Review: Maleficent, a Feminist Film


I always worry about Disney movies, as much as I love them. The female characters always seem to need me. Or to be saved by men. Of they need to be kissed by men in order to live. That has been the story of several of their fairytales, including the very popular Sleeping Beauty. In that story, a handsome Prince breaks a spell cast on the Princess by Malifecent and not only are they reunited, she is saved and the palace awakens. Everyone lives happily ever after as a result of the Prince’s actions, even though he is a minor character in the story.

Oh, but how Disney has changed, giving us the indomitable Frozen in the past year with two very brave female protagonists. Both Anna and Elsa are fabulous role models for my children and it’s a story that has impacted them in ways that go beyond words – with the strong message that girls can do anything they want and amazing music that I find myself singing even when they are not around. And need I mention Brave, another film with an extremely strong and fearless female character who ultimately saved her own mother and ended up alone?

Malifecent, a Movie for All Ages

Maleficent is another movie that will leave a lasting mark on my mind, and that of my daughter’s. It’s based on a story we know all too well, Sleeping Beauty, of course, but it has a very 2014 feminist twist. Instead of the Prince saving Aurora from her own deadly spell that she cast upon her, it is Maleficent herself who saves her. Angelina Jolie, cast as the evil Maleficent, at first swears revenge against King Stefan for taking her wings to achieve his own fame in the Kingdom: “This curse will last until the end of time!” But as the movie progresses, so does her attitude against the young girl. While in the original story, she battles the Prince at the end to ensure her death by turning into a dragon, in the film she turns her sidekick into a dragon to make sure that no one further hurts her. While unable to love anyone after being betrayed by Stefan, Maleficent transforms herself and surprises everyone in the Kingdom, along with the rest of us sitting in the audience.

The movie is typical Disney – lots of magic, big digital effects, elaborate sets, amazing costumes. Jolie in particular wears garb that seems to translate and define her performance, along with dark red lipstick and a horned helmet. Her already gorgeous cheekbones and green eyes seem to be accentuated and her smirks, smiles and pouts work in more ways than I can describe. The role could not have been more perfectly cast.  The movie also stars Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Imelda Staunton and many more film and stage greats.

Now there are some things I didn’t like about the movie. I don’t like the fact that the King had to lose his daughter in order for Maleficent to realize her true love for the little girl.He gave her up as an infant to be raised by three fairies in the woods in order to save her, and as a result, his wife died, most likely from a broken heart and he never got to know his little girl. The little girl was essentially reunited and raised with the evil villain who put a curse on her. In order to make the main character strong and resilient, others had to suffer.

But I must admit, I love movies that bring strong women to the screen and instill the idea that female bonding and leadership are important and possible. When my daughter told me at the end of the film that she’d never seen a female save another female before, I was thrilled. Kudos to Disney for bring more films like this into my daughter’s world.

Disclosure: I attended a preview of Maleficent but no opinion was asked of me.

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  1. Every man in Maleficent either has no agency (Prince Charming, who may as well be a Sim), under her thumb (crow boy), or evil (everyone else). Maleficent plays more into the “female supremacy” stereotype of feminism than one fighting for equality.

    Save your money and rewatch Frozen.

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