Speculative Fiction Saturday: Maleficent

MaleficentMost people who see Disney’s Maleficent, a prequel/midquel/retelling/reboot, and they don’t like it. I can understand where they are coming from, as most people seem to compare it to its source material, that animated Sleeping Beauty.

I must confess, it has been a while since I saw Sleeping Beauty, but I don’t really remember much about it. Most people who remember the villain Maleficent, who most people know that her name just means “badness” or “evil”. In the original animated film, she was a very one-dimensional villain, only evil because the story needed a villain, really.

Lately, there has been this fad going on for decades where villains are getting their retelling so that there can be some sympathy for them. There is Broadway play known as Wicked, telling the story the Wicked Witch of the West. Heck, the whole Star Wars prequels were about how Darth Vader was a sympathetic villain. At this point, Voldermort from Harry Potter and Agent Smith from The Matrix are going to have some kind of sympathetic villain movie.

Someone thought this would be a good idea for a movie, and honestly, there actually is a good story in Maleficent, but most of it really just take the story of Sleeping Beauty and tosses it without a thought. I get the feeling that someone at Disney just wanted to do a Maleficent film, and they started with the basics.

Instead of making her a witch at the beginning, they decided to make her a fairy. That’s not a bad idea, and then they gave her wings. Now here’s the thing: she has horns. I always thought that in Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent was wearing a hat. No, stop staring, they’re real.

The set-up for this world shows two worlds: one is a fantasy kingdom full of castles and kings, and the moors, which is full of fantasy creatures like fairies. This would be a good time for me to say that the looks and effects of this film is just beautiful. Granted, it is mostly CG, but the world here make it work, just like Avatar did.

So, worlds collide when a prince from one world meets Maleficent, and they fall in love. Then the prince’s father, the king, wants to declare war against the moors because…I don’t know. Seriously, there are probably some legitimate reasons why he could invade. Maybe he is afraid of the magic, even though Maleficent and her friends keep to themselves.

The prince Stefan realizes that he can help win this war by essentially drugging her and stealing her wings. It feels out of character for this character, because I thought that she loved her. Instead, Stefan becomes this villain, who inherits a kingdom and marries someone else.

After a while, Maleficent embraces her dark side, and creates a thing that looks like a staff/wand, but is actually a cane, really. That is a smart touch. What happens next isn’t smart.

Maleficent then stops by the King’s party and puts a curse on the princess. She will but cut herself on a spinning wheel and fall into a sleep unless her true love kisses her, because…yeah, if she wanted to kill the baby, just do that. Why drag this out if you want revenge?

Then something happens that is really weird. The King decides that to keep his daughter safe, he hires three fairies named Flittle, Knotgrass, and Thistletwit to raise his daughter in a hidden cabin in the moors. Even though these three fairies look like the ones from Sleeping Beauty, the name are changed. Why? Also, when these fairies are small size, they look like freaky CG bobbleheads. Also why?

Now, if Maleficent wants Princess Aurora dead, she sure takes her sweet time doing it. She even finds the princess and watches her grow up. It’s a good thing too, because those three fairies really suck at it. In the original Sleeping Beauty, one of the three fairies manages to use her magic to undo the curse so the princess won’t die, but will be put to sleep. It almost looked like the movie was setting itself up for this important plot point, but it didn’t.

It could be argued that Maleficent’s gift/curse, which was that Aurora would be like by everyone worked on her. It looks like the laws of magic are pretty rigid in this universe, and Maleficent isn’t able to undo her own spell.

Yes, she tries this, because Maleficent finds that she actually love Aurora, this leads to a very interesting plot twist that I believe is done well.

In fact, at its heart, there is a really good fantasy story in this movie. The issue is that it shouldn’t be shoehorned into this story of Sleeping Beauty, as it makes the Source material look bad. In short, this could have work, if you had just not had it take place in the Sleeping Beauty world. I would not be surprised if this is how the movie’s screenplay started out. This really is a good story about how love can conquer scorn.