Sleeping Beauty has long been considered a classic Disney animated feature, and audiences have always been enchanted with Princess Aurora’s beauty or Prince Phillip’s bravery. Maleficent is portrayed as an equally mischievous villain. I’ve always wondered if she simply got the short end of the stick and what it would be like to see the events of the film from her perspective. All the best villains are complicated characters and there are always at least two sides to every story. Maleficent is Disney’s attempt to deliver a new chapter to an old tale, but rather than shine a new light on the villainess, Disney plays it safe with a tame retelling.
The film opens before there was ever a Princess Aurora with a young fairy named Maleficent who lived in the magical forest realm alongside all kinds of other mythical creatures. This Maleficent is vastly different from the one recognized from Sleeping Beauty as she a happy-go-lucky child who likes to think the best of people, even though humans and the woodland creatures aren’t on the best of terms. She befriends a young peasant boy named Stefan and the two become great friends but as time passes, the two’s relationship drifts further and further apart. When the opportunity to become the ruler of the kingdom arises, Stefan betrays Maleficent and cuts off her beautiful wings. It’s here where the story picks up from the Disney fairy tale as Maleficent vows revenge on those who did her wrong.
I actually enjoyed this prologue of sorts. It immediately establishes Maleficent as a likeable character and someone you can root for, not the villain she is known for. Besides, it’s really difficult to hate a kid. Having her as a fairy who has her wings stolen from her is a great way to set up her reasoning for vengeance. It's only when the film returns to familiar territory that it starts to fall apart.
Maleficent follows in the footsteps of Sleeping Beauty and fills in some of the gaps of the animated film. Rather than fill the time with anything memorable, however, these scenes feel more like stepping stones to the larger set pieces we’re all familiar with like Arora’s chance encounter with Prince Phillip or the pricking of her finger. Basically, they just want to show audiences that Maleficent can be nice too.
For what it’s worth, Angelina Jolie gives a great performance as Maleficent. She is able to bring out both the good and the bad in the character and bring additional depth to her. It’s the story itself that feels lacking.
Disney plays it safe with Maleficent by sticking to the familiar Sleeping Beauty story and only altering a few parts here and there rather than craft a new path with the character. It’s entertaining, but I can’t help but see the film like a compilation of randomly pieced together scenes. Angelina Jolie delivers a noteworthy performance but besides from that, there isn’t much to talk about.