and love/fear; the horned lady in black who gets her revenge by cursing a child. This scene, when Maleficent delivers her very specific curse was so alike the original version it was hard to tell when my childhood ended and adulthood began. But instead of leaving the little girl alone to just grow up and die, Maleficent shows an interest in her wellbeing and therein lies her undoing. Why does she care about a child she has doomed to die? Well obviously because she isn’t completely dead inside, no matter what Stephen (now King Stephen) did to her.
Arora grows up to be a trusting, kind, lovely child who makes everyone she knows fall in love with her. The older Aurora is played by Elle Fanning and while she is the perfect Aurora – lovely, innocent and slightly dim, she pales into insignificance compared to Angelina Jolie who owns this movie. Her Maleficent is the film’s power and her perfomance makes up for the film’s issues – why would King Stephen trust three random faeries to look after his daughter? Jolie is compelling when she is on screen you don’t really look at anyone else. Except maybe Diaval (Sam Riley) who is Maleficent’s shape shifting raven. There was a hint, the merest hint of a blossoming tendresse between the two of them but nothing more. There are bits of the script which didn’t make the final cut floating about the internet – these include some more obviously romantic scenes between the two. I would have loved for them to make the cut.
Maleficent is a really enjoyable movie exploring one of the most interesting villains in cinematic history. Angelina Jolie makes the character.