Gender Roles – Women
Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles – Men
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Gender Roles - Women: 4 Stars
Maleficent has a powerful presence that is difficult to match. Unfortunately, it is not all that rare to see female villains display this level of strength. Perhaps there is something innately disturbing about a powerful woman that repeatedly earns them the role of the villain, and not the heroine. Maleficent attempts to address this lingering typecast by making Maleficent both the hero and the villain of her own story.
As a young girl, Maleficent is a caring sprite with impressive powers, and acts as a natural leader for the other creatures of the moor. This endearing beginning might have blossomed into a beautiful story that young girls could have drawn on for inspiration. Unfortunately, Maleficent fulfills the prophecy that’s doomed so many powerful women before her, by turning into something fierce and dangerous.
Plot: 4 Stars (Spoilers)
Maleficent is given the role of a great leader early in the film, protecting her moor from the vile king that seeks to destroy it. The plot takes a malicious turn when Maleficent loses her wings - but thankfully, she does not lose her strength or her drive. In fact, her powers seem to grow with her anger, but they are now directed towards revenge rather than the comfort and safety of her people. While Maleficent becomes a perfect villain, directing her hatred against an innocent child rather than the King who’s stolen her wings, she is also given the chance to redeem herself and rescue the very same child that she’s cursed.
Princess Aurora plays a small part in freeing Maleficent as well, by unleashing her severed wings from the glass cage in King Stefan’s throne room. While this addition adds some small bit of purpose to Aurora’s character, she is still more of a prop than a real character.
Character Development: 4 Stars
Maleficent gives the dark fairy from Sleeping Beauty a compelling story that helps audiences share her anger and thirst for revenge. The film also gives Maleficent the soul she needs for her to come back from the brink and to transform her hatred back into love. Maleficent is somewhat sparse on dialogue, and as a result, we don’t get as good a glimpse of her warped heart as we might like. Maleficent does a brilliant job of turning the sorceress’s crow, Diaval, into a man with a face and heart that she can confide in. Unfortunately, we’re not privy to any heartfelt conversations between them. We aren't given any clues regarding how she comes to that pivotal moment when she finally lets go of her hatred and tries to remove the curse. We can see the change take place in her facial expressions and her actions, but it is a silent, guarded change.
Princess Aurora, as well, has few lines or moments of true intimacy with the woman she calls “Godmother.” The two never have a conversation about Aurora’s curse. About love or regret. We’re asked to believe that Aurora has healed Maleficent’s heart, solely through her smiles and charm. And while it is convincing, it’s also unfortunate that Princess Aurora once again has been given a role with little depth or substance. She is a beautiful woman that inspires warmth and love, but we know nothing about who she is, or what inspires her.
Gender Roles - Men: 2 Stars
For the most part, the men in this film have little to offer either gender. They are full of ambition and greed, and always turn to violence or war to accomplish their selfish ends. Stefan showed some promise in the beginning when he cast aside the iron ring that burned Maleficent so their hands could touch. But he quickly turns cruel, with little to no explanation. He has just enough heart to keep him from killing Maleficent, but the brutal act of severing her wings dehumanizes him for the rest of the film. We never see so much as a whisper of regret.
Young Prince Phillip does represent a warm, tender version of manhood. But we’re left with no guarantees that he doesn’t become the same tyrant as the kings who came before him. He certainly isn’t given enough screen time to undo the damage that King Stefan has done.
Maleficent’s pet crow, Diaval, is also a caring and appealing young man. Unfortunately he is more a bird than he is human. And little more than a slave to Maleficent’s whims, however cruel they may be.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 2 Stars
There is little that is surprising about the faces and figures of the women in Maleficent. Princess Aurora is a stunning young woman, with little to her personality other than a bright smile. Maleficent is also a striking figure, despite her pointed ears and haunting yellow eyes. Maleficent is a film that engages viewers with strong visuals and special effects, and to some degree, the characters’ appearances outshine their personas.
The film does include three additional fairies, Knotgrass, Thistletwit and Flittle, who are a bit older and disproportionate. But there is little that is appealing in their characters. It is unfortunate, in fact, that these same three fairies who act as Aurora’s saviors in the original version, are recast as obnoxious and brainless in Maleficent.