MALEFICENT~ touted as Disney’s most iconic villain ,finally gets her vindication. But, not in the way you may think. This summer’s visually stunning blockbuster opened to mediocre, at best, reviews where film critics bemoan the lack of plot.
I have a different take, as most often I do. The element that the film critics are missing isn’t plot, but adrenaline-charged action sequences. After all, Maleficent is supposed to be the embodiment of pure evil. Magic and mayhem and epic battles have become essential selling tools in Hollywood, especially after the Harry Potter phenomenon and, I believe, many people expected this grandiose indulgence. I remember the exact moment in the film when I realized this movie was deviating from that expectation. And that’s when I really got excited.
You see, this movie isn’t about a woman scorned or revenge. It isn’t about jealousy, vanity, or greed. MALEFICENT is a love story. A true romance. The purest, most endearing romance because it exemplifies TRUE LOVE.
I’m not talking eros love, folks. I’m talking about agape. A love that is pure and life-altering. The kind that transcends and transforms.
As a young fae, Maleficent is betrayed by Stephan, a young human she believed to be her true love. But, he had lofty aspirations of becoming more than he was born to. That in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. However, when he drugs Maleficent and cuts off her wings, his betrayal darkens both their souls. His guilt and greed drive him mad. Maleficent’s deep-seeded hurt turns to rage. Now, some may think, “Oh, this is nothing more than a woman scorned story—boring.” The thing to remember is, in taking her wings, Stephan stole her very essence—the thing that made her, well…her. This goes beyond a broken heart, or a breach of trust. It is an annihilation of all the hope and promise and destiny that was her birthright.
For his deceit and thievery, Stephan’s reward is being named the king’s successor and, of course the king dies. Stephan knows that Maleficent will seek revenge and his fear of what she’ll do ignites his descent into madness. Maleficent indeed bides her time until a royal heir is born. A girl. And, at her christening Maleficent appears as the kingdom is paying tribute to the princess.
This is a defining moment. Stephan could’ve manned up. Could’ve admitted that his actions were wrong. Could’ve given Maleficent back her wings. But, he didn’t. In his arrogance and self-centeredness, he misses an opportunity to restore balance. In essence, he fails his trial of redemption and the wheels of Karma start rolling.
Maleficent curses the baby. And we all know that on the princess’ 16th birthday, she’ll prick her finger and fall into a deep sleep from which she can only be awakened by true love’s kiss.
Maleficent’s first test comes when the princess is a small child. Her three fairy caretakers have taken her on a picnic and don’t notice when she wanders off toward the cliffs. But Maleficent sees the child is in danger. In fact, she watches as the child falls over the edge, but…Maleficent uses magic to animate the trees to safely lift the princess back onto the plateau. Maleficent has now passed her first test, creating her door to redemption.
The middle of the film is dedicated to showing how small choices lead us to the moment of our greatest failure or greatest triumph. Maleficent isn’t attacking the kingdom. She isn’t terrorizing the princess. Although, she does play a few pranks on the fairies. BUT, what she is doing, is falling in love. The way a mother falls in love with her child. And a mother will do anything to protect her child. Including trying to find a way to break the curse, and sacrificing herself to protect the one she loves. Maleficent comes full circle in a way that Stephan cannot.
Of course there’s a battle between Maleficent and Stephan in the end. But, whereas he is still hell-bent on destroying her for his own greed, Maleficent lets go of her need for revenge and is simply protecting herself, her dragon, and the princess.
SPOILER ALERT: In the end, it isn’t a prince who awakes the princess. Maleficent’s kiss is the one that breaks the spell. Her’s is pure in heart and intent. The kiss isn’t inspired by the princess’ beauty, or kindness, or a sense of duty. Maleficent’s kiss comes from a place of regret and promise. It isn’t rooted in her own need or selfishness. It is an expression of all that she has learned and all she is willing to sacrifice.
Because MALEFICENT, at its core is a simple love story, it lacks the over-indulgent theatrics many people expected. However, I found it delightfully refreshing. The set artistry was absolutely beautiful and the faerie folk reminded me of Brian Froud’s imaginative creations.
Even though the critics have not been overly receptive of Disney’s new venture, I applaud the Mouse’s concerted efforts. MALEFICENT demonstrates two shifts in a paradigm. First, fairy tales are evolving. No longer do we have Evil for the sake of Evil. But, everyone has a choice in life as to what they become. Along the way, there are opportunities to make different choices and it is the culmination of those choices that define us. Second, women no longer need a prince to forge happily-ever-afters for them. They can do it themselves.
So, what fairy tale villain would you like to see redeemed? And why?