January 29, 2011

Maleficent ranks beyond the first degree of animated villainy. 

For those who may not know, Maleficent is the fearsome antagonist in Sleeping Beauty, the 1959 animated adaptation of Charles Perrault’s fairy tale. It was Walt Disney’s last fairy tale adaptation before his death. Surely he died in peace, for Sleeping Beauty turned out very succulently on the big screen.

Had it not been for Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty would just have been a generic copy of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Maleficent was a casting coup on many fronts. Animator Marc Davis made the best call, developing Maleficent as a visually arresting villainess rather than the hunched hag of tradition. See Maleficent in her formative stages of development:

Maleficent was voiced by Eleanor Audley, the same talent behind Lady Tremaine of Cinderella. Half the fun of watching Maleficent lies in the speeches she gives. With Audley’s icy pipes, Maleficent sounds ready to breathe ice (or fire, for that matter) on your bones. Remarkably, she has more speaking parts than Prince Philip and Princess Aurora combined. Result: Maleficent provides the exemplary stopper to love and goodness.

She is, in no uncertain terms, pure evil. Villains, whether male or female, on TV or film, all have motives to go with their deeds. But this “creature,” as King Stefan put it, has nothing. She sends frosts just to ruin flowers. She yearns to raise “all the powers of hell” over an infant, all because the parents did not give her a party invite. Her out-and-out nefariousness and hate for everything good serve as her only rationale.

She is Disney animated horror at its finest, a fact emphasized by the Ultimate Disney Villain Countdown in 2004. One commenter in this list said it best:

She goes on a rampage because she wasn't invited to a party, just think of what she'd do if someone bad-mouthed her and she found out about it. The world would probably come to an end!

Maleficent has been called by turns a witch, fairy and enchantress. Disney canon has yet to resolve this ambiguity, which should be dealt with in an upcoming live-action film about the villain. (This could be Disney’s answer to the forthcoming big-screen adaptation of the Broadway hit Wicked.) Angelina Jolie is on tap to play the maleficent—yes, there is a word for it—queen.

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