In a voice as declamatory and patronizing as a kindergarten teacher’s, the narrator of Maleficent delivers this epilogue: “Our kingdom was united not by a hero and a villain but a hero who was a villain . . . and her name was Maleficent!” The title is proclaimed like “Eureka!” and if you think that’s a spoiler, you deserve this film’s condescending combination of make-believe political détente and quasi-feminist triumph.
Disney’s Maleficent uses the Sleeping Beauty fairytale (first animated by the studio in 1959) for an ideological remake. It suggests a child-rearing guide following the politically correct manner of recent Disney animation like Frozen, Brave, and The Princess and the Frog, but its effect is not innocuous; it’s a culture-shifting project that revises old-time myth in superficial terms of girlhood empowerment. Its true purpose is to realign popular taste with trendy social tenets.
So as not to compete with Disney’s own animated product, this live-action Sleeping Beauty reboot stars Angelina Jolie as the memorably wicked black-garbed, two-horned sorceress now rehabilitated by obvious reference to Jolie’s off-screen social activities and sentimental political agenda (concerning the ostensible rights of women and children in war). Disney expects celebrity-worshipping audiences to also be illiterates who totally ignore the meaning of “maleficent” as description of an intentionally evil deed. The berserk premise introduces Jolie’s character as just an innocent child fairy with a colorful name.
Betrayed at puberty by a devious young prince who clips her wings (metaphor intended), Maleficent ages like a damaged virgin into a jilted, vengeful woman. She curses the child of the Prince-now-King Stephan with the prophecy that at age 16 she’ll fall into a deathlike sleep until awakened by “true love’s kiss.”
That kiss is the object of Maleficent’s revisionism. The agenda behind recent Disney films questions traditional assumptions of classic fairy tales and legends as the carriers of patriarchy, changing them in favor of marketable “girl power.” The romantic kiss that rouses one’s sensuality and intelligence into biological and spiritual fulfillment gets subverted. This is not honest, fully rationalized fairy-tale revision, like 2010’s The Sleeping Beauty — in which French film provocateur-eroticist Catherine Breillat revealed the psychological source of modern romantic myth. It’s just kindergarten patronization.
That celebratory sign-off hints at post-war armistice, capitulation, and surrender in vague terms (as if taught at the Little Red School House), but the war depicted on-screen is between moral polarities. In Maleficent, aggression and retaliation are no longer politically acceptable. “There is an evil in the world, I cannot keep you from it,” Maleficent warns Aurora (Elle Fanning), the princess she has cursed yet who naively regards her as “Fairy Godmother.”