Over our lifetimes, Disney has
done a magnificent job bringing fairy tales to life with movie animation.
So we really can’t blame them if they want to
play around with one of the old familiars, Sleeping Beauty, and turn the
emphasis into something completely different.
After all, fairy tales, belonging generally to
the entire culture, are told differently by everyone who re-tells them, kind
of like familiar bible stories, right?
But I digress.
The central character here is
not Sleeping Beauty at all, but Maleficent, the fairy who put the curse on
Sleeping Beauty that caused her deep sleep because of the pinprick in her
finger from a spinning wheel.
This is more Maleficent’s story.
Maleficent (played compellingly
by Angelina Jolie, who can act convincingly even while wearing horns on her
head) is a fairy. She’s
born into a magical land, called The Moors, with Pixies and all manner of
whimsical creatures, who live in peace and harmony “because they need
neither king nor queen” (never mind the political commentary). The
neighboring people are the humans, but their king is cruel and vicious, and
the two realms live uneasily apart until one day a human boy, Stefan,
happens to meet the young girl Maleficent, and they form an unlikely
we would love to have a romance like in “The Little Mermaid,” between
the mythical and the human, and we almost do, but human aggression and greed
gets in the way (never mind the social commentary).
The militant king decides he
wants to conquer the land of The Moors, and shows up with a resplendent army
of knights in shining armor, banners waving and menace unfurled.
The formerly kind and benevolent Maleficent is
forced to defend her homeland using her magic, which introduces her to her
own violent side. The
defeated king, in a rage of revenge, promises his very kingdom to the one
who can defeat Maleficent, and Stefan tricks her into taking a sleeping
potion, and then cuts off her wings and presents them as a trophy to the
Maleficent wakes up horrified at
her own disfigurement, and now really gets in touch with her dark side.
She now protects her realm with dark magic, and
enlists the aid of a spy helper, Diaval (Sam Riley), whom she can change
from human to crow and back again at will.
Meanwhile, Stefan (Sharlto
Copley), now king himself, becomes even more malicious than his predecessor,
but despite his malevolence, manages to have a sweet baby girl named Aurora
(Elle Fanning). Maleficent
puts a curse on the girl, that on her 16th
birthday, she will prick her finger on a spindle and fall into a deep sleep,
and can only be awakened by true love’s kiss.
The twist here is that the
baleful Maleficent no longer believes in true love, since she has become so
ensnared in her own brokenness and vindictiveness.
But the child Aurora, who’s supposed to be
hidden, comes to the attention of Maleficent, anyway, and Maleficent can’t
help but be charmed, despite her acidic self.
Yes, we now introduce the themes
of repentance, and redemption, and salvation, though of course those words
aren’t used, and we certainly wouldn’t want to espouse any particular
religion here. Suffice
it to say that the meaning of “true love” can be expanded, as can the
concept of peace between neighbors.
All in all, it’s a visual
delight, and Angelina Jolie’s superlative acting somehow keeps it from it
from tottering into silliness.
“Maleficent” is perhaps a little dark for
the little ones, but with enough substance to maintain the interest of older
children, as well as the inner child in all of us.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister,
St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church,