Every success deserves a follow-up, and Maleficent was certainly a success in every sense of the word. From its massive box-office haul to the new take on the story itself, Maleficent played to win, and it did. While Maleficent: Mistress of Evil did not come close to the same amount of returns that its predecessor did, that was not for a lack of trying. Only six of the cast from the previous film returned for this sequel, despite seven of its characters continuing their stories. This is because Harris Dickinson took over for Brenton Thwaites – busy with his lead role as Dick Grayson in Titans – though Prince Phillip certainly came with a different flavor profile in this film than the last. As it stands, this is the first adaptation of a Disney film to receive a sequel since 102 Dalmatians was released in 2000 (the Alice films are designated as follow-ups to their stories rather than straight adaptations of Alice in Wonderland). With Aladdin 2 (title to change, most likely) and The Lion King follow-up, this won’t hold true for long.
Angelina Jolie returns as the title character, vindicated in the eyes of the only person who truly matters to her, Princess (now Queen) Aurora, once more played by Elle Fanning. In the years since their victory, Aurora has taken to ruling over the Moors rather than the human kingdom her father left her after his… fall. Throughout the last five years, peace has settled on the land, though there is little to no information about the human kingdom Aurora was born to. The true meat of the story is the evolving relationship between Aurora and Maleficent, as the former takes the next steps in her relationship with Phillip, who has just proposed to the love of his life. While most of the moors (including Knotgrass, Thistlewit, and Flittle, once more played by Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Lesley Manville) and Diaval (Sam Riley’s second stint as the raven turned into a man). Maleficent, however, still harbors ill will towards humanity, and her lack of trust makes things difficult as Aurora strives to bridge the gap between her two worlds.
When Aurora and Maleficent are invited to the home of Phillip’s family, things begin to take a dark, painful path. Michelle Pfeiffer is Queen Ingrith, Phillip’s mother, and a power-hungry woman who despises the people of the Moors. This plays an interesting twist on Sleeping Beauty as, when played back to back, both films act as a more carefully penned adaptation of the original story rather than Disney’s famous film. In the fairy tale, the true story begins after the Prince has roused Sleeping Beauty and brings her back home, where his mother (described more like an ogre, but not necessarily as one) is the true villain – a cannibal, at that. The film makes no effort to hide the fact that Ingrith is its true villain, but that is because there is still more depth to the story than even this conflict between humanity and the people of the Moors.
Chiwetel Ejiofor and Ed Skrein play Conall and Borra, respectively, two Dark Fey, which is the species that Maleficent is actually a part of, rather than the small, fantastical fairies that populate the Moors. This is an incredible change that is used to center the story further on Maleficent and how she is not like either group that she finds herself involved with. Her true people, though, also see her in a different manner – some revere her, and others fear her. Even among the Dark Fey, her power is supreme. Only Aurora truly holds Maleficent to this world, and it is Aurora’s happiness that Maleficent seeks to achieve, even as she fights her own instincts.
King John, Phillip’s father, is played by Robert Lindsay, who is forced to sit out much of the film when he ends up cursed partway through the first act. The blame, put squarely on Maleficent, changes the trajectory of the story for the rest of the runtime.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil works to reframe the fairy tale, drawing off of its original source material – Sleeping Beauty – and the piece of work that the animated film drew its inspiration from, the namesake fairy tale. It builds off of the themes, details, and plot points that were planted in Maleficent. The feeling of ostracization, the sense of powerlessness, fractured faith in others, and what love truly is are not only focused on, they are expanded on throughout this sequel. Maleficent provides a prologue of sorts to what we considered the original tale, while Mistress of Evil reframes the entire story to excise that and portray Maleficent herself as a vile, vindictive creature that the people’s fears can be projected on. Even Aurora’s naïveté comes back to bite her, as her trust in Maleficent is tested and broken because of the original curse and Maleficent’s inability to tell her the truth – not to mention her having no way to break it before it could take full effect. When Maleficent is painted as the villain, even after five years, Aurora is quick to believe it.
While we, as viewers, can find this annoying and unbelievable – Maleficent’s love for Aurora saved her, remember! – in reality, it is believable. Trust takes years to build and seconds to break, and it can never truly be the same, no matter what steps a person takes to rebuild it. While Aurora is quickly shown to doubt the veracity of the situation, her initial skepticism is understandable. After all, the curse that Maleficent was known to have used on Aurora is the one used on King John. This allows Maleficent to break away from what she knows and seek out the unknown.
The Dark Fey plays an important part in the latter two-thirds of the film. An entire society, all but completely forgotten about by the Fey of the Moors and humanity, lives some distance away in an effort to not be hunted by either group. Even amongst themselves, there are differences, which are implied to have developed because of the varying ecosystems they originally thrived in. In their nest of origin, there are several ecosystems hidden beneath the ocean, all of which hint at the varying types of Dark Fey there are. One can only hope that, when Maleficent 3 finally comes together, we can get more information regarding the beautiful world that they actually inhabit.
What this film builds on from the first Maleficent is the relationships between the main characters and their companions – their friends, really. While several new supporting characters are introduced alongside new main characters to give them somebody to play off of, the relationships between the original characters are also given extreme focus. Rather than sweeping the consequences of Maleficent under the rug, they are discussed and addressed. Diaval and Maleficent’s relationship is given more depth, allowing the pair to truly grow into friends rather than as a servant and master. Diaval’s pledge in the first film was to faithfully serve Maleficent, but he has never been afraid to question her tactics or choices, something that helps to keep her grounded.
Prince Phillip is not off gallantly on his own this time – David Gyasi plays Percival, the captain of the guard, who also attempts to act as a voice of reason to the Prince. Phillip, having spent years getting to know the people of the Moors due to his love for Aurora, is quick to chasten Percival for his callous remarks about them. This attitude is not unique amongst the people of Ulstead, and it is almost entirely centered on how the Queen has worked to ensure it. For Ingrith, she has Gerda (whose name is not mentioned in the film – she is played by Jenn Murray), she is the loyal aide and gleefully participates in all of Ingrith’s horrid plans. These two characters, Percival and Gerda, act as mirrors of who Phillip and Ingrith are, with the former’s appreciation of the Moors growing more accepting while Gerda’s grows crueler.
The relationship between Maleficent and Aurora is contrasted greatly by the relationship between Ingrith and Aurora, with the latter eagerly attempting to usurp Maleficent’s position as Aurora’s mother figure. Aurora’s rejection of Maleficent is critical to Ingrith’s plans, the broad strokes of which are explained. Aurora truly wants both sides to get along because her love for Maleficent is no less than her love for Phillip – it is simply a different kind of love. This is the true strength of the Maleficent franchise. It is not afraid to carefully explore love as a concept beyond the classic romance of fairy tales, much like Frozen had done with Anna and Elsa, as their sisterly bond was paramount to all others.
Still, the love story between Aurora and Phillip does not take a backseat in this film – with Phillip having a much larger role than in the first film. How Phillip feels about Aurora is never in doubt, and while he is somewhat wary about Maleficent, he trusts Aurora – and she trusts Maleficent. This makes toying with their relationship imperative to Ingrith’s plan. When the pair are united in mind and heart, they are unstoppable together. By giving Phillip more to do in this film, he comes closer in line with his original, adapted role in Sleeping Beauty, where he was the first Disney Prince to have a name, a character, and a role. He is not simply Aurora’s love interest but a three-dimensional character with opinions and goals. Here’s hoping that in Maleficent 3, this growth continues for the better.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is a beautiful follow-up to a new version of the tale of Sleeping Beauty, and it takes both of Disney’s versions of the story into account. Maleficent is portrayed as the true story, while Sleeping Beauty is the twisted tale concocted to demonize the Moors and all who live there, Maleficent chief among them.
One element I am ecstatic that they included was the war over Aurora’s dress – Pink, Green, or Blue!