maleficent1

Maleficent

I put this on Facebook and thought it was worth sharing here:

A few people have asked me my thoughts on [Maleficent], which Zoe [my 10 year old] and I went to see (in 2-D) [opening] night.

First off, I am a huge fan of Sleeping Beauty [particularly the animation style] and Maleficent is my favorite Disney villain (her plan actually succeeds). This movie was amazing. Angelina Jolie was incredible, particularly in the scene when Maleficent wakes to realize her wings are gone (not a spoiler; it’s in the trailer) and in the pivotal scene when she visits Aurora’s chamber after the curse has taken affect. I haven’t ugly-cried like that at a movie since Toy Story 3.

And there are funny parts, quotable dialogue, fun CGI, inexplicable Scottish accents, action, and a couple of dragons. Go see it if you have the slightest interest at all. And in terms of message, if you enjoyed Frozen, you will like Maleficent.

Then a friend asked what ages I’d recommend it for. Since not every six year old is the same, I went into detail. Some kids might not like the visual darkness. Some might not like the soldiers rushing the moors. Some might not like that King Stefan, so kind and concerned in Sleeping Beauty, descends into madness. Some of what’s below, I posted in a FB comment but I’ve added and revised and turned it into about 1800 words of commentary.

It’s Disney-scary. The scene where she curses Aurora is nearly verbatim (I loved the layer of Eleanor Audley’s laugh over Angelina Jolie’s). If your kids can get through that and the dragon-vanquishing scene in Sleeping Beauty, they could likely handle this. Here’s some detail that doesn’t give much away that might help you decide “is Maleficent okay for my child to see?”:

Dark themes and ideas: the stealing of the wings, which isn’t explicitly shown; the curse; King Stefan’s madness (paranoia, lack of empathy, etc.).

Violence/death: The only onscreen violent death I can think of is a typical Disney Villain Fall without blood. There *may* have been something with the fire-breathing dragon but I don’t think the person died. The queen dies offscreen (implied; Zoe was most affected by that, more that King Stefan didn’t go to her bedside) and the old king (Henry) dies in bed.

Violence/weapons: There is a war clash and — in that and in a later scene — men in armor are tossed around but get up to run away. Maleficent uses magical violence as amusement or defense, with one exception: she uses a wave of magic (with the flick of a wrist) to knock the pixies into a trunk (just like in Sleeping Beauty).

Later in the film, King Stefan backhands Flittle (the Fauna-like pixie, dressed in blue and surrounded by butterflies) in anger, sending her across the room. The audience I was with had an audible reaction to this particular violent act.

There are no firearms in this film.

Darkness: A fair number of scenes are set at night or in the moors after their metamorphosis (from a happy delightful fairy paradise to dark, foggy, and thorny) but many more scenes than one would expect are set in bright daylight.

Scary creatures: a wood/root dragon and a black dragon. [There are also wood creatures (kind of like gnarled ents) riding pig creatures, a nice nod to Maleficent's soldiers in Sleeping Beauty.]

Mothers & daughters (always worth mentioning in a Disney film): The only mother/daughter in the film would be Aurora and the unnamed Queen. To say more would affect your enjoyment of the film. But I’ll say that the relationships among women are positives along the lines, IMO, of Frozen or Brave. The three good fairies are called “pixies” here and have different names. They do raise Aurora in the cottage and they’re completely incompetent and provide some of the comic relief. Their incompetence sets the action of the second act in motion.

Feminist themes: Absolutely. Maleficent is a powerful, independent leader. When the old king tells her he intends to take the moor, she replies, “You are no king of mine.” She doesn’t just say it; she shouts it. The only times this powerful female character shows fear are when she is betrayed or injured and even in those moments, she is shown as a survivor who goes beyond her slight.

When Maleficent is poisoned (into sleep; kind of a theme) and her wings “taken,” her reaction after literally pulling herself up is to (1) find “wings” in her new raven companion (whom she saves from a farmer) and (2) to seek revenge, which is the curse. The revenge is only partly inspired by the stealing of her wings but it is a large part. It’s worthwhile to mention here that survivors of sexual assault may find this portion of the film triggering.

In the climactic castle battle, Maleficent is wearing pants. She’s shown to be athletic and capable of defending herself alone.

The queen is given a name: Leila. I don’t remember hearing it in the film but it’s in the credits. Her dialogue is limited to the same single line the character spoke in Sleeping Beauty. She is offered as a “prize,” along with the throne, to Stefan (she’s King Henry’s daughter). Theirs is not a marriage of love. This isn’t criticism. In fact, it’s a good talking point about the real lives of women of the time period (as well as many women and girls in the world today).

Diversity: There is a black actor (John Macmillan) as the captain of the guard. He has a few lines and face time but no name. There are no female actors of color that I noticed.

Message/moral: The real theme of Maleficent is forgiveness, alongside true love and what love is and what it isn’t. The consequence of anger and seeking revenge is where all of the evil pours into the film, what sets in motion bad choices and malevolent action. Love, in the end, conquers all.

Female friendships: There is a strong female-female friendship at the core of this film. The film doesn’t open with this friendship in place. It develops and we see it develop. As I said above, if you enjoyed the female character relationships in Frozen and Brave, you will be pleased with Maleficent.

Male friendships: There is only one male-male relationship of any consequence and that’s between Stefan and the Henry. Stefan is ambitious and his ambition is rewarded by Henry. Stefan is not royalty at the opening of the film. The only other times men interact in this film are as soldiers speaking to or taking orders from a king.

Female-male relationships: There is a romantic relationship in the first act of the film that echoes the Frozen theme of “not all first loves are true.”

The strongest male-female relationship is between Maleficent and Diaval. It is never romantic. There are comic moments, many of which serve to flesh out Maleficent, but the bulk of the relationship is servant/mistress and he entered into servitude willingly. Also Diaval does have some say with Maleficent and they share respect for one another, even though they have moments of frustration.

Romance/sex: There’s a romantic relationship between Maleficent and Stefan in the first act. One might imply that it was a sexual relationship, particularly if one interprets the wing-stealing as an act of sexual power. But there are hints that the relationship might have been physical before that scene. Parents might find a good talking point with children about the “he told her it was true love’s kiss.”

It’s further implied that the relationship had been sexual with Jolie’s acting in the scene when Diaval delivers the news of Aurora’s birth to Maleficent. Not something children might pick up but something adults or older kids might.

Of course Prince Philip kisses Aurora during her enchantment! However — and this was one of my favorite additions — he expresses his concern to the three fairies/pixies that because Aurora is asleep, she can’t consent to his kiss.  He refuses to kiss her without her being a willing participant. The fairies convince him that his kiss is meant to break the enchantment, that it will pretty much save her life. He considers, then hesitantly delivers a sweet, innocent kiss. There should be no parental objection to Philip’s kiss, which is a great “first kiss how-to” template for viewers who have yet to experience such a thing.

“Consent” and “choice” are huge themes in this film and, since most characters are female, they are the ones choosing and consenting.  There are consequences for all choices, good and bad, and they fit well within the fairy tale world as well as the modern world from which we watch.

I loved the film. As you can see, it gave me a lot to think about. There are many layers here. If you want to dig deep, as I have, you’ll find a lot. Your kids will enjoy it for the spectacle and splendour.

The greatest improvement over Sleeping Beauty is that Disney has fixed my main complaint: Aurora was never an active character in her own story. Aurora/Briar Rose (she’s never called Briar Rose here) was carried along by fate and the choices made by others. Her fate was out of her hands completely. The only choice she was allowed was to invite the mysterious boy from the forest to her cottage and the fairies responded by telling her that they were taking her to the castle and she rode along, dejected. The Aurora of Maleficent, sweet but never saccharine, makes several choices and takes action. She rides to the castle of her own accord. She arrives with love (and forgiveness) in her heart. She is optimistic and has flashes of fierceness behind her eyes. She has her chance to show that fierceness in the climactic battle.

And she doesn’t sing a single note. The blessing originally bestowed by Fauna (the gift of song) is changed to “she will be loved by all who meet her.” This holds true but it’s only partly due to the blessing. Aurora is naturally happy and positive, as is shown during the baby scenes. She is the embodiment of the message of the film but, finally, her “sleep” is only physical, not a metaphor for sexual awakening. The “sleeping beauty” in play in Maleficent is true love, asleep and waiting to be awakened by those who seek it.

Additional info | ASD: my autistic son (he’s 8) generally doesn’t like to go to movies because they are too dark and scary (the experience, not the film itself). Even an autism-friendly screening might be too intense for some children on the spectrum. Rental is a definite consideration as the objections your child may have could be alleviated by watching at home. We also have good luck at our local drive-in where he can switch to another activity, walk around, etc.

Sound: Noise-wise, there are two large scenes that are noisy and visually chaotic. One is in the first act (the battle scene mentioned above) and the second is the climax. Overall the music is pleasant, even when underscoring darker moments.

Visuals: if your child enjoyed Oz The Great and Powerful, Maleficent will be a breeze. The CGI is less heavy and obvious, although it does veer into Oz territory. Also Imelda Staunton is recognizable as the actress who played Dolores Umbridge, if that disturbs your child.

Some potential obsessions: flying (particularly in 3D), dragons, the fairy world of The Moors, castles (both functional and ruins), Maleficent herself.

Hope you enjoyed this incredibly long recommendation of Maleficent. I might do other Disney & Pixar films for my own amusement. Suggestions welcome.

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