In most Disney movies, the protagonist is the hero, not the villain. In other words, we see movies through the eyes of the good guys.
In its 2014 release, “Maleficent,” starring Angela Jolie, we see the “Sleeping Beauty” plot through new eyes, specifically from the fairy/witch who cursed the infant Princess Aurora. In this work, the villain becomes the hero—or at least the lens—through which we view the story. This comes with great potential… and some problems.
Perhaps the strongest emphasis of “Maleficent” is true love. The movie distinguishes between this deep, abiding love that has, in this case, the power to save Sleepy Beauty, from an empty or superficial love.
Secondly, though I am no fan of Angelina Jolie, she plays her part to a “T,” and the other actors do well too. The special effects are well done, even if obviously computer-generated. Finally, for a story with a well-worn plot, this movie re-imagines it in new and memorable ways.
Some Christians cannot handle a movie or book that depicts sorcery or witchcraft. While the Bible does condemn witchcraft, there is a difference between make-believe magic and real magic (as I explain here). Be that as it may, parents must make sure their children understand the difference, so the movie would not entice someone to delve into the world of dark arts.
Parents who take their children to this will also need to explain the way romance and love really work, as there are some Hollywood-style of falling in love which could set some bad expectations for later in life.
The Bible emphasizes that we all have sinned and that no one is truly good (Romans 3). This lesson is sometimes lost in movies, where the heroes are good-as-gold good guys in white hats, and the villains wear black hats and are thoroughly bad. That does not happen here in “Maleficent.” Except for “Sleeping Beauty,” each of the characters have flaws, limitations and sins, which is true to life. We see Maleficent’s wickedness plainly when she issues her famous curse, but we learned what made this once fairly innocent child into a warped woman.
Thus we see that for every sin and sinner, there is a tempter beckoning us to sin (Gen. 3). At the same time, we have the moral responsibility to avoid the bad and do the good. I fear in movies like this and similar works like “Wicked,” we end up making the bad guys too sympathetic of characters and thus exonerating them from guilt. Sometimes it was “their bad childhood” that make them evil. Other times, a bad ex-boyfriend turned them into a rotten person. Still other times, it was the devil who made them do it, thereby freeing them from moral responsibility.
Meanwhile, in a Christian worldview, we know that we each are responsible and accountable for our actions. Yes, each of us is born into sin, but we actualize it through our own actions. In the case of Maleficent, she does evil herself after previously being wronged. Without spoiling the plot, she does take redeeming actions that help to make things right. In Christianity, however, we do not redeem ourselves in a theological sense. Only God through Jesus Christ can restore us and make us righteous.
So, viewers, especially children, would not necessarily walk away from this movie with a helpful way of looking at the world—a right worldview—but there would be some great spiritual and religious conversations to be had.
Not since Darth Vader can I recall a villain whom people will walk away liking as much. I had no plans to see this movie, but after recommendations from a few people I trust to go see it, we did. It is not a movie I plan to see again or buy, but it gave me plenty to think about and talk about. I will end with a note of caution to parents to make sure your child is old enough to deal with the issues at hand. Just because it is a Disney movie and rated PG does not mean it is safe for the whole family anymore.
Photo credit: Disney