So Maleficent is hands down the most amazing Disney film I have seen in a long while, and that’s even over Enchanted, The Princess and the Frog, and Frozen.
That’s not to say that Maleficent is more fun to watch. All three of the films I mentioned are actually more fun films, with lighter tones, more jokes, and cheery characters.
But then again, I didn’t go see those films six times in theaters.
Six times folks.
That’s not just an idle “Oh, that was a good movie.”
That’s full blown “I adore this film and everything it represents.”
Be advised: here there be spoilers. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, 1) that’s your own fault, and 2) go see it immediately. I’ll wait.
You’re back? Excellent.
SEE WHAT I MEAN THOUGH?!
Maleficent is terrific– it’s a tale of the things we do when lost in our darkest hours, and how those things we do while lost do not have to define us forever. It ascribes motive to one of Disney’s most iconic villainous figures, Sleeping Beauty’s Maleficent, and raises the questions of how we define “True Love’s Kiss”, challenging decades of Disney tropes and clichés in the process. Here we have a Maleficent who was betrayed by the one she loved (as it turns out, the love was not as entirely mutual as she had assumed), and she would carry the wounds from this betrayal, both the physical and emotional, for a very long time. On a side note, the “morning after” scene is probably one of the most striking acting moments in Angelina Jolie’s career, and upon further inspection, this whole film is probably a high point in her career; she is so heartfelt and genuine the whole way through that it is impossible for me to say a bad word about her here. Wow, that’s a first.
When Maleficent finally has her chance at vengeance, she lashes out in the most horrific and painful way she can think of with little thought to the consequences, but while they are severe, they are not the consequences usually bestowed on a villain.
The consequence she suffers is the greatest of all: regret.
Stefan ABSOLUTELY deserved to be punished horribly for what he did– seducing Maleficent using her past feelings for him, drugging her, and then doing unspeakable things to her body (stealing her wings by burning them off with an iron chain) is rape in absolutely everything but the strict sexual manner. All so he could feed his own political ambitions– it is in Stefan we have a figure who was offered a chance at being a better person, only to reject that chance. He’d been caught at the start of the film attempting to steal a jewel from The Moors (Faeryland), and a much younger Maleficent had offered him an out, and for years it looked like he’d reform as they got to know each other; of course we knew from the start there would be a falling out: something obviously was going to drive Maleficent to curse baby Aurora, and it most certainly was not that she failed to receive a party invitation.
But over the course of the film, Maleficent’s blind rage fades and softens. She largely ignores the king, and comes to regret cursing an innocent child to attack the man who had wronged her. She realizes that no matter what the sins of the father were, the children do not intrinsically share these sins– hey! There’s a life lesson already!
She instead comes into her own new role as Aurora’s Fairy Godmother, a teacher, protector, and all around maternal figure (which is good because the three fairies in this version of the film are very comically inept and Aurora would have likely died of starvation before she even hit two years of age under their exclusive care). Maleficent becomes the only real parent Aurora has ever known; much as the pixies try their best, Aurora even admits that although well-meaning, they are not the brightest bunch (they fed her spiders on accident one time, apparently). Hey, there’s another lesson: just because you mean well does not mean that you necessarily do well. Also, you also have to be capable to bring about results; trying hard isn’t good enough, and success only comes from being willing and able enough to actually succeed. So in reality, the pixies present a twofer there.
But lo and behold, Aurora meets dashing and plot-relevantly clumsy Prince Philip, and they are both gorgeous and smitten. Maleficent hopes this is her chance to undo the curse (her previous attempts to outright revoke it have failed, and now she seeks to fulfill the “True Love’s Kiss” clause to save her goddaughter).
Except after Sleeping Beauty finally catches her Z’s, Philip’s kiss doesn’t work, and he realizes that while he likes her well enough based on a first meeting, “I would totally date her again” does not actually translate into true love. Another fine life lesson for the young men and ladies in the audience.
Maleficent stands over Aurora and utters a completely from the heart apology to the sleeping princess– she confesses that she was lost and angry, and her actions condemned an innocent to a horrid fate. “I will not ask for your forgiveness, because what I have done to you is unforgivable.”
Maleficent leans over, and kisses Aurora gently on the forehead, and bids her farewell… and Aurora awakens!
Here we have an elaboration of a lesson dictated by Frozen: romantic love is not the only brand of True Love; the love of a little sister, or in this case, a repentant Fairy Godmother, is equally True. Kudos to Disney for exploring different kinds of love in film. It’s not just empowering to young girls, but to all of us, boys and girls alike.
Even though Aurora had earlier taken off in a huff when Maleficent had confessed she was the one who had cursed her as a baby, Aurora does the unthinkable (in a movie, at least): she forgives Maleficent, and even expresses her original desire to live in the Moors with her beloved fairy godmother.
During their flight to the Moors, Maleficent is trapped in a life-or-death struggle. A dragon is revealed, and we all ooh and awe, but the dragon doesn’t manage to save Maleficent. Teamwork by the human knights actually manages to subdue it rather quickly– I guess those knights had some real brass ones, or given the arc metal in this film, iron ones.
Maleficent is about to be killed by Stefan, when Aurora gives Maleficent her wings back. I love this moment of the film as I find it meaningful on so many levels. In reclaiming her wings, Maleficent doesn’t necessarily undo the violation she underwent earlier, but rather, it is symbolic of the return of her capability to love again, in a way that is visually clear for all to see. Aurora, who gave them back, has shown the incredible extent of her forgiveness: she has risked almost everything to save the woman who had previously cursed her to die, instead of helping her father kill Maleficent. Stefan, in refusing to back down, shows how relentless his own hatred was. This will of course come into play a second time.
Shortly after, Maleficent is ready to kill Stefan: she has his throat in her hands, and with her strength, she could break his neck or strangle him with ease. It’s not even as if the film is particularly averse to this sort of imagery; we’ve already had knights stabbed, eaten, bludgeoned and burnt in various scenes, and a few implied deaths for some nameless toadies of Stefan that were likely VERY nasty. Maleficent could kill Stefan right then and there. She would be perfectly justified, even in her goddaughter’s eyes if she did. But like Aurora, she does the unthinkable. She lets go, and not just physically. She shows mercy, and tells Stefan that “This is over.”
She walks away, and this is a telling moment that shows how Maleficent has been changed… and how Stefan has not. He attacks her one last time, throwing them both off of the turret, and Maleficent defends herself. Stefan does not have wings, and Maleficent does, and the result is about as you’d expect. Another side note: falling to your death is often referred to as the “Disney Villain Death” due to the prevalence of the trope in Disney films, but this is one of the few times we actually see the body and confirm that Mad King Stefan is now dead. The way Maleficent slightly declines her head as she stands over the man she once loved even communicates that she no longer wished it had turned out this way.
Thus concludes the major plot of the film. Aurora is then crowned by Maleficent and the Pixies , and there’s a heavy implication she marries Philip later. Remember how Philip had liked her, but didn’t have True Love for Aurora and so could not unbind her from the enchantment? That’s not to say that they didn’t share true love later… it just takes time to develop it over the course of a relationship. Yet another fine Aesop!
And credits roll.
Maleficent is a film which involves a lot of Disney tropes: some played straight, some toyed with, and others set up and averted. But all of them are deconstructed heavily. It presents a slightly darker than the Disney average worldview, but one that ends no less hopefully, and I think that’s very important. The world can be a savage and cruel place, but we are always offered a choice: do we allow ourselves to become a Stefan, or an Aurora? And if we take the wrong choice initially, sometimes, if we’re very, very lucky, and there are those who love us enough to help us make a change… we can, and for the better– just like Maleficent.