Review: Angelina Jolie stars in ‘Maleficent,’ an Irony-Free Answer to ‘Wicked’

2001 brought us Shrek on the silver screen and 2003 Wicked on stage. Both stories made the case for the villain, how society is so twisted that evil is good and the villain really the hero.

The wind has shifted again and 2014 brings us Angelina Jolie in Malificent, the story of the fairy who curses the princess known as Sleeping Beauty.

Malificent isn’t misunderstood or disguised good wrapped in black leather. She isn’t a victim of circumstance. She isn’t delightfully evil or wickedly charming.

Rather, the title character is a hurt person, a victimized young woman, who turns that grief and rage into a cycle of vengeance that takes her and her land to outcomes never intended.

#EvilIsComplicated reads the hashtag recommended for the film, but it’s not all that complicated. Hurt people…hurt people.

But the film doesn’t leave it there. Just as hearts have the power to hate and destroy, they can also turn and choose to love and rebuild. This fairy tale has a happy ending, but not the one you’d expect.

The film opens as two children meet in the woods. Human boy Stephan comes from a realm that requires a king to keep peace between bickering factions, a place where ambition trumps affection and life is a hardscrabble struggle to get yours.

Fairy child Maleficent lives in the moors, where fairies and gnomes and toadstools and walking trees require no king. They are content with what they have and trust their neighbors with their well-being.

Elle Fanning as Aurora in ‘Maleficent’

Before anyone reads communism, socialism, or any other political ism into this utopia, remember it’s a fairy tale and just such heaven-on-earths are the stuff of fairyland.

They’re the stuff of heaven too, of life in the Garden before the fall.

Children need this vision, this dream of how things should be, could be if humanity were not fallen into a cycle of selfishness and pain.

It’s what they do around the edges of the familiar story that makes it so very good. This is not a film interested in reworking a villain, making evil good and good evil. It is not Shrek or Wicked. In fact, it’s more the Anti-Shrek, the Anti-Wicked. The complete opposite.

Sweet, good, lovely Maleficent does wrong and turns into something dark and wicked. The very nature of her world changes with her. When she gives herself over to sorrow, to grief, to anger, and then to vengeance, a shadow envelops the happy land. The free creatures are forced to accept servitude. Everything she believed in becomes twisted and changed.

But the story isn’t over. Maleficent is not simply a misunderstood villain, neither is she forever locked into the role of the villain. She has the power to choose, to change, to lay down her fight.

When she finds an unexpected love in her heart, she is able to see beyond the eternal cycle of anger and retribution.

The movie is beautifully filmed, with cheerful, glowing fairies and magical flowers, swooping flights, romantic enough to capture a little girl’s imagination. Rated PG, it has no inappropriate jokes or humor, no sexuality or language, nothing at all troublesome. Some children may be frightened by Maleficent herself and the inherent tension in the film. There are some battles involving giant tree-humans and such that might be difficult for the youngest viewers, including a dragon at the end.

The film isn’t perfect. A few story lines get lost and the bickering women who raise young Aurora come off as annoying and even mean, rather than endearing and quirky. The story loses itself in battle scenes and doesn’t quite complete the restoration arc for which it aims.

What it does have, however, is the full cycle of wholeness, betrayal, brokenness, apology, forgiveness, and at least partial restoration. Offered without apology and without irony. It’s sincere and lovely, so much so that critics and audiences who suffer from irony addiction will find it corny.

It’s not corny, in reality, but some get twitchy without irony, poor dears.

We’re used to movies in which evil is evil through and through. We’ve become used to movies that make apologies for the villain and try to explain her. What we rarely see is the bad and the good living in one heart, and evil being overcome by good.

It’s not necessarily the familiar tale of true-love’s kiss, but it’s a good one for your little girl to learn too.

About Rebecca Cusey

Rebecca is a lead critic and editor of entertainment at Patheos. Follow her on Twitter @Rebecca_Cusey

  • John

    I’ll admit, I wish that this was a more traditional telling of Sleping Beauty – possibly the purest of the Disney fairy tales of my youth. But your review is quite encouraging.

    • Vince R

      Hi John. I had a much different take on the movie than the reviewer. I hope they have the courage to let others read it. If not, they will find it again and again on every social media outlet listed until other Christians start to ask why my religious review was censored.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tinseltalk Rebecca Cusey

        Easy there with the threats, tiger.

        • Vince R

          Those weren’t threats, kitten.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tinseltalk Rebecca Cusey

      Thanks, John. Let me know what you think if you happen to see it.

  • vince

    I’m concerned and curious how many supposed “Christians” are missing the strong demonic tones throughout this film.
    If you are a Christian and plan on taking your child to this movie, please know a few things…1)Instead of an intimidating hat and green skin, this Maleficent has horns and wings. There’s no explanation how or why she happens to look so satanic. She appears to be one of a kind although she’s called a fairy. 2)She is hurt by iron. In folklore, iron and salt were known as barriers for demons, not fairies. 3)Her companion through most of the film is named Diaval. Besides the fact that it straight out sounds like a play on “Devil”, if you search that name you will find it associated with Diablo and is actually the name of a demon who hates angels in Japanese anime (and that was just after a 2 minute search).4)At a time where men are under such attack in society, there is not one male character who’s even decent, let alone moral (Prince Phillip is a mystery). Furthermore, the father is a cruel coward from the time he grows up. Another plot device. Boys are somewhat innocent but men are bad and there’s not one example to the contrary in this entire film.
    For adults who have a clear understanding of the outwardly beautiful and seductive nature of satan, that’s one thing. Unfortunately, most of the audience will be young girls being taught not to believe us when we try to protect them from evil in this world because after all, we don’t know the real back story, do we? I mean, the Bible is just a story written from God’s perspective, right?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tinseltalk Rebecca Cusey

      Hi Vince. Thanks for raising these issues. I appreciate the feedback.

      Maleficent looks the way she looks because she is the evil fairy from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, the classic animated film. They copied her look directly. If you’re paying attention, you’ll see other visual elements from that film are also copied.

      Also, the idea we have in our mind of what “Satanic” looks like is in itself a visual interpretation created by artists of the middle ages. The depiction of a devil with cloven hooves, horns, and a pitchfork is not directly Biblical, but a creation of a certain culture that has come to us, much like the depiction of Santa Claus as a fat bearded man in a red suit.

      Maleficient is not, nor is she intended to be, Satanic.

      I actually don’t have a problem with the magical elements in the film because I think children and adults are perfectly able to sort out what is fantasy and what is not. No one watching the film thinks she’s real. I’m much more concerned with the moral universe of the film and of her character, which I found to be profound and true.

      Finally, I have a distinct problem with the phrase “supposed ‘Christians’” that you begin with. No where in scripture is my salvation dependent on what I think of a fictional character in a movie. Calling on the name of Jesus is enough. Additionally, Jesus never said people would know we were Christians by our opinions of movies. He distinctly said they would know by our love.

      Our task is to love the Lord with our all heart, soul, mind, and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves. Creating additional divisions based on some movie is not helpful.

      • Vince R

        Hi Rebecca. Let’s take these one at a time, shall we?
        1st, “They copied her directly”? If you were paying attention, the animated Maleficent was green but nice try.
        2nd, What your perception of what “satanic” looks like or where it comes from matters as much as whether you believe “the moors” would look anything like the garden of Eden as you mentioned in your review. The Biblical fact is that satan is a being of immence beauty, light and guile. That is unless you believe that the Bible is just a book written from God’s viewpoint and if we only new satan’s back story then maybe…let’s move on. The view being portrayed is actually what would be considered demonic. It’s actually laughable that you would make the statement that Maleficent isn’t satanic nor is she intended to be. How do you know what the writer’s, etc intended?
        3rd, Any parent who’s ever had a child afraid to go in the ocean because of Jaws or afraid of the dark because of the boogieman (which, by the way, are both fictional characters) knows that the line between reality and fantasy can become blured in young minds.
        On a side note. You must think a lot of yourself. In your response to me you managed to tell me what you think, what I think, what everyone involved with the movie thinks, what God thinks and even what all parents and kids think. Whatever helps you sleep.
        4th, the moral universe of the film??? In this film, boys are dumb but basically harmless, men are all cowards and simply horrible and except for Maleficent and Aurora, women are no great shakes either. Outside of the fairy world, there are no individuals, just wide, sweeping brushstrokes. I noticed you failed to mention the character Diaval and in case you would bring up Lucifer from Cinderella, he was aptly named as he was clearly up to no good.
        5th, I’m curious what Bible you refer to. Simply “calling” on the name of Jesus gets you squat. I will refer to Acts 19:15. You must surrender mind, body and soul to The Christ. Nothing less. While we’re at it, John 13:35 speaks of love for another. Not demons, not fairies. Before you quote the Bible you should really know what you are talking about. It’s not based on your opinion.
        6th, In Luke 9:5 the Apostles are told that if the people of any town will not accept The Truth, they are to leave and shake the dust from their shoes.
        I would, however, challenge you to find a spot anywhere in the Bible where we are to accept all beliefs, opinions, ways of life, etc.
        In closing, when I say “supposed Christian”, I refer to anyone who misquotes the Bible, accepts all type of evil throughout the year yet rails against Halloween and Christmas as paganism and allows any belief, social agenda, political party, etc to get between them and the Jesus of the real Bible, not the made up hippy who is all for “peace, man”. Matthew 10:34.
        All of the above being said, this is your blog so I will probably have to settle for you alone hearing my response.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tinseltalk Rebecca Cusey

          I’ll leave it at that. Blessings to you.

          • Vince R.

            To you as well. I commend and thank you for the forum.

        • tenebra

          So funny.

    • tenebra

      Actually, Iron is a classic weakness of the Fae, or Fairies.

      • Vince R

        Lol! Ooookay. I’ll file that away. By the way, if you’re going there, the most widely held beliefs about the fae” are that they were 1st created by human minds, are tiny (about 3 inches) and have translucent wings. You solved it! That’s exactly what Maleficent looks like, haha. Also, they have an aversion to shiny things like the crown she put on Aurora’s head.
        Honestly though, good job jumping into the discussion. A lively disagreement is much more entertaining for readers then lock step.

        • Vince R

          Proving that I’m quite human and flawed. I must correct my own error. Mythologically speaking, the fae are actually “susceptible” to shiny objects. They actually like to dress in shiny things. Totally not my area of expertise but there you go.

        • tenebra

          I think y’all taking this seriously. Is a movie. But, I will say that the Fairy Folklore is rich and not all of the Fairy conform to the modern idea of fairies. They were divided into two classes, Seelie Court, or good fairies and the Unseelie Court, or malevolent fairies. It is possible that you can fine an example of a fairy that resembles Maleficent within the Unseelie Court. But I don’t know, because I haven’t care to look yet.

          So, have fun, relax y’all! LOL Is just a movie.

  • Vince R

    Hi Rebecca and tenebra.
    I find zero joy in this but I think it’s important. The reason it’s important is that this blog is not just a movie review page but one supported by a Christian site. Between the comments of “no one watching the film thinks she’s real” and “it’s just a movie”, I would like you to look into the news story reported Monday. Two 12 year old girls from Wisconsin attempted to murder a third to please a fictitious internet demon and run away to his fictitious mansion. All make believe to us and most people but the line was blurred to these girls. This is why blanket statements like the ones I mentioned can be so harmful to children.
    I don’t want movies like Maleficent banned or censored. I just ask that responsible parents be provided, without condemnation or condescension, both sides to help them decide what’s best for their children. Especially in matters of the soul on a non-secular site. Debates, even heated ones, are far better than none.

    For us to insinuate that we can know the “intent” , good or bad, of people we’ve never met assumes a level of faith that I just don’t have for anyone still in the human condition.
    Rebecca, I know this is kind of heavy for a movie blog but I’ve read more of your work and enjoyed it quite a bit. Although we would probably disagree often I find you to be serious when called upon and definitely feel you’re up viewing this as a discussion and not a lecture.
    God Bless

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tinseltalk Rebecca Cusey

      HI Vince. Thanks for your respectful tone and compliments. And, yes, I do always welcome discussion.

      The story of the two girls is tragic. Very tragic. I don’t know anything about the site they used or this character they were trying to impress, but I have no doubt that some corners of the web and some entertainment is deeply evil.

      I don’t happen to think it’s the case here. This is why I do what I do. Each movie/tv show/etc needs to be taken on its own merits, its own messages, its own attempt at what it is trying to do. I try to do that and give viewers the chance to know if it’s worth it to them to spend $15 on a movie.

      Sick and troubled people will obsess over cultural artifacts (and other things as well). There’s a long list: The Aurora shooter, the Santa Barbara shooter, the guy who shot Reagan to impress Jodie Foster. That doesn’t mean that it’s the actor’s or movie’s fault that that person did what they did.

      It also doesn’t mean that we don’t ask questions about the messages in movies.

      I found the underlying message of this fairy tale, the message of sin and redemption, of vengeance and forgiveness, to be very very valuable. I found the trappings of the fairy tale to be harmless.

      You opinion is different and that is fine.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tinseltalk Rebecca Cusey

        Oh, and Patheos is not a Christian site. It’s a multi-faith site. I am a Christian and write from that viewpoint, but I try to write for everyone, whether Christian or not.

  • Vince R

    Just time for a quick update for those who think people like myself tried to look “too deeply” and “it’s just a movie”. Your argument is now with the star
    of the movie. It seems that on June 10th, during an interview with BBC,
    Angelina Jolie told the reporter that the scene where Maleficent’s
    wings are stolen is an metaphor for rape. Her quote is, “We were very
    conscious, the writer and I, that [the scene in question] was a metaphor
    for rape.”

    Rape is very real, very terrible and a topic to be taken
    seriously.

    Not something to be “slipped” into a child’s fairy tale movie.

    I am sorry, but no amount of fairy dust can change the fact that
    there are either deeper themes, etc below the surface or not. The star
    of the movie and the writer obviously believe that there are. So now we
    are supposed to expose our kid’s subconscious minds to rape metaphors.

    If they wanted to make an adult movie and advertise it as such, no problem. Again, if you feel it’s fluff and just a movie with no deeper meaning, Angelina Jolie and the writer disagree but everyone is entitled to their opinion.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X