So I just saw Maleficent today, and as far as gritty reboots of old stories go, this one was actually quite good. That’s not what I want to write about though – rather, this is somewhat of a response to several reviews I’ve read over the last few days, complaining that giving Maleficent reasoning behind her evil takes away from the original story, or ruins the fairy tale. Plus, it’s a good example of character development and growth. *SPOILERS AHEAD*
Personally, I love a good villain – but the best kind are the ones that are the most human. And humans, real people, have motivations, reasonings, whatever they may be, for doing what they do. People aren’t evil for evil’s sake, and maybe it’s naive of me to think so, but in my experience, that’s been the case. The best part about this movie was that Maleficent was wronged, that she experienced an emotion so strong that it changed her, from a caring guardian to a domineering ruler. Angelina Jolie did an incredible job showing her transformation, and bringing the character to life. In the original, we never get much of a reason why Maleficent curses Aurora outside of “I wasn’t invited to the party,” making her a very one-dimensional character. She was bad just because. I understand that it was a children’s movie, and that it was a different time, and the mood of the general public didn’t call for complicated villains in kids movies, but still.
This version, as far as characters go (at least with Maleficent) did a much better job. Rather than make her a petty caricature of villainy, it made her a complex, strong woman. While we’re on the topic of women in this movie, I also noticed in some reviews that people complained that this movie wasn’t sending the correct message – that girls would see this film and think it’s okay to wallow in self-pity over an ex-boyfriend and seek vengeance for the wrongs done against them. To that, I say: you missed the whole point of the movie. The movie wasn’t about Sleeping Beauty, and at no point did it try to convince you it was. Titled after the villain, of course it would follow the villain and show what a villain does – in this case seek revenge. But it focused on her growth, her repentance. What this movie teaches is that, yes, betrayal hurts, but revenge doesn’t solve the problem – taking vengeance against your enemies solves nothing. Maleficent regrets her choices, tries to take them back, and learns that love is real, and stronger than the hatred she felt.
In my opinion, that’s a much better message than the classic Disney story, which tells little girls that people fall in love at first sight – with a stranger they meet in the woods – and that the only way to be happy is for prince charming to come along and save you. Maleficent doesn’t need rescuing – she solves her own problems, albeit after some poor choices. The bottom line: You learn from your mistakes, and you grow from them.
So, that’s what makes a good character. Complexity. No matter where it comes from, a character, hero or villain, becomes much more relatable, much more entertaining, if they’re authentic. Conflict and emotion is authentic, and tells a much better story.
Well, that’s my rant on Maleficent. Don’t take my word for how good it is, though – go watch it and form your own opinions.