There have been countless incarnations of Sleeping Beauty since Charles Perrault first penned the tale in 1697, but throughout all the many adaptations, one element always remained: The beautiful princess is awakened from her eternal slumber by the true love of a brave prince. Until now.
Walt Disney’s Maleficent, written by Linda Woolverton, marks the first time in over 300 years when the kiss of “true love” is not romantic or sexual, but rather emotional and maternal. It’s a significant departure that Aurora (Elle Fanning) is awakened not by a kiss from Prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaites), but instead by a kiss from the villainous Maleficent (Angelina Jolie).
That twist comes to pass after Maleficent grows to love her former enemy over the course of 16 years, and wishes to break the curse she previously enacted. So she engineers Phillip’s kiss in an attempt to awaken Aurora — but when that fails to rouse the sleeping princess, Maleficent lays an apologetic kiss on Aurora’s forehead, interrupting her sleep.
That modernization is exactly what attracted Jolie to the wicked role. “Linda wrote this beautiful story and when I read it, I was so moved,” Jolie told BuzzFeed, while sitting tucked into the corner of a suite at The Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills last week. “It’s all about the very question of what love is. And even if you don’t have children, you still have parents, so you know that this kind of love is the truest form.”
She continued, “And what also works is that true love’s kiss came from the person who really didn’t believe she was capable of any kind of goodness or love — that she would in any way be loved or have love is something she’d long ago dismissed from her life. So the thing is not only that she does express it, but it’s the shock for her, which I think is so beautiful.”
While purists may balk at such a fundamental change to the classic story — which is clearly designed to further humanize the previously evil main character — Jolie believes the thematic shift actually sends a message of modernity that more kids’ movies should espouse.
“We wanted to tell a story about the strength of women and the things they feel between one another,” Jolie said. “Our movie has all this strength and all this feminism, but, what I think is so nice is that, sometimes, in order to do that you have to make the man an idiot. Instead, we have this very elegant, wonderfully handsome, prince who, in the end, is great. He doesn’t need to be less than to make us more than. We don’t have to simplify or cheapen the men, or to detract from one to make the other better. I think that’s a mistake that’s often made in movies.”
While the reimagining offers a decidedly feminist message, Jolie insists that Maleficent is actually designed to impart an important lesson to every person — regardless of gender — who has forgotten how to love themselves.
“We’ve all, at different times in life, felt different, marginalized, bullied, or abused — so we change,” she said. “We become harder, we become meaner, we make horrible choices, and can, like Maleficent, take it out on someone innocent. But then we can also identify with being in that dark space but finding the things in life that remind us that we still have a humanity. This movie is about the things that can bring us back and open us up again after feeling so dark and so lost and so angry. That, to me, is the most beautiful thing about it.”