I'm a Maleficent girl. I always have been - I've adored her since childhood. I loved her even when I was small enough to be scared by her. Eleanor Audley's throaty laugh in Sleeping Beauty kept me up at night, but it also inspired a lifelong devotion to this heartless, stylish character. I'm a sucker for the brand: I've bought clothes, makeup, posters and toys plastered with Maleficent's haughty visage.
I tell you all of this to let you in on what an easy target I should have been for Maleficent. And yet.
Devin's review does a good job of articulating what doesn't work about the film - mainly that it's a huge drag and rather stupid - but what bothers me most is that I can see the good movie within Maleficent. I actually think Angelina Jolie gave a lovely, subtle performance, and I was most engaged when she found herself somewhat charmed by Elle Fanning's Aurora in spite of herself. When we first heard of Jolie's casting years ago, I couldn't think of anyone better. Jolie has this otherworldly glamour that can feel a little sinister at times, and she's a powerful presence.
And there are seeds of real ideas in Maleficent: female agency in the face of an immutable patriarchy, self-sufficiency, the fruitlessness of a life lived in pursuit of revenge. The message in the climax of the film - that the power of sisterhood can eclipse that of any fleeting love story - is lifted wholesale from Frozen, but it's a good message, and I'm okay with young girls seeing it again here.
But what good there is in Maleficent is obscured by drab CGI and a pointless, rambling script. Maleficent feels weakest in Aurora's christening scene that is nearly beat-for-beat a parallel to the Sleeping Beauty version - and Maleficent can only be hurt by this comparison to the best moment in one of the greatest Disney films ever made. Certainly the visual comparison hurts it, as Maleficent just looks dreadful most of the time, while Sleeping Beauty is a gorgeous, vibrant film.
Most of the characters here are useless, idle things, and I can't imagine a bigger waste of Juno Temple and Imelda Staunton playing fairies, an opportunity that should be amazing and is instead a combination of irritating and unnerving. There are so many questions that need to be answered in order to make sense of this plot, but I'm not going to get into any of them because I guarantee no answers exist. And Maleficent herself is hobbled by this negligent script, because she isn't offered any understandable motivation to give her weight or substance other than her need for revenge. We understand why she wants to hurt Aurora - and by proxy King Stefan, the man who took Maleficent's power from her - but we can't understand any other decision she makes in the film. Like the original dark fairy, Maleficent is a will 'o the wisp, but here it's because her will is so wispy.
I've spent a lot of time - before and since seeing the film - reflecting on what would make a great Maleficent movie. And here's what I've concluded: it should have nothing to do with Sleeping Beauty, or at least nearly nothing. Devin mentions Gregory Maguire's Wicked in his review, and it's hard not to draw a comparison to the book, one of my favorites, but the smallest fraction of Wicked is devoted to the events of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Maleficent is almost entirely an alternate telling of Sleeping Beauty, and it only gives a less interesting version of the tale we already know. I'd like to believe that the great villain of my heart didn't spend sixteen years spying on Aurora as she grew up because she just didn't have anything else to do. I'd like to believe Maleficent spent that time working on Maleficent, casting spells and terrorizing enemies and turning into a dragon every now and then because why shouldn't she? And oh yes - this Maleficent doesn't turn into a dragon. Her male counterpart, a shapeshifting ally who acts as her familiar, does that for her. That's right, the film strips the character of the single coolest attribute she has.
No, a good Maleficent movie would have the wisdom to rip off Maguire in a much more overt way. We would see her facing other challenges, fighting the political agenda of the land, taking on other nemeses than the sweet teen with the blonde ringlets. We would learn who Maleficent is when she isn't the villain of Sleeping Beauty - all Maleficent tells us is that she's a fairy who lives alone in the woods, doing essentially nothing until she turns evil. A good Maleficent film would be a colorful film, with all the bright vitality of Sleeping Beauty, instead of the ceaseless grey that creeps around every corner of Maleficent.
And most importantly, a good Maleficent movie would let Maleficent be wicked. An antihero, sure - she can have some interesting motivation and complex moral leanings - but more anti than hero. Keep the half-baked feminism from Maleficent, but bake it a little longer. Let us feel okay rooting for a woman who's bad - much like we root for bad men like Walter White, Hannibal Lecter, Tony Montana, Loki and Tyler Durden. In this film we learn that Maleficent was born a kindhearted little fairy NAMED MALEFICENT. With that handle, we know she was born to be bad. Let us see that - even let us see her fight against her destiny as an evildoer. But don't whitewash her into a sweet woman scorned.
And speaking of whitewashing - give us a green Maleficent.
It's too late for any of that now, as Maleficent will either do poorly at the box office and disappear from memory or do well and kickstart a franchise of this tepid version of the tale. But one thing I will say for the character of Maleficent - Eleanor Audley's version, the witch of my dreams - is that she can't be erased by a lackluster cash grab. My affection for the original character hasn't abated in the slightest. I still love her, and that's because Disney once created a character who lasts. And not even Disney can take that from us.