When I was young I used to impress people with my Disney trivia knowledge. I would challenge my schoolmates to trivia contests, trying to see who could stump the other. My coup de grâce was always “Name the evil sorceress from Sleeping Beauty”. No one ever could. I savored knowing her name. Maleficent.
I entered the theater last night with some trepidation. I was excited to see this retelling of my favorite childhood movie, but early reviews had dampened my spirits. When I walked out of the theater two hours later, the only disappointment I felt was in MPR for telling me this was a movie to rent, not a movie to see in theaters. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
First, the movie passes the Bechdel test with flying colors, and has a lot of small surprises in store for the critical, feminist viewer. The movie opens on Maleficent as a child, in a fairyland they call the Moors. I could almost feel the hearts of all the little girls in the theater lifting as their eyes widened at the gorgeous scenes of Maleficent soaring over the Moors with her beautiful, brown, feathered wings.
Critics have lambasted the film for poor special effects, but I was not distracted from the story at all. Quite the opposite. I felt the director and producers (one of whom is Angelina Jolie herself) struck the right balance of cartoon, fairy tale cliches with complex character development and a more realistic overall narrative.
**WARNING – THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS**
I enjoyed the borderline ridiculous happiness of Aurora. Because really, what else would you expect from someone who is “blessed” to be happy every waking moment? I also enjoyed the simple, attractive Prince Philip. And I dare you to not love the raven. As for Angelina Jolie, she breathes life into her character with so much nuance, love, and care that I wish I had seen this movie as a child. Then I could have enjoyed playing Maleficent make believe when I still had the imagination to do so. But here is what is truly fantastic about this film.
Maleficent’s story of love and betrayal has some very overt and raw undertones of rape and violence against women. Her beloved drugs her with the aim of decapitating her and trading her head for the right to be king. Instead of killing her, he castrates her, severing her wings. It is a strong metaphor for men stripping women of their power for their own personal gain.
Maleficent, in her justifiable pain and anguish, curses the first born child of the man who betrayed her. She subsequently watches over Aurora her entire life. We see a gradual transformation in Maleficent, as she grows from hating Aurora (“the little beastie”) to loving her and trying unsuccessfully to remove the curse. It is an honest showing of repentance and redemption, as the movie climaxes when Maleficent tries to right her wrongs, and reclaims her wings.
There are a number of subtleties that delighted me. We see a non-white family in the grand hall at Aurora’s christening. There is a black knight with an Irish accent. Prince Philip is reluctant to kiss Aurora while she is sleeping, and it is only through the multiple reassurances of the three good fairies that he finally does. And for some reason I really, really liked the scene where Aurora fulfills the curse and pricks her finger. I can really feel the itch when she rubs the end of her index finger over and over again.
Please go see this movie and vote with your dollars for the movie industry to give us more films like this!