I was prepared for Maleficent to disappoint me. Walking into the theater, I assumed that I was walking into a green screened, poorly-acted, predictably-written, Disneyfied version of Wicked. Thankfully, the movie proved me wrong in every one of my predictions.
Angelina Jolie is perfect as Maleficent. She has an incredible range from an injured fairy, to a ruthless sorceress, to a loving surrogate mother. Her character is as believable as one could possibly be in a fantasy movie. The worst that can be said about characters like Diaval (Sam Riley) and Stefan (Sharlto Copley) is that they were underused and lacked development. Prince Philip (Brenton Thwaites) is the only true disappointment in the movie. In the original animated feature, Philip was the first Disney prince to have a distinguishable personality and I expected the same of this movie. With few lines, no back story, and his essential role in the movie gone, Philip is reduced to nothing more than a pretty face.
The movie’s script, written by Linda Woolverton, struck me the most. Though the plot itself is relatively unsurprising, the blatant feminist themes caught me off guard. Maleficent’s bold character is written from a strong feminine perspective. I was further convinced of this when reading reviews of Maleficent. I found that some critics are unsatisfied with the movie because Maleficent is, “just another victim” or she’s “just a woman who should’ve known better than to trust a guy,” both typical and ignorant responses to feminist messages.
The only reason she bestows evil curses, shuts off human access to the Moors, and terrorizes the creatures who live inside it is because she was hurt and humiliated by the man she loved. This is where the feminist perspective gets a little twisted: Maleficent then swears off all love and spends every bit of her energy hating Stefan and thinking of the perfect way to make his life a living hell. She uses her man/raven, Daival, to spy on Stefan after he ascends to the throne (a reward for showing Maleficent’s wings as proof that he killed her). When she learns he and his queen have had a baby girl, she curses Aurora (Elle Fanning) to prick her finger on a spinning wheel on her sixteenth birthday and fall into a coma-like sleep revoked only by true love’s first kiss. The curse is an ironic jab at Stefan who promised Maleficent when they were sixteen that his kiss was true love’s.
It is worth pointing out that despite her hatred for Stefan, Maleficent creates Daival, a raven she can command to change into any creature. However, she most often turns him into a man that is thin, scraggly, and dark haired like Stefan. Despite this, there is never a hint of romantic feelings between Daival and Maleficent. Perhaps she wants a man that she can control. Perhaps she is convinced that there is no chance of him hurting her because she views him as weak and subject to her will.
Maleficent’s relationship with Aurora is the most feminist aspect of her story. Because the fairies assigned to look after Aurora (Juno Temple, Lesley Manville, and Imelda Staunton) spend more time hitting each other than taking care of the child, Maleficent takes it upon herself to ensure that Aurora remains happy and healthy. She spends her days watching the child grow and protecting her from harm. Though at first she does this to fulfill her curse, her care eventually turns maternal.
After personally meeting Aurora at the age of fifteen, Maleficent shows her the Moors and is touched by her beauty, innocence, and curiosity. The two develop a deep mother-daughter relationship. However, no relationship can break the curse Maleficent put on her out of spite. After Aurora is in her coma-like sleep, it is only Maleficent’s kiss, the kiss of maternal affection and not of masculine romantic intention, that wakes her. Maleficent’s heart is healed of malice by Aurora, who is in turn saved by a mother’s love. This is the feminist conclusion of Maleficent: that women are capable of saving each other, both from each other and from men.