As Disney continues to churn out remakes of their classic animated films, they are returning to the one that started it all with “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” now in theaters.
The reimagined tale continues years after the first and has Aurora as Queen of the Moors with her ever present suitor Philip poised to propose. When he does, it sets off a chain of events that leads Maleficent to discover more of her Dark Fae roots and introduces a foe that proves to be more than her match.
Disney has added more than a few impressive names to the roster to star beside Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Ed Skrein enter the world of the Moors as other members of the Dark Fae race, sent into hiding by an ever-expanding, ever-aggressive human population. Representing two ideological sides, the warmongering Borra(Skrein) seeks to take the fight to the humans, while peace-seeking Conall(Ejiofor) works to convince Maleficent otherwise, until tragic results forces action. Neither one of these characters do much to up the emotional stakes, as one is discarded without much fanfare and the other ends up lying down arms at the appearance of the barest hint of humanity. In the end, this is Maleficent’s journey of self-discovery and Jolie continues to carry the emotional weight of the film.
The introduction of Michelle Pfeiffer as the underhanded Queen Ingrith provides a foil to Maleficent missing from the first. Pfeiffer restrained performance makes the nature of her plots seem even more brutal upon execution, a believed fight for survival played out in an act of genocide. By playing on the hidden feelings both Aurora and Maleficent have about the nature of their mother-daughter relationship, the seeds Ingrith plants effectively tears the pair apart until once again love prevails over evil.
By breaking up Maleficent and Aurora, the film removes the only compelling relationship it has, stranding both on either ends of a story that is both predictable and complicated to follow. The appearance of a sudden savior prophesy only serves to turn what was a compelling study on maternal relationships into a cliche fantasy story that ends the only way a savior story ever can. The only difference here is that after the savior saves the day, the study is rebooted, and gives Maleficent a new maternal journey that the audience is able to celebrate, but unable to emotionally connect with.
What Disney does right with Maleficent is through the true reimagining of this story. Rather than making a rote remake of plot points known by heart, they have taken the character of Maleficent and fleshed her out as an anti-hero, a symbol of misunderstood things. Disney would do well to take notes from this film as it approaches further remakes, and give audiences new stories to embrace, new lessons to learn within the trappings of beloved characters.