Today I took my teens to see the new Disney movie, “Maleficent.” It was an awesome movie, and I recommend it highly! Check out the trailer, and then read on to see why I liked it so much.
The movie is a reimagining of the Disney classic, “Sleeping Beauty,” told from the perspective of the villain, Maleficent. It is more than a retelling; the details are certainly different, which you would expect when “the other side” tells the tale.
I am wary of movies like this because the original is such a huge part of my childhood. (we watched a lot of Disney movies) Imagine if the Transformers was retold from the perspective of Megatron or something…perish the thought! This, though, was awesome. Angelina Jolie did a tremendous job as Maleficent. The rest of the cast kept up with her quite well and supported her efforts in good ways. The plot moved well and had enough twists in it to keep me from going and getting a popcorn refill, and the visual style was really fantastic.
Positive Elements (PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD!)
This really is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, but from the perspective of the villain, Maleficent. The story, though, goes quite a bit differently as you would expect. I don’t want to spoil the whole plot for you, but Maleficent starts off as a wonderful fairy, then turns evil because she is terribly wronged by her love, and then finds redemption through his daughter Aurora (Sleeping Beauty). Disney’s storyline says:
A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman, Maleficent has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land’s fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal – an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces a battle with the invading king’s successor and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Maleficent realizes that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom – and perhaps to Maleficent’s true happiness as well.
While we joked that she is like a female Anakin Skywalker, in reality it is a wonderful story of redemption.
Maleficent is wronged, horribly, by her first love, Stefan. He uses her trust in him to terribly wrong her by cutting her fairy wings off, a scene that had me weepy. That wounding leaves her physically, but more emotionally, scarred and she builds walls around herself to protect herself and her people. The walls are emotional as well as literal, and at one point she builds an impenetrable thorn wall to keep humans out of her land which is a powerful metaphor.
Her revenge against Stefan comes in the form of a curse on his daughter. Maleficent hates Stefan for what he did, and there is some cause for that. She keeps an eye on his daughter to draw out her revenge, and as she does she comes to like and then to love Aurora. In the end, Maleficent comes to sacrifice herself for Aurora and be redeemed from the evil that has grasped her heart.
Good to evil, and then in the name of true, selfless love back to good. This is a great story line and a powerful discussion for parents to have with their children!
Stefan also represents a powerful story. He really does love Maleficent, but he is power hungry and his thirst for power drives him to perform evil acts. It then traps him in his evil, unable to erase the consequences of his actions when they come back to hurt him. He becomes quite paranoid and his paranoia and desire to protect himself and his daughter from Maleficent take absurd lengths. His bad decisions snowball, little by little, until he has lost everything he holds dear. He dies at the end of the movie not just broken in body, but in spirit as well. This is another powerful lesson.
Maleficent has a minion named Diaval who shape shifts from human to raven (and to wolf and dragon on occasion…Maleficent controls that). I expected her minion to be a typical sycophant, but Diaval is much more than a sycophant. He has some stellar discussion in the movie. He acts as Maleficent’s conscience in some sense, urging her to take care of Aurora when she is young, and helping Maleficent by speaking hard truth to her when she needs it. He serves an important role in the movie, and it’s worth thinking about having a friend who can speak the truth to you and help you when times get tough.
There’s a fourth positive element for parents to talk to kids about. That’s the truth that people are seldom black and white, good or evil. We see Maleficent in the original Sleeping Beauty as a purely evil character, but in this movie she is far more nuanced. So, too, is Stefan. Real life seldom has people wearing black hats or white hats. Instead, everyone does what they think is right at the time and everyone’s actions are motivated by their own emotional needs and their experiences. This holds true across the board.
Finally, there’s a small element in the movie about Stefan becoming mentally ill as the movie progresses. It’s handled quite well, with his wife and subjects trying awkwardly to deal with him as he delves farther and farther into paranoia. It isn’t campy and it isn’t made fun of, but it is a major driver of the plot. This is a great discussion to have with family about mental illness and its affect on people and their loved ones.
I find little to be troubled by in this movie. If you have a moral objection to magic use, skip this one. (duh!) I don’t have that problem and it’s set in a fantasy world, but if you’re sensitive to magical use the movie is filled with it.
The scene when Prince Phillip kisses Aurora can be seen, perhaps, as him using her body without her consent when he kisses her. I didn’t take it that way, but it was an awkward scene and purposefully so. The kiss is very chaste.
The film does not follow the Disney plot from Sleeping Beauty verbatim. It’s a reimagining. This could be a negative in that the villain is portrayed as the ultimate hero, but to me this is a story of redemption not of glorifying evil. In fact, it shows how evil happens and that no one is beyond redemption.
I have been asked if this movie is okay for kids. I would take my 8 year old to it without concern. If the original Sleeping Beauty is too scary for your kids, this movie will be as well. If not, it’s no worse for sure. It earned a PG rating and that seems appropriate to me. There is no sexual content at all beyond a chaste kiss, and no language in the movie.
I really thought this is a great movie. I enjoyed it thoroughly and so did my teens. We had great discussions on the ride home about all the points above. I recommend families see this and talk about the themes. Disney does a good job of bringing good moral messages in creative packages, and Maleficent keeps that pattern intact.