By Derek May:
YIN: Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
It’s been five years since Disney and Angelia Jolie reimagined the story of Sleeping Beauty by focusing on the humanity underlying the villain of that classic tale, the magical Dark Fey Maleficent. I wasn’t the biggest fan of that first outing, mostly because the plot was gratingly thin and the ending rushed and anticlimactic. That said, I did enjoy the exploration of Maleficent as a being not born of evil but driven to evil acts through pain, loss, and tragedy. Yet for our heroine, love (as it often does) overcomes and lights her path back to goodness; in this case the love for the young princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), who Maleficent herself had cursed (irony!). The theme of maternal rather than romantic love being the truest form is a beautiful sentiment and by far the best element of that film. If only the rest had been as equally well-developed.
Now, on the 60th anniversary of the release of Disney’s animated Sleeping Beauty, we get more than a sequel—we get the movie we really wanted first time round.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil picks up directly from the events of it predecessor but isn’t necessarily slaved to them. Despite its faults, the first film got all that tedious exposition and relationship establishment out of the way so that we can get to the real meat here. Aurora, having been made queen of the Moors and its collection of magical creatures, is ready to leave the nest and marry her love, Prince Philip (recast with Harris Dickenson). As you can imagine, Maleficent is less than thrilled. But like a good mother, she agrees to meet the potential in-laws, King John (Robert Lindsay) and Queen Ingrith (the incomparable Michelle Pfeiffer). And in the grand tradition of typical family get-togethers, that’s where things go horribly, horribly wrong . . .
It’s all deliciously Shakespearean in its various power plays, familial manipulations, and blind desires for vengeance. There’s a richness of plot and theme that truly elevates the fairytale narrative and provides plenty of intrigue and fascinating characters for the audience to engage with. One element that really struck me is how refreshing it was that the major active forces centered on the three main characters, who happen to all be female, while many of the menfolk were given significant but more passive roles traditionally assigned to women. And as should be no surprise, everything still works just fine. Aurora finds herself caught up in the machinations of her seemingly ideal human mother-to-be, Ingrith, and her borderline-evil godmother, Maleficent. But that’s really just a kicking off point. Beyond that is a much larger battle between the two matriarchs, which in turn extends out to the broader uneasy truce between humankind and fairy-folk, culminating is a clash long in the making and unmasking repressed yet ever-present prejudices.