tek's rating:

Maleficent (PG)
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Caution: spoilers!

This is a live-action reimagining of the animated Disney classic Sleeping Beauty, but with the villain from that movie as the protagonist. It came out in 2014, but I didn't see it until 2017. I watched it the night after the live-action "Beauty and the Beast" opened, because of my tendency to choose DVDs to watch based on a similarity to something currently in theaters that I can't go see. (I would have watched it the night B&B opened, but it was St. Patrick's Day, so I wanted to watch something more appropriate that night.) Although more than a year before I watched this movie, I had bought the mp3 of Lana Del Rey's cover of Once Upon a Dream, which is on the soundtrack. And it's pretty great.

Anyway, it begins with some narration about two realms that didn't get along. One was a human kingdom, and the other was the Moors, where all manner of magical creatures lived. This included a young fairy named Maleficent, who (much like young Anakin Skywalker) was very sweet. One day, a boy named Stefan tried to steal a gemstone from the Moors, but Maleficent (and some Ent-like guards) convince him to return it. After that, Maleficent and Stefan become good friends, and over the next few years, they apparently fall in love. He gives her "true love's kiss" at age 16, which is a nice bit of foreshadowing. However, they later grow apart, as Stefan pursues his worldly ambitions, and Maleficent becomes the protector of the Moors. (As an adult, she's played by Angelina Jolie.) And then the king leads his army into battle against the Moors, and they're defeated. On his deathbed, he declares that his successor will be whoever can kill Maleficent. So Stefan (played as an adult by Sharlto Copley), who had been in his service, goes to the Moors, ostensibly to warn her about this. But he drugs her, and plans to kill her. When he can't bring himself to do that, he cuts off her wings, and presents them to the king, telling him that he had vanquished her.

When Maleficent wakes up to find her wings gone, she is, as you could imagine, very distraught. (Seriously, that scene had me in tears.) But she soon starts using magic, something we hadn't seen her do before, as far as I recall. I kind of wished that would have been explained. Maybe she always had magic, but just never had any reason to use it before, since she had so much fun just flying around and whatnot. Anyway, she soon saves the life of a raven that had been captured by humans, by turning him into a human. He says his name is Diaval (he sort of reminded me of Steerpike, but nicer), and from that point on he becomes Maleficent's devoted servant. (She changes him back and forth between bird and human, as necessary, and could turn him into anything else, if she wanted to.) And Maleficent becomes queen of the Moors (which never had a ruler before, but all the magical creatures just seem to automatically accept this change without question). Meanwhile, Stefan becomes the new king, and I guess he married the former king's daughter. And sometime later, they have a daughter named Aurora. Three fairies named Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), Thistlewit (Juno Temple), and Flittle (Lesley Manville), are among the guests at Aurora's christening. Two of them bestow wishes upon the baby, but unlike the original movie, the third never gets to bestow her own gift on Aurora, after Maleficent crashes the party. Maleficent places a curse on Aurora, to prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel, on her sixteenth birthday, and fall into a deathlike sleep. When Stefan begs her to change this curse, it's Maleficent herself who says that it could be undone by true love's kiss. (See, foreshadowing, what'd I tell you?) Of course, at this point, she doesn't believe that true love exists. Also, she says no force on Earth could undo the curse. (You know, other than that one loophole she added.) That "no force on Earth" bit is, itself, a nice bit of foreshadowing.

So... Stefan has all the spinning wheels in the kingdom destroyed. (Which, you know, probably won't affect a curse that no force on Earth could prevent from coming to pass. Because magic.) Also, he has the three fairies take baby Aurora off to be raised in a remote cottage. Incidentally, I wanted to say that they looked nothing like Maleficent. Even when she was young and they were adults, they were smaller than her. And while she was played by a human girl, they were obviously sort of CGI or motion-capture or whatever. (I mean, their faces looked sort of human, and I recognized Imelda Staunton.) So I don't know what's up with that. But of course, when they took Aurora away, they changed themselves to look fully human. And I must say, they were almost as funny and goofy here as they were in the original movie. But we don't see quite as much of them. What we do see is Maleficent watching over Aurora her whole life (because unlike the original movie, Diaval had found the cottage for her immediately after the fairies arrived there with baby Aurora). Despite the fact that Maleficent always calls Aurora "Beasty," it's clear that she starts to develop somewhat motherly (or at least auntly) feelings for the girl very early on. And those feelings grow over the years, as Aurora grows. (At age 15-16, she's played by Elle Fanning.) And for all those years, Stefan has his men out trying to find and kill Maleficent (which is kind of absurd, because she's way too powerful for anyone to hurt). And the king descends into madness.

Well, hmmm. I really want to avoid spoiling too much more of the story. But at the same time, there's so much I want to gush about. Of course Aurora grows up to be a very sweet girl (and unlike the original movie, she's never called "Briar Rose"). And there's a fun twist I don't want to reveal that involves her and Maleficent. And then... she meets Prince Philip, much more briefly than in the original movie, so that it would be even more ridiculous to think they fell in love, even if they did sort of meet cute. And... eventually the curse comes to pass, and Philip is hesitant to kiss her, which I thought was a very nice change to the story. But the actual breaking of the curse... well, I found it very predictable, but still a nice touch. And then there's a battle between Maleficent and Stefan. Which... well, iron is involved. (This was also foreshadowed long ago.) And there's a dragon, but that's rather different than in the original movie, and I quite liked how it happened, here. And... well, I'm leaving bits out, both at the end and throughout the film. I feel like I've said too much, but it can't be helped. Anyway, I just thought the whole thing was awesome, in so many ways, both small and large.

Oh, and unlike Anakin....


fantasy index

live-action Disney re-imaginings of animated (or partly animated) Disney movies

The Jungle Book (1994) * 101 Dalmatians (1996) * Alice in Wonderland (2010) * Maleficent (2014) * Cinderella (2015) * Pete's Dragon (2016) * The Jungle Book (2016) *
Beauty and the Beast (2017) * Dumbo (2019) * Aladdin (2019) * The Lion King (2019)
In Development: Lady & the Tramp * Mulan * Cruella * The Little Mermaid * et al.


I have a tendency to think of this trend as having started with "Maleficent," though I didn't think of it as a "thing" until "Cinderella" came out, and other re-imaginings had been announced. But then I started thinking I should include "Alice in Wonderland" as the start of the modern trend, as well as remembering that there were other such movies even before that. But particularly since "Cinderella," there have been increasing numbers of old animated Disney movies being remade or completely re-imagined, in live-action. There will be some things I don't include as part of this trend, like TV movies (such as "Geppetto"). And no straight-up modern sequels to old movies, even if they really feel to me like part of this trend (such as "Mary Poppins Returns") Also no remakes of movies that were live-action to begin with (such as "That Darn Cat", "The Parent Trap", "Freaky Friday", etc.) And obviously no animated remakes of films, whether the original was animated or live-action. And no live-action re-imaginings of old Disney movies by other studios (such as "Snow White and the Huntsman" or "Mirror Mirror"). Also I won't bother listing sequels to re-imaginings (such as "Alice Through the Looking Glass"), unless they're clearly re-imaginings of old sequels to the original movies; but that's just getting too complicated. As for "Pete's Dragon," that's complicated, itself, considering the original was mostly live-action, and only the dragon was animated. And of course in the remake, it's still just the dragon that's animated (this time as CGI), but I just can't help feeling like the remake is part of this overall trend. Especially considering that the "Jungle Book" movie that came out the same year uses a lot of CGI, itself.