Maleficent is the movie that will make all Jenifer Aniston fans forgive the indomitable Angelina Jolie and nod in agreement with the perpetually-bearded Brad Pitt: he chose the right woman after all.
It is a film that, like the Broadway smash hit Wicked, tells the other side of a well-known story. You think you know the tale of Sleeping Beauty by heart? Well, that’s just adorable, says the same Hollywood that brought you the Disney-fied version of Sleeping Beauty. Disney doesn’t care: “What do you know, movie-watcher? What? Do you get all of your information from…us?”
Apparently Maleficent makes up for all the misleading clues set up for us by the original in 1959. In essence, it’s a double whammy for Disney.
But what is also brilliant is this finely wrought film, whose special effects usher us into a magical world where faeries fly and cavort, and know nothing of the evil greedy ways of mankind. And like every single Disney film before it, pure sweet innocence is ripe for a fall.
Enter said man.
The man to come in and ruin everything is Stefan, played first by Michael Higgins and later by Sharlto Copley, an orphan (of course; see above: Disney) who wanders bravely into the magical forest and falls in love with a young Maleficent, a good faerie with white-feathered wings. What follows is the foundation from which the rest of the story builds: a brutal betrayal, a transition from love to hate, innocence lost and evil gained. It is the back-story to Sleeping Beauty, in which the audience sees the evil witch put a curse on Stefan’s royal daughter, the infant Aurora, to make her fall into a death-like sleep once she turns 16.
What makes Maleficent so compelling isn’t just the twist on the storytelling’s viewpoint, but that we also see it through the eyes of Aurora, who grows up under the care of three hopeless faeries—and the ever-watchful Maleficent, who tries with all of her heart to live up to her reputation as “evil.”
Therein lies the force that is Angelina Jolie. She walks the line between hateful and fragile in a way that no other actress in recent memory could. She is believable when out of her hurt and righteous wrath she summons up the force of all the hatred on Earth to condemn an innocent baby. She is equally credible when the cracks in her fierce persona begin to break.
I dare you not to cry at the moment of her betrayal when she lets out a guttural howl that still rings in my ears and causes gooseflesh on my arms a full week after I saw it on the big screen.
Was this a plot rip-off of Wicked? Yup.
Does Disney rake in profits by exploiting the gaps in storytelling from the story they told us? Absolutely.
Is it one of those rare films aimed at children that resonates with parents long after their children have moved on?
Unfortunately for Jenifer sympathizers, the answer is a resounding yes.