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The Origin of a Classic Disney Villain

Maleficent: The Story So Far

Maleficent: The Story So Far


Disney will get spooky this Halloween, with the release of MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL. The film is the follow-up to the 2014 live-action fairy tale MALEFICENT, with the irrepressible Angelina Jolie once again starring as the iconic horned baddie. MALEFICENT expanded the character's story far beyond what we originally saw in SLEEPING BEAUTY, back in 1959. Want a refresher on MALEFICENT before you sit down for the highly anticipated sequel? We've got you covered. (Note: Full spoilers for the 2014 Maleficent, follow, along with a few for the original SLEEPING BEAUTY.)

Back to the Beginning

Maleficent Origins

MALEFICENT was based on the character of the same name, which appeared in Walt Disney’s 1959 animated masterpiece SLEEPING BEAUTY. In that film, she was voiced memorably by Eleanor Audley. (Fun fact: She also voiced Lady Tremaine in CINDERELLA).

The origin story was first conceived for director Tim Burton, whose ALICE IN WONDERLAND effectively kicked off the Disney live-action remake craze. MALEFICENT was ultimately given to Burton's ALICE production designer Robert Stromberg to direct. Stromberg chose not to emulate the animated feature’s distinctive art style, with its square trees and art deco lines. Instead, he chose a more naturalistic approach, and focused on the psychological underpinnings of the self-professed “Mistress of Evil.”

New Twists

Aurora in Maleficent 2

In SLEEPING BEAUTY, Maleficent has a fairly limited amount of screen time, and then she turns into a dragon. Which is to say that there was a lot of room to expand upon her character for the 2014 movie.

MALEFICENT explains how the character protected the magical Moors and explains the jealousy of humans who live in bordering lands. The two kingdoms are divided by a huge, thorny wall. Still, Maleficent had a romantic relationship with human Stefan (played by Sharlto Copely), who eventually double-crosses her and clips her magical wings. That betrayal blackens her heart.

One sequence, in which Maleficent crashes the christening of Princess Aurora, daughter of her former flame Stefan, is almost a shot-for-shot remake of the same scene in SLEEPING BEAUTY. The villain curses Aurora to prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die — or at least fall into a death-like slumber. In MALEFICENT, however, it doesn’t feel like Maleficent is sentencing a child to death because the dark queen didn’t get an invite to the christening party. Knowing about Stefan's betrayal makes her haughty fury far more understandable, and even more interesting, even as she “revels in the sorrow that her curse had brought.”

Even Maleficent’s crow sidekick Diablo is given a redo. In the 2014 movie, he's named Diaval and is turned into a kind of half-bird/half-man. Maleficent says he will “be her wings,” following her mutilation. (At one point, she also turns him into a menacing wolf in an effort to scare away some human troops.)

A Fractured Fairy Tale

Maleficent 2 Queen

Just as in the original, Aurora (Elle Fanning) is raised by a trio of bumbling pixies, now renamed Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), Thistlewit (Juno Temple) and Flittle (Lesley Manville). But this time Maleficent watches her grow and eventually brings her into the enchanted Moors, where she becomes a kind of surrogate mother figure to the young woman. (Aurora calls her a “fairy godmother.”)

This proves to be a real dilemma for Maleficent since she already committed to an unbreakable curse against Aurora. Trying to revoke the spell is a failed effort. Just before she turns 16, Aurora falls for the handsome Prince Philip (Brenton Thwaites) and learns the truth about the curse. Running away from both the pixies and her “fairy godmother” Maleficent, Aurora pricks her finger on the spinning wheel and it’s lights out.

In this version, the “true love’s kiss” which can wake Aurora from slumber is actually administered by Maleficent, not Prince Phillip. (A twist!) She has grown to deeply care for the girl. Stefan imprisons Maleficent, who turns her bird-sidekick Diaval into a fearsome dragon, instead of changing into one herself, as in the animated film. Just when Maleficent appears to be defeated, Aurora returns her wings. After a struggle, Maleficent kill Stefan, just in a roundabout, not-flat-out-evil way.

Happily Ever After

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Following Stefan’s defeat, Maleficent destroys the wall separating the Moors from the human kingdom, and invites Aurora to see how things used to be. “Our kingdoms have been unified,” Maleficent says, placing a glittery crown on Aurora’s head. Aurora is now the queen of everything. The film's final shots reveal Maleficent and Diaval jubilantly flying through the canyons of the Moors, as the music swells.

Now that you’re all caught up, we can tell you that MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL takes place five years after the original film. Prince Phillip (now played by Harris Dickinson) has proposed to Aurora. Things get prickly when Phillip’s mother (Michelle Pfeiffer) wants to use their wedding to divide the Moors and the human kingdom forever. And you thought your in-laws were bad! Expect an explosive clash between the human and fairy worlds, curses galore, and, of course, Angelina Jolie vamping it up like no other. In other words: we can't wait.


All images courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

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