Making the Grades
Parents be warned: Maleficent doesn’t resemble anything you remember from the childhood fairytale of Sleeping Beauty. This is all about villain vindication. While I appreciate there are at least two sides to every story, this movie wanders down an entirely different track than the original Disney animation.
As a child, Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy) lives in a magical world full of fairies, flowers and strange little creatures that all exist in peaceful harmony. Across the river is the human kingdom, ruled over by a greedy and prideful king who has vowed to conquer his neighbors and steal their riches. One day the fairies discover a human boy who has crept into their land and taken a jewel. As a protector of her people, Maleficent insists Stefan (Michael Higgins) return the stone. The interaction leads to the beginning of an unlikely friendship.
Unfortunately Stefan (Sharlto Copley) grows up and puts aside his childhood friend in pursuit of the crown. In order to become the new king, Stefan drugs Maleficent and mutilates her by cutting off her wings. The act of violence turns Maleficent against the new ruler and leads to a more aggressive rivalry between the two kingdoms. Then at the birth of King Stefan’s daughter, Maleficent appears at the celebration and casts a spell on the royal infant: On her sixteenth birthday Aurora is cursed to prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall into an eternal sleep.
Like the original Disney movie, all the spinning wheels are burned and Aurora is placed in the care of three friendly fairies that take her deep into the woods. However, Flittle (Lesley Manville), Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton) and Thistletwit (Juno Temple) act more like the Three Stooges than the animation’s characters Flora, Fauna and Merryweather. In fact the three caregivers are so inept that Maleficent has to intervene (from a distance) and raise the little girl herself.
Meanwhile Stefan becomes increasingly obsessed with killing Maleficent. He repeatedly sends his soldiers to attack her kingdom with swords, chains and flaming fireballs. As his mental acuity wanes, he spends more time alone in his room carrying on one-sided conversations with his imagined nemesis and neglects his dying wife. It’s a dark and depressing version of the fairytale that is far too mature for what is likely the intended audience. Even the obligatory appearance of Prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaits) doesn’t pan out as expected.
In fact nothing about this film is what I anticipated. The storyline is a complicated tale of escalating revenge, parental abandonment and distrust, with plenty of violent encounters involving brutal hand combat and weapon use. While Maleficent gets to justify her actions in this version, Aurora (Elle Fanning) is the one who is left to choose between what appears to be two evils. And where is the happily-ever-after in that?
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Maleficent.
Was Maleficent’s vengeance toward the king justified? Was his response? How does pride play into this plot?
What qualities does Aurora show toward Maleficent? How does her attitude affect the vengeful fairy? What can we learn from her example?
Prior to kissing Aurora the Prince remarks, “I hardly know her.” How is “true love” often portrayed in movies? Do you think it’s possible to experience true love? Does it always have to be within a romantic context?
Who is the protagonist in this movie? Do you think an “anti-hero” is a concept young children can understand?