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After spending several years in social services, Nicole has finally followed her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer. In addition to her work for The Hudsucker, Nicole is also a staff writer for Womanista. An avid comic book fan, BBQ aficionado, professional makeup artist and first-time mom, Nicole can be found exploring Kansas City rich history when she's not blogging about suburban life at Suburban Flamingo.

Visions Rarely What They Seem: Maleficent

Everyone knows the story of Sleeping Beauty and for many that story brings to mind one of Disney’s most iconic of villains, Maleficent. But what if there was more to the story than “innocent baby, evil fairy, sad curse, and true love’s kiss”? That is exactly the question Disney seeks to answer with their film Maleficent.

Image Credit: Disney

Image Credit: Disney

First things first: the character of Maleficent is entirely a Disney creation. Yes, the wicked fairy who gifts a curse to an infant princess appears in the canonical versions of the fairy tale, but the actual Maleficent is all Disney, menacing and powerful. Her appearance in the 1959 animated classic Sleeping Beauty was already a tweak to the tale, but this film takes it one step further. In the opening voice over viewers are, more or less, told that everything they have known about the story is wrong. This is the movie’s way to release themselves from the bonds and obligations of fairy tale canon, both the literary material and their own, to go fully towards their own story. The story told in this movie is familiar in the way a McDonald’s in a foreign country might be: generally the same, but then you suddenly get served a shrimp Big Mac and hot tea instead of more familiar fare.

To be fair I can’t reveal much about the movie post-intro without giving away a good bit of the plot. The film starts early in molding and changing the story by starting off with a Maleficent as a child living a charmed life in her own fairy kingdom. The major events of the fairy tale remain intact as the film continues: the king has a child, everyone is invited except Maleficent, the curse happens. It’s the reasons and motivations for the curse and how they resolve are the big changes here and instead of familiar female villain territory, the film explores the idea that man, the presumed hero, is the true villain. This is one of the most promising concepts in the film, but it is handled poorly. The feminist message that woman has been wronged by the power and control hungry/greedy man, thus turning the woman into a monster because of his actions, is very heavy-handed. This does allow for some very subtle nods to the darker elements of the Giambattista Basile version of the story (there is a moment where the idea of consent and agency comes up directly in the film,) but most of the empowerment message is lost in clumsy handling and the absolutely abysmal acting of nearly the entire cast. Every actor who is not Angelina Jolie is truly awful in this film. Elle Fanning in particular is just horrible, capable of doing little more than grinning and laughing as though she lacks intellect to process the world around her. I found myself half-hoping that Princess Aurora would just fall into her death sleep already so Fanning would be off the screen and go away. But Jolie absolutely owns Maleficent. She is sublime and the few direct recreations from the 1959 feature are so pitch perfect that Jolie takes your breath away inhabiting the character. She was born to play Maleficent much in the same way that Robert Downey, Jr. was born to play Iron Man. If Jolie hit a wrong note with the character I didn’t see it. She was delightful.

On the whole it is an enjoyable film. Even for the bad acting and poorly-executed subtext the film is astonishingly lovely visually, the makeup very well-done, and special effects amazing. Jolie’s performance and the visuals almost makeup for the other actors chewing their way through the scenery, the clumsy feminism and choppy story. The film will never be canon for a lot of people, but has earned its way into cultural reference if for nothing else than its special take on true love thus providing the basis for a contemporary fairy tale.

Bottom line: see it. Just don’t take it too seriously.

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