Of the various Disney live-action adaptations, few have really struck a chord beyond the “I remember that thing!” moments that occasionally occur. There’s some debate as to whether this is a result of the adaptations not bringing anything new other than technical updates (2019’s The Lion King), misleads on the marketing (2019’s Dumbo), or changes that seem antithetical to the original story (2019’s Aladdin). The answer is mostly conjecture as there’s not a single thing that’s shared among the films other than their animated origins. Each features an outstanding cast and is directed by a talented director. There is, however, something missing, something which keeps them from going beyond the intertextuality that brings audiences to the theaters in the first place. Of the films Disney’s released, only one seems to have that unquantifiable thing which begs a return: 2014’s Maleficent. Starring Oscar-winner Angelina Jolie as the titular villain and Elle Fanning (Galveston) as the cursed princess Aurora, Maleficent took the story inspired by Charles Perrault’s La Belle Au Bois Dormant and ingeniously twisted the perspective to instill personal stakes and believable motives. More than that, Maleficent felt like a fresh take on a story most audiences know. With the foundation laid, 2019 saw the release of a sequel, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, with the principles returning and a whole new trouble brewing underneath the supposed peace earned at the end of the first film. Now available on home video, audiences can join Maleficent, Aurora, and their friends on a new adventure that threatens not just peace, but their very lives.
In the five years since the end of Maleficent, Aurora’s served as Queen of the Moor and Maleficent as both the Moor’s guardian and Aurora’s godmother. Upon Prince Philip’s (Harris Dickinson) proposal, the bond between the two women is tested in ways they couldn’t begin to expect. It’s not just Maleficent’s continued distrust of humanity, it’s that there’s something about Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) that’s purposefully antagonistic. With the peace between the Moor and the humans of the realm already uneasy, a surprise provocation sends the two border countries into a conflict that threatens the lives of everyone involved, and threatens to dissolve the close bond forged through a lifetime of care and love.
If you’ve seen the film, then it’s likely your first stop is going to be the bonus features. There’s not much in the way of depth, but the tidbits each one offers do explore or add color to the film in a reasonable way. “Origins of the Fey,” for instance, explains how Mistress of Evil offered an opportunity to explore Maleficent’s background and how they articulated each difference of the varying types of Dark Fey. One truly interesting tidbit comes from Jolie in this particular featurette where she comments that she doesn’t think Maleficent or her people are actually called Fey, rather that’s what the humans call them. Intentional or not, it adds another level to the imperialistic aspects Mistress of Evil explores via the narrative. “Auroa’s Wedding” is an opportunity to hear Fanning and members of the crew discuss Aurora’s dress and the sequence in which she wears it. Between these two featurettes, it’s abundantly clear that the cast had a great time filming the movies. If you’re more technically inclined, the two featurettes “If You Had Wings” and “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil VFX Reel” are for you. In the first, audiences are taken through the process of creating the simulation of flying from the equipment the actors use to the thoughtfulness in the design of the various flying creatures. In the second, audiences are shown the differences between scenes with and without the CG elements with an almost side-by-side comparison. Being able to see just how much the crew built, as well as the extent to which the cast had something physical to react to, is an impressive marvel to behold, especially considering how many of the sets looked completely built versus digitally fabricated. The typical blooper reel is good fun, once more highlighting the rapport of the cast, it serves as the proper end of the quality bits of bonus features. The two extended scenes demonstrate exactly why they were cut down for time and the music video isn’t going to entice anyone who isn’t already a fan of the song. One major thing to note is that the only place to view the featurette focused on Warwick Davis’s (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) Lickspittle is on the digital edition of the film. It’s an interesting short that fills in many blanks that Mistress of Evil doesn’t possess the time to dig into.
As for the film itself, Mistress of Evil pulls few punches in its exploration of imperialist expansion, depiction of indigenous slaughter, and, oh yeah right, the telling of a fairytale mixed in. It’s quite surprising that director Joachim Rønning’s film earned a PG-rating from the MPAA given the repeated murders and violent themes present. It’s surprising and something to applaud. While Mistress of Evil builds off of the world established in the first film, it takes the human-vs-magical-creature plot and widens it to global proportions. Disney does have a history with exploring dark subject matter in their children’s fare, an aspect most forget given the largely family friendly nature of the Mouse House’s reputation. It’s shown in aspects of The Black Cauldron, Old Yeller, and even as recently as Toy Story 3 (whoa, that climax). But in the modern age, Disney rarely flirts with something as culturally relevant as the destruction of cultural sites of the enemy combatants, of an absolute view of “otherism,” of the dangers of rumors over truth, and of a wedding day that makes Game of Thrones’s Red Wedding look like a child’s party. What’s great about this (if calling it “great” can be forgiven), is that writers Linda Woolverton (Maleficent), Micah Fitzerman-Blue (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood), and Noah Harpster (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood) utilize the general safety of fairytales to create a barrier of illusion so that younger audiences don’t catch on to the incredible violence within the story. However, it’s not so hidden within the dialogue and actions of the characters as to possess the potential to instigate conversations about how good and evil can escape the binary, allowing for a meaningful conversation between adults and kids.
So come to watch Angelina Jolie delight in chewing the scenery as one of Disney’s greatest heroes, doomed to become a villain out of another’s hatred. Come for the beautifully designed practical effects and be startled by the intrusive 3D effects. Come for the fascinating development of the characters you know, even though it means rushing through many of the new ones to the detriment of the overall emotional investment from the audiences. (By the way, kudos to Disney for creating the second non-toxic male supporting character in Prince Phillip. Kristoff would be proud.) Come for the wondrous spectacle and leave wondering if everything you’ve been told about the villains in your life has always been a matter of perspective. While you think on that, perhaps Disney can wrangle up another story so that we can find out what happens next for Maleficent and Aurora.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil Home Release Bonus Features:
4K UHD and Blu-ray Special Features:
- Extended Scenes
- VFX Reel
- Aurora’s Wedding
- If You Had Wings
- Origins of the Fey
Available on digital beginning December 31st, 2019.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD January 14th, 2020.
Final Film Score: 4 out of 5.