In a movie realm dominated by endless remakes, reboots and retellings of familiar fairy tales and folk stories, Disney’s Maleficent (2014) set out to do something different by focusing on the ‘villain’ of the classic tale of Sleeping Beauty, subject of Disney’s own 1959 animated classic, sidelining Aurora (Elle Fanning) and focusing on the evil antagonist, played by Angelina Jolie. This break with tradition set Maleficent apart, adding some intrigue and appeal that recent cookie-cutter Disney remakes have lacked. Unlike, say, Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King, audiences didn’t know what to expect from this alternative take on the nearly 400-year-old tale of Sleeping Beauty, which was particularly welcome as even Disney’s 1959 version is a fairly plotless, predictable fairy tale in need of a refresh. Now, in the original Sleeping Beauty‘s diamond jubilee year, Maleficent is back in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, which once again focuses on the villain of the piece, despite her – spoiler alert – redemption at the end of Maleficent.
Like any fantasy film for children, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil isn’t quite able to break fully away from fairy tale tropes – it does, for example, begin with an omniscient narrator (who never returns) gently murmuring “once upon a time”-style pleasantries, followed by a marriage proposal amid lush greenery and fantastical creatures. But despite several predictable moments and too-convenient escapes from danger, the movie does manage to surprise and delight. It is also hard to deny the visual beauty of this film, which features frequent sweeping shots of stunning vistas and lush fantasy kingdoms. The film is vibrantly colorful and inventive, packed with quirky creatures and surprisingly bright backdrops, while the costume design for Aurora, Maleficent, and Queen Ingrith (chillingly portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer) are particularly eye-catching, though the wardrobe is impeccable throughout.
The plot itself is darker even than the previous film’s; by about the halfway mark it becomes clear that this is a movie about war. While the scale of violence is far lower than a war film intended for adult audiences, the stakes are still high. Suspicions and betrayal are here in spades, some predictable, but much of it still managing to excite or surprise the audience. While some of the smaller characters (Prince Phillip, in particular) are a bit lukewarm, the leads are excellent, with Jolie and Pfeiffer’s opposing roles creating a powerful female dynamic. New characters also add more depth to the film, while Elle Fanning’s Aurora is as charming and empowering as ever. This is a Disney princess (now queen) who cleverly manipulates her way out of locked rooms and stands up for what she cares about. Disney made the right call in modernizing her character for these reboots, as young girls can find a heroine here who’s worth emulating.
Although Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is not particularly comedic, it’s careful to sprinkle well-timed witticisms throughout. Jolie’s dry humor as Maleficent is perfect once again, and the relationship between Aurora and Diaval (Sam Riley) provides levity and hope at critical moments. Most importantly, the relationship between Maleficent and Aurora, developed in the previous film, is the driving force of the sequel and the catalyst for much of the action, and in this regard it definitely delivers. The emotional bond between the two is palpable, and several key moments may even have some audience members choked up.
Ultimately, this is a captivating film that builds on the success of its predecessor with even higher stakes, solid acting (and more diversity among the cast), and an engaging premise, while the vibrant visual appeal alone makes it worth a watch.
Is Maleficent: Mistress of Evil a Good Movie for Kids?
Yes, particularly for older ones or those not put off by fight scenes and battles. The death toll is fairly high for a children’s movie, but the fantasy (read: not bloody) nature of the deaths makes it much more manageable for kids who are more squeamish—though the film is not totally without any blood. More importantly, the ultimate message of choosing respect over violence, and the cast of powerful female leads, makes it a great and modern addition to the growing genre of new takes on old tales.