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“In large measure, true manhood is defined in our relationship to women . . . We must be men that women can trust.”
D. Todd Christofferson [1]

“How does it feel to be a fairy creature without wings in a world where you don’t belong?”
King Stefan

NOTE: Spoiler alert!  This review will discuss the movie’s plotline.

            As recounted in an earlier issue of this journal, Enchanted became one of my favorite movies because it championed a heroine—a Disney princess no less—who was brave enough to face the ugliness of this world without losing her goodness, and thereby gained the strength to rescue her own prince charming from physical and spiritual threat. I thought this was probably the most forward step I could ever imagine from Disney (though I deeply enjoyed Brave as well).

            I am delighted to announce I was wrong.  Disney has topped itself with Maleficent, a sumptuous feast for the eyes, and a deeply moving film for women.  The second time I saw it, I brought my husband and 17-year old son, and they both loved it as well.  My son actually raved about Maleficent for several days, which is remarkable.  So I can testify that the movie must be moving for men—at least certain men—as well.  Nevertheless, this review focuses on the movie’s meaning for women in this fallen world of ours, leaving it to a male author to speak in some other venue to its meaning for men.

            The movie integrates live actors with CGI creatures and effects flawlessly (to these eyes, at least), and the art direction is gorgeously realized.  There are two kingdoms in this tale, one a “normal” kingdom of humans, and one a magical kingdom called The Moors.  The most amazing life forms inhabit The Moors, and it is visually sublime to see some of the fantastical creatures visualized there, which occasionally remind one of a James Christensen painting.

            When we first visit it, there is no king or queen ruling The Moors, but there is a very special fairy, seemingly a girl of ten or so.  She is beautiful and good, though she does have horns on her head, and she has large, soft brown wings with which to soar and fly. Named Maleficent, she acts as a healer, for example, restoring to wholeness a broken branch of a tree with her power.

            Fatefully, her people have cornered a human thief that has crept into their land—a boy about her age, who has stolen a small jewel from the lake.  She convinces the thief to give back the jewel, which she promptly drops back into the lake.  We can tell their worldviews are quite different when he tells her that if he knew she was just going to throw it away, he would have kept the jewel.  She replies, “I didn’t throw it away, I delivered it home.”  In Maleficent’s view, the world is not primarily about its instrumental value for her.  Unfortunately, for Stefan, the poor orphan, it is just that.

            Stefan wins her heart with a simple deed.  When he discovers his iron ring burns her—for in this tale, iron burns fairies—he throws the ring away.  We are told that on her 16th birthday, Stefan’s present to Maleficent is what he calls “true love’s kiss.”

            However, Stefan does not return to The Moors after that for many years.  In the meantime, Maleficent has grown to full adulthood, her wings magnificent and huge, making her the strongest of the fairies, and the Protector of The Moors. I must admit that the footage of Maleficent soaring towards the sun, wings outstretched, moved my soul.  All I could find online was one paltry image, but I present it to you as a pale indication of what you see in the film. 

            We are told that Maleficent “had never understood the greed and ambition of men, but she would learn.”  The greedy king of the humans marches on The Moors with his army of men.  Maleficent confronts him, ordering him to “Go no further!”  He does, of course. Leading her own army of trees and roots and animals and magical creatures, Maleficent vanquishes the king’s army.

            Wounded, the venal king promises his throne to the man who kills Maleficent.  His steward, none other than Stefan, now a grown man, listens intently.  For the first time in many years, he ventures to The Moors under cover of darkness and calls the woman to whom he gave “true love’s kiss,” but whom he has not found the time to see since.  He has come to warn Maleficent, he says, about a plot on her life.  He talks lovingly to her, and gives her a draught to drink.  Unbeknownst to Maleficent, it is the fairy tale equivalent of a date-rape drug.  She falls into a deep sleep from which she cannot be awoken.

            Stefan prepares to stab her to death.  Amazingly, he cannot bring himself to do so.  He contents himself with slicing off her wings—her beautiful, immense, strong, soft brown wings that had allowed her to soar—and brings them to the dying king in order to claim the throne for himself.

           The scene where Maleficent wakes from her deathly sleep is wrenching in the extreme.  When she realizes what has been taken from her, and who did this to her, her visceral screams shake the sky, and Stefan, hearing, trembles.  And when through her servant the crow, she discovers why Stefan did this, she is filled with a darkness that envelopes both her and the land over which she now rules as its black queen.

            It was only this past year that I finally understood what Maleficent realized when she awoke, something which many women know—some through date-rape drugs, yes, and some without that device.  In my Women and Nations class at the university where I teach, we were speaking one day of the sexual conflict between men and women, where women and men have such very different aims regarding physical intimacy.  I asked the young men in class, “does it feel like a competition, like a football game, and women are the other team, like the defensive line, or something?”  And one young man looked at me with sorrow in his eyes, and I knew in an instant why there was sorrow—because he knew this truth firsthand and at that moment wished he did not—and he said, “Professor Hudson, you don’t understand.  The woman is the football.”

            I gaped at him in horror, and then many things made sense which had never made sense to me.  In the culture of the fallen world, romance and physical intimacy for many men are not about the woman involved.  Rather, it is a game that men play with other men, where women are but the instrument of scoring and nothing more. They do not even register as human beings, but as a piece of skin.

            Maleficent’s screams, and the screams and sobs of women who have learned what Maleficent learned—that their “lover” is the person who purposes to kill their soul—help us understand why the worst punishments of hell are reserved for those who "love and make a lie.” (Revelation 22:15).  Truly, there is no more powerful fount of darkness in the world than these persons.  So many lives have been destroyed and mutilated because one person taught another that “true love” is an impossible illusion, and thus always a lie when declared--and that love has no more to do with sex than the price of tea in China.

            “King” Stefan thus releases an awful and dark power, and we know it will not end well for him.  But we also suspect that power will injure those who are innocent in the matter, as well—that is, after all, the nature of darkness.  And thus it is that Maleficent arrives for baby Aurora’s christening (Stefan has married the dead king’s daughter to cement his claim on the throne).

            Maleficent has chosen the perfect curse, one that only Stefan will fully understand.  On her 16th birthday, Aurora will fall into a sleep from which she cannot awake.  Stefan begs the curse to be lifted—one eye on what the other men of the court think of him for so doing--and Maleficent obliges by adding that Aurora can indeed wake from the eternal sleep.  She must but receive a true love’s kiss.  Exquisitely, this gives everyone else in the hall hope—except for Stefan, who knows in his heart that there is no such thing. 

            Maleficent has cursed his daughter to live precisely the life that she (Maleficent) has lived because of Stefan’s perfidy.

            Wow.  There is something very, very deep there.  In my research on the situation of women worldwide, over and over again I see a generation of deeply wounded women seeking to inflict those same wounds on a younger generation of women.  In many societies, it is the mothers-in-law, unloved by their own husbands who treat them as chattel (or footballs), who ensure that their sons do not love their wives, but despise them instead.  In other societies, it is the mothers themselves who, having resigned themselves to a life without love, teach their daughters by their example to settle for the same.  Many times it is the older generation of matrons who ensure the next generation of women will never reach their potential, and who, in a way, become the unwitting minions of the Stefans of the world who have hurt them so.

            This is something we women need to talk about, but don’t.  We need to talk about our collusion in perpetuating the evils that the Stefans of the world have wrought.  We need to talk about how we ourselves curse our own daughters and more broadly, the daughters of our people.

            And in so doing, we may take a page from Maleficent.  For, you see, something extraordinary happens in the 16 years it takes for the curse to come to fruition.  Stefan sends his infant daughter away to be raised by incompetent pixies, who utterly neglect her. [2] To keep her alive—so the curse will occur at the appropriate age, mind you—Maleficent ends up having to surreptitiously feed and care for the child, saving her life several times, sending amusements her way, watching her always from the shadows. The child grows up bonny and good, and her constant wish becomes to try and pass the fence of thorns that guard the way to The Moors.

            Caring for Aurora has subtly changed Maleficent.  She allows Aurora to enter The Moors one day, though she herself remains hidden in the shadows.  But the girl senses she is there, and beckons Maleficent to reveal herself, pronouncing, “I know who you are.  You’re my fairy godmother.  You’ve been watching over me my whole life—your shadow is always with me.”  And, of course, this is completely true. Aurora cannot help but love Maleficent, and Maleficent discovers she cannot help but love Aurora, seeing in her all that Maleficent herself once was—innocent and good and kind.  One night, after tucking Aurora into bed, Maleficent attempts, unsuccessfully, to revoke the curse she placed on Aurora.  We begin to intuit that Maleficent is being healed, no longer merely “acted upon” by the evil Stefan did to her, no longer willing to pass down the curse wherewith she herself was cursed. (2 Ne 2:26).

            She is even able to answer, in her own way, Aurora’s question about the fate of her wings. While Maleficent does not explain that Aurora’s father perpetrated this great crime against her, she is able to bring herself to talk of her wings, saying, “My wings were strong, they never faltered, I could trust them.”  Before she was broken by Stefan, Maleficent could trust in her wholeness, could trust who she was, could trust what she did to be right.  The loss of these things at the hand of her “lover” was truly incalculable.  Aurora is moved, and announces, on the eve of her 16th birthday, that she wishes to live with Maleficent so that they can care for one another.  Maleficent agrees, and Aurora returns to the pixies to announce her intentions.

            After meeting a cute and polite prince on the way (yes, Prince Philip), the inevitable happens.  The pixies tell Aurora about her curse, and Aurora confronts Maleficent: “Are you Maleficent?  Don’t touch me!  You are the evil that is in the world.” Aurora flees to the castle, where she runs and hugs her father--who does not return her embrace, but has her immediately locked up instead.  King Stefan’s mind, warped by paranoia and fear, has been preparing for years for a final showdown with Maleficent.  He has created a thorned fence of iron within the castle so that he can revenge himself when she finally arrives, as he imagines, to gloat over him.  Aurora, of course, is but a prop--another football.

            Desperate to save Aurora from the curse, Maleficent and her servant ride to the castle, towing an unconscious Prince Philip to provide what they hope will be true love’s kiss to save her.  When Aurora pricks her finger on the spindle at last, Stefan is unaware this has occurred, but Maleficent reacts as if struck in the heart.  She feels what has happened to her beloved Aurora. Braving the iron thorns, Maleficent and her entourage engineer Philip’s kissing of the sleeping beauty.  (To his credit, the prince doesn’t want to kiss her because even though he likes her, he barely knows her.  There’s hope for Philip!)

            But Philip’s kiss does not awaken Aurora.

            Maleficent takes this as a sign that Stefan was right—that there is no such thing as true love’s kiss for there is no such thing as true love.  She approaches the sleeping Aurora, and then speaks a monologue that will have every mother’s eyes leaking: “I will not ask your forgiveness—what I’ve done is unforgivable. I was lost in hatred and revenge. You stole what’s left of my heart, and now I’ve lost you forever. I swear that as long as I live, no harm will come to you, and not a day will pass that I won’t miss your sweet smile.” And Maleficent kisses Aurora’s brow.

            You will guess what happens next, and you will feel in your heart how much truer this retelling of the old fairy tale is.  Yes, Aurora awakens!  For, as Maleficent’s servant puts is, there is “no truer love” than that of a healed mother for her daughter.

            But there is one last trial—Stefan corners Maleficent within the castle, and begins to beat her with an iron chain in order to destroy her forever.  (Noteworthy is that before striking what he believes will be the final blow, he pumps his fists towards the sky while facing his men, clearly to gain their approbation—remember, the woman is only the football.  The real audience is always other men.)

            As he comes in for the kill, Stefan sneers at Maleficent, “How does it feel to be a fairy creature without wings in a world where you don’t belong?”  What I take this to mean is, “How does it feel to be a being of light from whom I have stripped your light and your power, and whom I have forced to live in the loveless world I have created for you?”  Translated thus, the question is like a punch to the gut.  Every abused woman knows that question in its infinite variety of formulations.

            But Stefan has forgotten his daughter. His daughter chooses to be true to her mother, not her father.  Aurora finds that Stefan has kept Maleficent’s wings in a locked display case, and she liberates them so that they can fly to Maleficent and become part of her once more.  The daughter, freed from her curse by the very mother who originally cursed her, is able to give her mother back the wholeness she lost at the hands of a man who loved and made a lie. True love from her mother is recompensed with true love by the daughter.  They lift the curse from each other.  And the icing on the cake is the film’s indication that Stefan realizes it is Aurora who has given Maleficent back her wings—something he could never in his wildest dreams have anticipated.   His two “footballs” have defeated him, and they have also proven that true love does indeed exist, though it will never exist for him.

            After Stefan’s death, Maleficent relinquishes her dark crown and crowns her daughter with a bright one.  The Moors become as they once were when Maleficent was a child, a place of light and happiness. Supposedly the two kingdoms are united under Aurora [3], and Philip even shows up for her Moor-land coronation, suggesting that there are in fact at least a few men in the world that might be trusted.  Maleficent’s beautiful brown wings take her soaring once more. [4]

            This is such a profoundly important tale to contemplate.  It suggests that in order to counter the darkness created by men who treat women like footballs, the hearts of the mothers must turn to their daughters, and the hearts of the daughters to their mothers.  The mothers must want something better for their daughters than they themselves experienced and must be willing to lift the curse that will otherwise fall on their daughters.  By freeing their daughters, the mothers will regain their own lost wholeness and their own lost power.  Only the intergenerational solidarity of women can overcome the darkness that would harm and maim women, stripping them of their light.  We as women can no longer function, in essence, as tools who perpetuate the curse on a new generation, spreading the darkness as if we were its faithful minions.

            There are many examples of women in the past and in the present who have stood up and fought the darkness for the sake of their daughters.  In Imperial China, there were mothers who refused to bind the feet of their daughters, even if that meant social opprobrium. In India today, there are women who resist familial pressure to abort girl fetuses. There are women in our own country who have bravely left abusive husbands or boyfriends because they did not want their daughters to think such abuse was normal.  There are other women in our culture who refuse to diet or talk badly about their bodies in front of their daughters, so that their daughters do not develop an unhealthy obsession with body image.  There are others, in partnership with their husbands, who ensure their sons become “men that women can trust.”

            Women, what stops with us so that our daughters are not cursed?  This is a critical question to ask, especially in the Kingdom of God on earth.  Zion will not be realized until the hearts of the mothers turn to their daughters, and the hearts of the daughters to their mothers.  Let us say, with Maleficent the Magnificent, “I revoke the curse! Let it be no more!”  Let the healing begin with us.


[1] First sentence of the quotation from Elder Christofferson: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2006/10/let-us-be-men?lang=eng ; second sentence of the quotation from Elder Christofferson: https://www.lds.org/ensign/2012/11/brethren-we-have-work-to-do . [Back to manuscript].

[2] The script is marred by its omission of what happens to Aurora’s mother, who appears to die from grief, bereft of her child and unloved by her husband who does not even come to her deathbed. [Back to manuscript].

[3] I find this quite doubtful, given all we have been shown about the kingdom of men in the movie. [Back to manuscript].

[4] The re-made Disney Sleeping Beauty theme that runs over the credits signals us it was originally sung by Maleficent about Stefan, not Aurora about Philip. It is appropriately and unforgettably styled to remind us of Stefan’s creepiness and darkness. [Back to manuscript].


Full Citation for this Article: Hudson, Valerie M. (2014) "Maleficent the Magnificent: A Film Review," SquareTwo, Vol. 7 No. 2 (Summer 2014), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleHudsonMaleficent.html, accessed <give access date>.

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COMMENTS: 1 Comment

I. Ashley Custer

My mother and I happened to watch Maleficent together and also very much enjoyed it. This review added a great deal of depth to the subject matter and when I immediately showed it to my mother, we had a wonderful discussion on the topic. We too were floored by the football comment, but instantly understood both it's truth and sad import. However, what struck us as much, if not more, was the concept of women continuing the cycles of pain to new generations. I had seen this before in my studies, but I had never known how it affected my own mother's childhood. She told me of growing up in Quebec and how my grandmother would rail against the constricted roles of women, yet would force my mother to help clean the house with her on Saturday mornings while her brothers went out to play. She also recalled getting lectured at 16 about not getting herself pregnant and bringing a baby into the house while her brothers could "sow their wild oats" without discussion. In recognizing this disconnect, my mother decided not to continue the cycle with her own children (thank goodness!). What a wonderful gift to her entire family.