A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Maleficent is Disney's retelling of its iconic animated princess movie Sleeping Beauty from the villain's point of view. Audiences will learn the reasons why the "evil fairy" (played by Angelina Jolie) is so bitter and resentful at not being invited to baby Aurora's welcoming party that she curses the infant princess. Far more so than the animated original (which itself is often too scary for younger kids in the preschool age bracket), this live-action version can get quite dark and may frighten younger kids, particularly during violent action sequences between the kingdom and the magical creatures of the moors. Characters die (or look dead) or are injured, and Maleficient is an intimidating figure. It's also very upsetting when her wings are cut off. But the movie's overall message -- about redemption and love -- is positive, and giving Maleficient more depth and context will help kids sympathize with her. As long as your kids can handle the battles, they'll probably enjoy this new take on a classic Disney villain.
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What's the story?
MALEFICENT is a retelling of Disney's classic take on Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of the villain, the supposedly evil fairy who eventually curses baby Princess Aurora with eternal sleep. But Maleficent, like all villains, is a complicated character: She grew up a powerful, winged fairy who lived peacefully in the magical moors adjacent to the human kingdom. When, as a child, a young peasant boy Stefan wondered into the moors, young Maleficent grew attached to him, despite her distrust of humans. Their friendship leads to romance over the years, but after Stefan (Sharlto Copley) does something unthinkable to Maleficent (now Angelina Jolie) to gain the king's favor, she grows bitter and dark from his betrayal. Once Stefan is crowned king and his queen has a baby girl, Maleficent decides to get her revenge by cursing little Aurora. Little does Maleficent know that the girl will grow up into a sweet and curious girl (Elle Fanning) whom even a dark and angry fairy could appreciate.
Is it any good?
Plenty of this retelling is visually spectacular, with amazing special effects and lush scenery: The moors at their brightest are sweet and enchanting, while the kingdom is a drab and imposing place. Between the art design, the costumes, and the immaculate CGI-aided make-up (has an actress ever had such razor-sharp cheekbones as Jolie in this film?), Maleficent is a true feast for the eyes, which is no surprise, given director Robert Stromberg's history as a visual effects specialist.
Plot wise, however, the movie is a bit of a letdown. Jolie is wonderful at being (justifiably) mean -- with her sharp face, scary green eyes, and clipped speaking tones -- and she's good at delivering the dry one liners. But to reduce her story to the cliche of a jilted and jealous ex-girlfriend is slightly disappointing and undercuts the movie's other message: that you should strive to stay in the light, even when surrounded by darkness. While younger kids might be alternately scared or bored, older kids and adults might wish for a little more enchantment to go along with the effects. Still, Fanning, so lovely and bright-eyed, is well cast as teen Aurora, and worth seeing opposite Jolie.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why villains/antiheroes are often just as compelling as heroes. Were you surprised at Maleficent's back story? Did it make her more sympathetic?
How does the movie make you rethink the story of Sleeping Beauty? What is the film trying to say about villains? Are people all good or all evil?
How is the idea of love explored in the movie? Is love only the romantic kind, or are there are other kinds of "true love"?
- In theaters: May 30, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: November 4, 2014
- Cast: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley
- Director: Robert Stromberg
- Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More
- Run time: 97 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images
- Last updated: November 15, 2019
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