Another classic fairytale, complete with a princess, a prince, fairies, magic, and a dragon. Disney’s animated film score is heavily based on Tchaikovsky’s ballet suite (I want to see the ballet), which is credited at the beginning of the film. Beyond that, is opens with a storybook and narration quickly filling us in on the backstory of King Stefan and his unnamed queen desperately hoping for a child, then – a princess is joyfully born! “Hail to the Princess” comes straight from the opening march of the ballet, and we’re introduced to neighboring King Hubert and his son, Prince Phillip, who is betrothed to infant Princess Aurora (this was a common occurrence during real life medieval royalty). And this prince actually shows some personality! His little nose wrinkle is adorable, because what boy is going to be pleased to be told, “this little baby is going to be your future wife”?
The king and queen invited three “good” fairies, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather to their pseudo-christening and they bestow (almost) three gifts. Flora gives the gift of “beauty” (because all fairytale princesses are beautiful). Fauna gives the gift of “song” (and the young woman does have a more mature singing tone, compared to previous princesses Snow White and Cinderella). Merryweather is about to give her gift when the “evil” fairy Maleficent appears. Oh dear, she’s not wanted. And the only line the queen has: “and, you’re not offended, your Excellency?” Oh no, and to show she bears no ill will, Maleficent too has a gift for the young princess. Aurora will indeed, grow in grace and beauty, beloved by all who know her, but on the evening of her sixteenth birthday, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel…and die! With a cackle, she fades away. Merryweather is able to soften the blow of the curse, instead of death, Aurora will merely sleep until she is waken by true love’s kiss (it’s always true love’s kiss…that plays a huge role in Once Upon a Time), for “true love conquers all”.
King Stefan and his queen reluctantly agree to Flora’s plan for the fairies to raise the princess until her sixteenth birthday in an attempt to protect her from the curse. Stefan also burns all of the spinning wheels in the kingdom (the historian in me wants to know how they make clothes after that). Time lapse: sixteen years have passed and the fairies are preparing for “Briar Rose’s” celebration. They send the young woman out, with the warning to not speak to strangers. Aurora tells her animal friends (I guess a requirement for Disney princesses is the ability to speak to animals) that she’s dreaming of a prince and the animals proceed to steal clothing from a strange man in order to create Aurora’s prince. “Once Upon a Dream” is the ballet’s waltz and the man appears and steps in to dance with the young woman. At first, Aurora tries to follow directions and leaves, but he’s dashing and charming and they stroll through the woods romantically.
Meanwhile, Maleficent is furious that her creepy demons haven’t located the princess in sixteen years. They truly are imbeciles and have been looking for a baby the entire time. Alas, I must agree with Maleficent that they are a “disgrace to the forces of evil.” Instead, she charges her trusty crow to find her prize and he discovers a cottage…pink and blue sparks shooting out of the chimney do not aid in secrecy. Inside, the fairies are continuing with their preparation and we must wonder how they survived for sixteen years; Flora is terrible at sewing and Fauna cannot bake. In a last-ditch effort, Merryweather retrieves their wands to help, sadly resulting in a fight primarily between her and Flora, thus generating the sparks. (To give them some credit, they had shut the doors and windows to prevent being discovered; they just forgot the chimney) Briar Rose arrives home to tell her guardians that she met a wonderful man and intends for him to visit that evening. They have to tell her the heartbreaking news that she’s actually a princess and already betrothed; everything she knows is changing.
At the castle, Stefan and Hubert drink “Scumps,” toasting to the future of their children. Which Phillip interrupts when he tells his father that he has found and fallen in love with a woman in the woods. When he arrives at the cabin that evening, Maleficent is waiting for him, not “Briar Rose.” She captures the prince, informing him that the peasant woman he met, by whim of fate, is the princess to whom he is betrothed, and sets about to see her curse through. The fairies have taken the princess back to the castle and leave her alone for a moment to gather herself. An eerie wail hypnotizes Aurora and lures her through a secret passage to an ominous spinning wheel, where she in fact pricks her finger and falls into a sleep. The three fairies put the rest of the castle to sleep until they can get the handsome man Aurora met and fell in love with to kiss her awake. To do so, they must venture to Maleficent’s castle, where the demons are dancing around the fire in a mimicry of Night on Bald Mountain (that little animation has in fact given me nightmares).
Maleficent’s plan is hold Phillip at her castle until he is too old to be a threat, then she’ll release him to kiss his princess awake (and promptly die, I’m sure). The three fairies sneak in afterwards and gift him the “enchanted shield of virtue” and “mighty sword of truth” (always important in a fairy tale). Phillip set about hacking his way through a forest of thorns, but soon he must “deal with [Maleficent]…and all the powers of Hell!” She transforms into a dragon (in a battle that is shorter than I remember) and is slain by Phillip’s sword (again, typical Disney death, she falls off the cliff). The fairies lead Phillip up to the tower where Aurora is sleeping. He kisses her awake and the kingdom wakes up. They appear before Hubert and Stefan (to one of my favorite Tchaikovsky pieces) and a reprise of the waltz.
[Fun note: if some of the voices sound familiar: the woman who voiced Lady Tremaine in Cinderella is Maleficent, and the woman who voiced the Fairy Godmother is Flora]
Maleficent is the live-action 2014 adaptation of Sleeping Beauty, except told from the point-of-view and including the backstory of the villainess. Angelina Jolie stars as Maleficent, Imelda Staunton (aka, Dolores Umbridge) is one of the pixies, among other stars (one of the other fairies was the Queen in an updated Musketeer movie, the king was Murdoch from the updated A-Team movie) and there is a sequel due out in 2020. The narrator announces “let us tell an old story anew and we will see how well you know it.” There were bordering kingdoms; one of humans, greedy, ruled by a terrible king, and the other; a magical realm of fairies and creatures, called the Moors. The human king envied the Moors wealth and wanted to conquer the land. But it has a protector, in a young girl with horns and wings: Maleficent.
One day, a human boy is caught stealing a crystal and Maleficent must pass judgment on him. The boy’s name is Stefan. They bond, as orphaned children, and become “unlikely” friends, and for a time, the old hatred was forgotten. On Maleficent’s sixteenth birthday, Stefan gives her [a supposed] “true love’s kiss.” But Stefan was like the king, jealous and conniving. He has managed to become a servant to the king and when the king is on his deathbed following an encounter with Maleficent and the Moors, he takes the chance at the king’s word, whoever can kill the “winged elf” will become the next king. Stefan sneaks into the Moors to “warn” Maleficent. She forgives him for his absence and for a night, all is as it was. However, Stefan sneaked a potion into her drink, putting her to sleep; yet, he cannot bring himself to kill her. Instead, he cuts off her wings. These are his proof to the king that he “killed” Maleficent. He is crowned and gains a queen, Leila [who resembles Keira Knightley, but is not] (I also wonder if this is the daughter that the previous king, Henry, mentioned and Stefan married her to aid his control of the throne).
Maleficent mourns the loss of her wings and that is how she gains her iconic staff. The next day, she saves a crow from being beaten to death, turning him into a man. In return for her rescue, Diaval will be Maleficent’s wings. The real turn in Maleficent’s character comes when she finds out that Stefan had done all that to her, just to become king (I have to admit, I understand her rage at this point). So, she becomes queen of the Moors (they never officially had a monarch previously) and her former friends now cower before her. We next witness the birth of Stefan and Leila’s daughter and once again, Maleficent attends the christening. Her speech to the assemblage is identical to that from the animated film, though her curse changes a little; the “true love’s kiss” is a dig at Stefan, and the “sleeplike death” will last for all time, “no power on Earth can change it.” Once again, Stefan orders all of the spinning wheels burned [and again, how do they make fabric after that? And what possesses one to leave the burned remains in the castle?]
The pixies, Flittle, Knotgrass, and Thistlewit, are charged to care for baby Aurora for sixteen years and a day. They prove to be truly incompetent and it is lucky for Aurora that Diaval and Maleficent found her, or she would have died; either from starvation or falling off a cliff. One day, toddler Aurora comes across Maleficent healing a tree in the forest and hugs the woman [she was played at this point by Angelina’s own daughter, because she was the only child not scared]. Throughout the years, she plays with the crow. At the same time, Stefan darkens with paranoia and vengeance and plots Maleficent’s demise (ignoring the fact that he wife dies). He sends soldiers to the wall of thorns that Maleficent has erected. They fail, and he remembers what he learned as a boy; iron burns fairies. He has a new idea.
Maleficent shows Aurora the Moors and the young woman is fascinated. The creatures like her and she eventually lightens Maleficent’s heart. Aurora refers to Maleficent (not knowing her true identity at first) as her fairy godmother (a cute play on traditional fairy tale roles); she remembers the silhouette of Maleficent’s shadow from her childhood. Maleficent even attempts to remove the curse, but she recalls that she had included the clause that “no power on Earth can change it.” Not even Maleficent’s own magic can lift the curse. She continues to protect Aurora and tries to warn her about the evil in the world and Aurora expresses her wish to come live in the Moors. Maleficent agrees. Aurora encounters Prince Phillip on her way home to tell the three pixies her decision (witnessed by Maleficent and Diaval; Maleficent feels that Phillip could be the answer to “true love’s kiss,” even though she believes it does not exist).
At the cottage, the three pixies are forced to reveal that Aurora is the princess of the kingdom and she must go back to her father. (They get confused on the timeline and take her back on the day of her birthday, not the day after) Aurora confronts Maleficent about the curse and declares that she is the evil in the world. The young princess rides back to the castle alone. Stefan shows no emotion at seeing his daughter for the first time in sixteen years. He remarks she looks like her mother, but neglects to inform the lass that the woman is dead, and he stands still as Aurora hugs him. He locks her in her room so he can focus on a battle plan. None of it prevents Aurora from being hypnotized and led to the dungeon full of spinning wheels. She pricks her finger and falls asleep.
Maleficent knows the curse will come to fruition; she finds Prince Phillip and carts him off to the castle. Iron spikes impede her, but she manages to get Phillip to the hallway outside Aurora’s room. The pixies let him in and convince him to kiss the sleeping princess (and thank you, young prince, for resisting at least a little, calling to attention the fact that you’ve only met the one time). But the kiss fails. The pixies kick him out and leave to find someone else. Maleficent emerges from the shadows and apologizes to the young woman, but knows she cannot ask for forgiveness; what she did was unforgiveable. She places a gentle kiss on Aurora’s brow. That does the trick. Now they must escape the castle together and retreat to the Moors. Alas, Stefan and his soldiers are waiting for them. Maleficent turns Diaval into a dragon, setting the hall alight. An iron net deters Maleficent, but she eventually faces off against Stefan. Aurora discovers and frees Maleficent’s wings and that’s the real turning point. Stefan suffers a Disney death and falls off a tower during his duel.
Maleficent removes her crown and takes down the wall of thorns. The kingdoms are united under Aurora, who is crowned in the Moors (Phillip is in attendance) and they were brought together by one who was both hero and villain: Maleficent. The closing narration sums up that “the story is not quite as you were told. And I should know, for I am the one that they called Sleeping Beauty.” Our parting shots are of Diaval, as a crow, flying with Maleficent.
My mind-set on the animated Sleeping Beauty has been that it’s a typical fairy tale. There are a hundred ways to tell it and the characters are interchangeable. Princess Aurora doesn’t strike me as a “fight for yourself” princess. It has been noted that she doesn’t speak the entire second half of the film, even after she is woken by “true love’s kiss,” or when she meets her parents. Prince Phillip is admirable as a typical prince and this time, he actually does something. He fights the dragon; he rescues his damsel in distress; he speaks his mind to his father. Pity he’s not more remembered for that. Maleficent is intimidating visually. We are left to wonder why she suddenly appears at a celebration and randomly curses an innocent baby. I guess it’s hand waved as “she’s evil” and apparently the queen of all darkness.
Which is why when Maleficent was first announced, I didn’t plan on seeing it. But after watching the live action Cinderella, I decided to give it a chance. And I was pleasantly surprised. As a scholar with an interest in faerie lore and mythology, I was excited to see the added element of iron burning the Fae. Overall, I enjoyed how Maleficent was portrayed as a Fae, that not all fairies are tiny little creatures with wings. They have immense power and a tie to nature.
I enjoyed how Maleficent’s character was fleshed out and well rounded. Most of the characters were given greater detail (Phillip suffered, unfortunately). We now have a believable reason for Maleficent cursing Stefan’s child. I thought it was interesting that they expanded the crow character and he was a fun addition. I wonder if there’s a romantic inclination towards Maleficent or Aurora. He’s reasonably loyal to Maleficent and he seems attached to Aurora. For a moment, while re-watching, I thought it would be him that broke the curse by kissing the sleeping princess; but I content with the mother/daughter relationship emphasis instead. Phillip’s presence at the Moors at the end has me wondering if they’ll expand that tale in the sequel.
Again, there is a typical warning as in most fairy tales: “don’t talk to strangers.” There’s never really a bad consequence to those who do: in the animated, Briar Rose meets the man who will rescue her. In the live action, Aurora speaks to the woman she coins as her fairy godmother. In both cases, it ultimately turns out well for her. I appreciate in the live action that dragons are not painted as completely bad (considering my favorite movie is How to Train Your Dragon). In the animated, of course the powers of Hell will transform into a dragon. An element of dragon mythology is that dragons kidnap princesses and lock them away. Diaval as a dragon doesn’t get much action in the newer movie, but it’s understandable since the action should be focused on Maleficent’s struggle.
So…? Any questions? Comments? What’s your position on dragons?
Next Time: 101 Dalmatians