Movie Review – Maleficent (2014)

In 1959, Walt Disney Productions released Sleeping Beauty, a full-length animated film that did a wonderful job of telling a classic fairy tale.

In Sleeping Beauty, the character Maleficent was not only one of the most evil and powerful villains in the history of Disney animation, but she was also one of the most mysterious and unknown of them as well.  Very little was told about her in the animated film.  You just know that she must have some sort of fantastic tale on why she is so vicious and hateful towards King Stefan and Princess Aurora.

Maleficent (2014) - movie poster

Maleficent (2014) – movie poster

Those questions and more are answered in the 2014 live-action film Maleficent.  Directed by Robert Stromberg, Maleficent stars Angelina Jolie in the title role of Maleficent.  Supporting her is Sharlto Copley as King Stefan.  That’s probably as far as it goes when it comes to famous people in this film, not that that’s a negative issue.

Maleficent begins with a brief introduction to the fantasy land, a kingdom of humans and a wooded area (called the moors) where fairies and other magical beings live.  Although the two lands border one another, both the humans and the fairies keep their distance.  Apparently the two groups have fought wars in the past.

Young fairy Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy) is a magical being that loves life and nature.  She is flying around the woods one day when she learns of there being a human being nearby.  He was caught stealing from the land, and the human is hiding in a small cave.  Maleficent goes to the cave and convinces the human to emerge.  He does so and we see that it’s a young man named Stefan (Michael Higgins).  No harm comes to Stefan and the item that he stole is returned to a pool of water.

Maleficent and Stefan begin to talk and realize that they share quite a bit in common, from their young age to both of them being orphans.  When they part, Stefan extends his hand and Maleficent touches it, but she suddenly pulls it back.  She was burned by the iron ring on Stefan’s hand.  She tells him that steel is harmful when it touches her skin.  Knowing that, Stefan removes his ring and throws it away so that they may touch hands again in the future.

As the years pass, both Maleficent and Stefan continue to see and grow closer to each other.  But all of that ends when Maleficent (Ella Purnell) reaches her sixteenth birthday.  Suddenly Stefan is no longer part of her life in the woods.

King Henry (Kenneth Cranham) has learned of Maleficent and her powers, and he’s determined to crush every evil creature in the woods.  He leads an attack against Maleficent and her forest creatures, but the attack is repealed and King Henry is seriously injured.  Back at his castle, King Henry gathers his closest advisers and tells them that whomever can defeat the evil will become the next king, as King Henry does not have any children to inherit his kingdom.

Stefan (Toby Regbo), one of King Henry’s servants, overhears his offer.  Stefan goes out into the woods and seeks Maleficent.  He finds her and the two of them quickly rekindle their relationship.  Maleficent has fallen for Stefan.  She accepts a drink that he offers her, and she becomes unconscious.

At first Stefan is going to take a knife and kill Maleficent as she sleeps, but he cannot do that to her.  Instead, Stefan takes a steel cord and uses it to cut off her wings.  He then takes the wings back to King Henry and impresses the king, earning the right to be the next king.

When maleficent awakens, she’s devastated at Stefan’s betrayal and that he stole her wings.  In her misery she takes a stick and magically changes it into her staff.  She later sees a hunter capture a raven, and she uses a spell to change the raven into a human.  The human’s name is Diaval (Sam Riley), and he becomes Maleficent’s servant.  She mainly keeps him as a raven so he can spy on the kingdom and keep her updated with information.

A few years pass and there’s news around the kingdom as Princess Aurora has been born.  The commoners flock to the castle to pay their respects to King Stefan (Sharlto Copley), his wife, and their infant daughter.  The three good fairies, Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), Thistlewit (Juno Temple), and Flittle (Lesley Manville), also visit the newborn princess.  King Stefan is hesitant on letting the fairies approach his daughter, but his wife insists that they be allowed as they are bearing gifts.

The fairies offer magical gifts of eternal beauty and happiness.  The third fairy is interrupted by the sudden arrival of Maleficent (Angelina Jolie).  Maleficent is also there to bring a gift for King Stefan’s daughter.  She casts an enchantment on the girl, proclaiming that she will fall into an endless sleep should she prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday.  King Stefan pleads for her mercy, so Maleficent alters the enchantment and allows for the spell to be broken by a kiss from her true love.

After Maleficent leaves, King Stefan orders that all spinning wheels in the kingdom be locked away in the castle’s deepest dungeon.  He then sends his infant daughter with Knotgrass, Thistlewit and Flittle to be hidden in the woods until the day after her sixteenth birthday.  The three fairies take Aurora to a remote cottage deep in the woods.  They then change themselves into human beings and carry on the act of three widowed ladies raising an orphan child.

What the fairies don’t know is that Diaval has been spying on them, and Maleficent knows that Princess Aurora is living in the cabin.  Instead of outright killing the girl, Maleficent decides to keep watch over the girl.  She also erects a tremendous wall of thorns around the woods to keep out King Stefan’s men.

The years pass and Maleficent realizes that there’s more in Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) than she realized.  This is a child that does not fear her.  She regards Maleficent not as an evil entity but rather that of a fairy godmother, somebody that she appreciates and cares about.

Maleficent realizes this as well.  She cares about Aurora and believes that Aurora may be the human being who unties the humans with the fairies, ending their violent history.  One night as Aurora is asleep, Maleficent tries to reverse her spell on the princess and remove it.  Her efforts fail and Aurora is still cursed until after the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday.

Aurora wants to live in the forest with Maleficent and spend more time with the woman.  When she announces this to her three “aunts,” they are shocked by her announcement.  They then reveal to Aurora that her father is really alive (they originally told her that he was dead), and that she is to return to the castle after her sixteenth birthday.  This news does not go over well, and Aurora goes back into the woods.

Out in the woods, Aurora runs into a young man named Phillip (Brenton Thwaites).  At first Aurora is shocked when she runs into Phillip, but quickly that shock turns into fascination with the young man, the first human being that she has met outside of the three “aunts” and Maleficent.  The two young adults begin to bond when Aurora has to leave.

Meanwhile, King Stefan has continued to grow more and more obsessed with Maleficent.  His wife eventually falls ill and dies, but Stefan shows no remorse.  He’s only focused on defeating Maleficent.  The king orders all of the blacksmiths to work on a special project that he’s been planning.

On the day of her sixteenth birthday, Aurora returns to the castle and reunites with her father, King Stefan.  The king sees his wife in his daughter, but he doesn’t want anything to do with Aurora until the next day.  He sends the girl to be locked away in a room while he tends to his plans of defeating Maleficent.

Out in the woods, Maleficent knows that Aurora is still in danger of the enchantment.  She locates Phillip and knocks him unconscious.  She then races him to King Stefan’s castle so that should Aurora fall into the sleep, then he can kiss her awake.  As she’s racing to the castle, Aurora falls into a trance, follows a glowing orb into the castle’s dungeon, and then pricks her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel.  The princess falls into an ageless sleep.  Only a kiss from her true love can save her now.

Maleficent and Diaval manage to infiltrate King Stefan’s castle and sneak the still unconscious Phillip to Aurora’s room.  He’s awakened and the three fairies take him inside the room, now knowing that Phillip happens to be a prince as well.  The good fairies convince Phillip to give the sleeping Aurora a kiss, to which he finally does, but the princess does not awaken.  She’s still asleep.

Devastated, Phillip and the three fairies leave Aurora alone in the room.  Maleficent (who was hiding in the room) approaches the bed and declares her motherly love for the girl.  She then kisses Aurora on the forehead, and the girl wakes from her sleep.  It’s a joyous moment as the villain is revealed to be the hero after all.

Now it’s time for them to flee the castle from King Stefan.

As she’s passing through a room, a steel net falls on Maleficent, trapping her on the floor.  The king’s guards quickly enter the room and surround Maleficent.  The woman then uses her magic and changes Diaval from a raven into a fire-breathing dragon.  The guards have their hands full fighting and trying to subdue the dragon.  They finally do so, but not before the dragon pulls the net off of Maleficent and frees her.

Maleficent is still surrounded by guards when King Stefan arrives in his body armor.  He attacks and beats Maleficent, sending her flying across the room.  While this is taking place, Aurora has hidden in an adjacent room and stumbled upon a pair of wings that have been locked inside of a case.  They’re Maleficent’s wings, the wings that her father cut off of her over sixteen years ago.  She pushes over the case and breaks it open.  Just as Stefan is about to stab and kill Maleficent with his sword, her wings fly into the room and fuse themselves back onto Maleficent, giving her the power of flight once again.

Maleficent then flies around the room and tries to flee from the guards.  Stefan and his men try to launch arrows and throw spears at her, but they mainly miss.  Stefan finally snags her foot with a cord, but she flies out a window and drags him along on a flight around the outside of the castle.  They ultimately land on a turret and Maleficent pins Stefan against a wall, but she allows him to live.  Stefan though isn’t finished.  He grabs Maleficent and the two of them tumble off the turrent.  Maleficent slips free and King Stefan falls to his death.

After the battle in the castle, Aurora is taken back to the woods where she can live in peace and happiness.

Maleficent ends with Princess Aurora being crowned as queen of the forest.  It’s hoped that she can bring everlasting peace between the humans and creatures of the woods.  Prince Phillip then arrives, implying that the two of them will remain as a couple.

No, there is NOT an additional scene at the end of the credits.

FINAL THOUGHTS

So is Maleficent a good film?

Let’s just say that Maleficent was a story that I was not expecting.  All I knew going into the theater was that this was a story that focused on one of the greatest villains in Disney animation.  No problem there.

I was expecting a re-telling of the 1959 animated film, but with more of an emphasis on Maleficent.  That’s not what happens though in this film.  It’s not even close.  Fans of the animated film may be quite shocked by how far this story drifts away from the classic version.

Now that I’ve reviewed the film and the shock has eased, my second thoughts are that this was a pretty good film with some minor issues.  I didn’t care for some of the cartoony creatures that lived in the woods, or that Prince Phillip is basically useless here.  Those good fairies were getting on my nerves after a while as well.

The core of this film focuses on Maleficent, and that is where this film is at its best.  Angelina Jolie shines when Maleficent is at her darkest.  Her likeliness to the animated villain is right on the money.  It’s worth the price of admission to see Maleficent when she’s at the peak of her evil ways.  Trust me, those moments in the film are that good.

Let’s also not forget that this is a fairly dark story as well, the action scenes are good, and the fire-breathing dragon is just plain awesome.  Just don’t expect to see Prince Phillip battle the dragon and prevail in the end.  In this version Maleficent wins and the dragon survives (we see the human version of Diaval in the forest at the end).

Maleficent (2014) – movie trailer

The bottom line for Maleficent is that it’s a good film but not anything like the classic animated version that we know and love.  The people in the audience seemed to enjoy the film, and quite a few of them applauded at the end.  Some of them were even tearful when it was revealed that Maleficent was Aurora’s true love in a mother-daughter relationship.

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