3 Stars – Thought-Provoking
In his début film as director, Robert Stromberg’s Maleficent is not your grandparent’s fairytale. Affirming the post-modern view that there are no pure heroes or villains, but that each are both, Stromberg reworks the story of Sleeping Beauty such that it is unrecognizable both in its moral lessons and in the source of love’s power.
Written by Linda Woolverton (Lion King, Beauty and the Beast) and built upon the writing and themes of others, Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy, Ella Pernelle, Angelina Jolie) is a powerful fairy whose responsibility is to protect her kingdom from the greedy kingdom of humans. As a child she meets her first human, a boy named Stefan (Michael Higgins, Jackson Bews, Sharito Copley) who attempts to steal a precious stone. But though he is apprehended, he nevertheless steals young Maleficent’s heart. It is their relationship around which the story revolves.
Without spoiling the tale, there are others central to the telling. Aurora (Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Elle Fanning) is the princess who is cursed and is therefore hidden by her father under the care of three quarrelsome fairies, Flittle (Lesley Manville), Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton) and Thistletwit (Juno Temple). There is a crow, Diaval (Sam Riley), who becomes Maleficent’s indebted assistant and there is the requisite handsome prince named Phillip (Brenton Thwaites).
Having become a master at special effects as seen in such films as Life of Pi and Hunger Games, Stromberg creates a visually engaging film. This is seen in the unique animals and creatures of the two kingdoms distinguishing them aesthetically, and also in the melding of the two personas of Maleficent as he gives her the wings of an angel and the horns of a devil. This melding of beauty with horror and of good with evil is true of virtually every character, especially Stefan. This seems to be a primary lesson of the tale: that humans are greedy, betraying creatures that cannot be trusted. But the solution of the tale takes a twist on love that implies romantic love is also not to be trusted. True to post-modern pessimism, this is a tale that is more reflective of a jaded contemporary culture than instructive of how relationships could be to those who see it. So although it is an engaging and thought-provoking spin on a familiar fairytale, it is not a film that is specially suited for children nor does it promote spiritual faith and community values.
- The historic purpose of fairytales is to teach a principle of life. Do you believe this current form of fairytale will create a better humanity? Why do you answer as you do?
- Maleficent is the name introduced to us in the 1969 film by Walt Disney, Sleeping Beauty. A play on the word “Ben-eficent” meaning “resulting in good” this name joins the word “Mal” with “eficent” meaning “resulting in bad”. In what way do you see this name as being appropriate for the lead character of this film? How is it inappropriate?
- The power of maternal love is shown to be more powerful than romantic love. What do you think the creators of this film are saying? Is it simply a twist in a tale or does it carry a deeper message? Have you found this to be true or untrue in your own experience?