Film Review: Maleficent (Robert Stromberg, 2014) ★★★

Angelina Jolie stars as Disney villain Maleficent
A reboot of fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty (1959)depicting "the true story" of one of Disney's best loved villains. Maleficent is a fairy protecting The Moors of the kingdom from invasion of humans who occupy the neighbouring half of the land. After falling in love with a human peasant boy, she is left devastated by his betrayal. Furious and heartbroken, Maleficent swears revenge on his kingdom and falls prey to the dark side.

The film opens with shots of a land divided in to two parts; one half occupied by humans under law of a king and a neighbouring mystical moor which houses four fairies and woodland creatures. Despite her horns and eagle wings, Maleficent is a fairy of good heart and swears to protect the land from humans who want to invade the woods from fear of their magic. When a human boy comes to the wood, a young Maleficent falls for him, giving him her heart. We then cut to many years later and the two have grown up, The Moors are now darkened and under further threat. With his love for Maleficent overshadowed by his greed, Stefan (Sharlto Copley, you may remember from such films as The A-Team and District 9), drugs her and steals her wings so he may take the throne. Left physically and mentally wounded, Maleficent (Jolie) now seeks revenge and The Moors are left in darkness under her reign. The woodland creatures she once played with, now fearful of her, are surrounded by the thick, sharp wall of thorns. And, naturally, on the Christening of his first born, Aurora (Fanning), is cursed that on her sixteenth birthday, she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall in to an unwakeable sleep until love's true kiss breaks the spell.

To protect his daughter, King Stefan has the three other fairies take Aurora to a cottage in the woods in the hopes of protecting her from spinning wheels and Maleficent's spell. The only problem being that Maleficent can not let Aurora go, she watches her from baby to a young woman and practically raises her as the fairies fail to feed or watch her. This is problematic for the audience as we see that Maleficent is no more evil then that of a Disney talking chipmunk. We see the darkness of the forest blossom back in those in the opening scenes and Maleficent is beginning to heal. She quickly tries to revoke her curse but it fails and the race is on to save the Princess from the curse.

The film is directed by a visual effects supervisor turned director and whilst the film offers a certain level of depth which can be interpreted, it feels although it is directed by a visual effects supervisor. Whilst there are many spectacular shots which some stunning cinematography, I felt that the script and narrative itself was lacking and gave a great cast, little to work with. In many ways, the film is all style and no substance. Stromberg offers a simple and sometimes yarn-worthy narrative which is both basic and inevitable. This not to say that the narrative is bad, as such, it is to say that it meets your standard Disney requirement of screenplays. Jolie is ideal in her role as a dark fairy who is stunning through out, along side a under-utilised Ellie Fanning who was not given the opportunity to give another  stunning Super 8 (JJ Abrams, 2011) performance.  Not to mention appearances from Juno Temple and Imelda Staunton who go completing forgotten through no fault of their own. This Disney film just lacked in it's screenplay and I felt the characters were somehow let down by poor direction. 

From this however, a deeper and more empowering message can be found in Maleficent's tale. Dissimilar from any previous Disney production we've seen to many times before, this female protagonist does not need a male figure to complete her. Unlike that of Pocahontas, Mulan, Belle and countless others, where the Princess must get married and they all live happily ever after, Maleficent is a figure of female empowerment. Similarly to that of the Medusa, who was left cursed after a man wronged her, Maleficent's wings are stolen and in doing so becomes bitter and evil. As such, we empathise with her character and do not see her as a villain but root for her as an anti-hero as she emerges the victor against the man who has harmed her. It can be argued, however, that in having a child and fulfilling her role as a mother completes her as this is her purpose in life. It wouldn't be Disney without a bit of sexism now, would it? But one thing's for sure, she doesn't technically and scientifically need to settle down and be a wife for that now, does she? It is for this reason that I actually let the poor direction and simplicity of the film go a little. Inconsistent from what we've seen before, Maleficent offers a refreshing twist not only to a villainous role of good turned bad turned good again, but as a step forward in the projection of the female role and the Disney representation of women. (The film graduate in me could then go in to women being evil, her evil is justified and therefore she isn't evil blah blah, could go on forever and so I'll leave it there.) 

And so my verdict gives Maleficent a 3 out of 5 stars. Not for it's narrative or excellence in film-making by far, but for it's intriguing take on Disney stereotypes and representations. Saved by the over-thinking of an old film student, you're welcome.

Let me know what you thought, I'd love to hear what you guys think,

Hope y'all are having a good week, 



  1. Jolie has some fun here and there, but not as much as she should have with a script as thin as this. Good review Sophie.

    1. Thanks very much :) appreciate it. I also felt that the trailer was misleading. Expected more

  2. Really great review! Really interesting analysis also. I shall be giving it a watch

    -Rob (movieblogspot)

  3. This review makes no sense, because when talking about the princesses who have to get married and live happily ever after, you first named two princesses who don't in their movies. Mulan does not have to get married; Pocahontas is left alone. Have you even seen the movies?


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