Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 37 min.
Our content ratings (0-10): Violence 4; Language 0; Sex/Nudity 1.
Our star rating (0-5): 4
If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
It seems that the version of the story we know as “Sleeping Beauty” got almost everything wrong, especially about the “wicked fairy” who cursed the infant daughter of the king and queen. Director Robert Stromberg’s film provides a back-story showing that the king had terribly wronged the fairy, named Maleficent, and so she seeks vengeance. The film becomes a parable of love overcoming hatred and vengeance. Children too young to appreciate the moral will love several of the funny characters, as well as the marvelous special effects of fairies soaring through the forests and the clouds.
The film begins with Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy) as a girl fairy meeting and befriending a young peasant named Stefan (Michael Higgins). They enjoy the beauty of the Moors together, their friendship turning into romance. However Stefan wants to rise in the society of the huge castle that can be seen from the forest, so he stops coming to the forest.
When the aging King Henry (Kenneth Cranham), who wants to conquer the Moors, offers the hand of his daughter to the one who will kill Maleficent (now played by Angelina Jolie), she having thwarted his previous attempt to expand his kingdom, Stefan (now portrayed by Sharlto Copley) sees his opportunity to become the next king. Returning to the side of Maleficent, he woos her, but then dopes her wine. He raises his dagger over her prostrate body, but cannot bring himself to kill her. Instead, he cuts off her wings and presents them to the king. He is rewarded with the hand of the princess Leila (Hannah New), becoming king when the father dies. Bereft of her ability to fly and of what she thought was her true love, Maleficent plots vengeance. She rescues a raven and transforms him into a man, who introduces himself as Diaval. Now a shape shifter, he becomes in effect Maleficent’s wings, flying off in his raven form to the castle to spy for her.
A baby, Aurora, is born to the royal pair, and when the day of the infant’s christening comes, Maleficent in all her fury shows up, pronouncing a curse on the child: on her 16th birthday, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fall into such a deep sleep that only true love can awaken her. The disillusioned Maleficent is convinced that such does not exist. Much of the familiar story follows, the king hiding or destroying the spinning wheels in the kingdom and sending the infant off to a cottage in the forest to be raised and protected by the three pixies who have morphed into fussy women. What is not in the original is Maleficent discovering where Aurora is, visiting her every day, and coming to care for her, though keeping out of sight. As the girl becomes a teenager (now played by (Elle Fanning), she finally meets her protector and regards her as her fairy godmother.
The last act of the film does involve a prince and Aurora’s return to the castle, and of course her pricking her finger on a spindle, but there are some additions and a delightful twist. There also is a fight between Maleficent and the king’s men that includes something that could scare a pre-school child, a battle in which Diaval is changed into a fierce fire-breathing dragon. As a beautifully animated parable about vengeance and the power of love, this film should appeal to young and old.
If you find this material useful, please help us keep afloat financially by going to the Visual Parables Store and buy access to one of the issues–or buy an annual subscription to Visual Parables at the special $10 off price (during Dec. 2014 only).