I didn’t like Maleficent. I loved it! Walt Disney’s dramatic re-telling of Sleeping Beauty from the point of view of the wicked fairy was not only an unforgettable bad-ass girl power story but an epic tale of redemption. Angelina Jolie was beyond perfection—she wasn’t playing the role of the wronged fairy – she was the fairy, raging in all her queenly grief and vengeful fury, and lovely in her otherworldly beauty.
Having read a lot of the criticism of the movie, I was prepared not to like it. I had forgotten one of my main rules in life– never trust a male critic to give a fair review to either Angelina Jolie, or any story in which men aren’t prominent. One of our local male critics dismissed the movie with this horrendous comment, “I’m so sick of female empowerment movies.” He’s sick of “female empower movies?” You mean all the hundreds (yeah sure) that have been made since Disney’s Frozen became one of the highest grossing films of all time? All those movies? (Go on, name another female empowerment movie this year.) This snarky critic saw no irony in his statement– he has no qualms whatsoever about all the male empowerment movies that he sees every week. The misogyny in film reviews makes me sick.
I didn’t love Maleficent only because it was a movie about women. I loved it because it was a darn good movie. It was gloriously gorgeous, with a seamless combination of live action and special effects, orchestrated by first-time feature film director, Robert Stromberg, who has an extensive background in special effects work.
Lead by Angelina Jolie as Maleficent the queen of the fairies, the cast was terrific. (Except for the King, played by Sharlto Copley, who alas is too unattractive to be a worthy foe for Maleficent.) There’s been some snotty criticism of the flower pixies. Don’t’ believe it. The flower pixies, all played by English actresses, are hilarious and adorable. You don’t have to love the Three Stooges to appreciate these pixies but it helps. They are the bossy pink fairy Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), the ditzy yellow fairy Thistletwit (Juno Temple) and Fittle (Julie Manville), the blue fairy who always has butterflies flittering around her.
A worthy co-star for Jolie is Elle Fanning (sister of Dakota Fanning), who gave the princess Aurora courage and maturity beyond her years. Yes, the poor thing is put into a death-like sleep thanks to Maleficent’s curse, but she doesn’t take any other challenge in life lying down. She was a delight to watch.
The story…we meet Maleficent as a self-assured teenager (Isobel Malloy) flying all over her fairy kingdom with soaring power and majesty. She has curvy horns like a mountain goat on her head and her wings – oh, those magnificent wings, are more like angel wings—long and full – than the usual flimsy things we see on fairies in movies. Her realm is an isolated section of the moors—think Avatar on a small scale. Beyond the fairy world are the humans, who have kept to themselves for centuries. One day a teenage human boy, Stefan, enters the fairy realm—he and Maleficent meet and fall in love.
Years later the human king invades the fairy kingdom and in a horrendous battle between the grown-up Maleficent, with her trusty ent-like tree warriors, and the king’s medieval army, the king is seriously wounded. He swears that whoever kills the fairy queen will become king when he dies. So off goes Stefan on his evil quest, obviously changed by greed over the years.
He finds Maleficent, who is thrilled to see him and slips her a nasty sleeping potion. Unable at the last minute to stab her to death, he instead cuts off her wings and flees with them. When Maleficent awakes and discovers the betrayal and her mutilation, her anguish echoes to the skies. It’s one of the saddest moments I’ve ever seen on film. Just thinking about it makes me want to cry.
In her lustrous black robes, sans wings, Maleficent comes to the christening of the King Stefan’s baby – and what an entrance into the throne room she makes – and delivers her curse. The baby girl will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall into a sleep from which only the kiss of True Love can redeem her. Well, girls, we all know how difficult it is to find true love – and get a kiss from him. So we know this curse is pretty much an omen about real life. That poor princess is going to sleep forever waiting for that kiss.
The three pixies, transformed into humans, go off and try to raise the baby girl but they’re so incompetent Maleficent feels she has to step in to keep the baby alive. With no one knowing, she makes sure the child survives and approaches her 16th birthday in good health. (At one point she meets the princess as a toddler, played by her own 5-year-old daughter, Vivienne Jolie-Pitt. Total cuteness.)
Helping Maleficent is the raven she turned into a human, named Diaval (English actor Sam Riley), who becomes her “eyes and ears” and flies off to places she can’t go. Diaval can also get transformed into anything Maleficent wants him to be, which turns out very conveniently when he becomes a fierce fire-breathing dragon later on.
One day in the forest a young prince, Philip, discovers Aurora, and of course in a few minutes they fall in love. Then everything goes haywire from the conventions of the old fairy tale. Curses are terrible things, making people do what they really don’t want to do and making you sit on the edge of your seat while you watch it all happen. It was absolutely wonderful. Everybody says they knew what the twist in the story was going to be – I didn’t – and I was literally breathless when it happened.
Do not wait until Maleficent comes out on DVD to see it for the first time. It’s meant to be viewed on the big screen so you can enjoy all its power and beauty. Will boys like this movie? I think so, because there’s lots of action and scary things and Angelina Jolie is as captivating to young men as she is to old ones.