We all know the tale of Sleeping Beauty. A dark fairy cursed a princess to prick her finger upon the spindle of a spinning wheel and sleep forever. A prince battled against dark forces and a dragon to bestow true love’s kiss upon the princess and thus wake her. Then they lived happily ever after… Or so we’ve been led to believe.
Now, we know from the previous Maleficent movie, that wasn’t quite how it really went down. Maleficent did curse the princess. It was actually her own motherly love for the child that released the girl from her enchanted sleep, not the prince’s kiss.
But somehow, in the human Kingdom of Ulstead, that little detail has been deliberately omitted in the retelling of this now legendary story. No wonder most folks wrongly believe that Maleficent is the mistress of all evil. And frankly, with those huge horns, wings and scarily spikey cheek bones, who could blame them for their trepidation.
Well, it’s time for that to change. Philip and Aurora are going to be married. Philip’s kingdom of Ulstead and Aurora’s fairy kingdom of the Moors will be united. And Maleficent is coming for dinner, courtesy of a surprisingly magnanimous invitation from Philip’s mother, Queen Ingrith.
Maleficent, for her part, isn’t particularly thrilled about Aurora’s choice in husband. As she reminds her adopted daughter, “Love doesn’t always end well, beastie.” But Maleficent is grudgingly willing to make the effort. She practices niceties and even covers her horns with a shawl for the highly anticipated dinner with the King and Queen.
But relationships between in-laws can be prickly things. And so they are here, as everything that can go wrong quickly does.
In a blink, fragile affection morphs into open hostility, old prejudices erupt, and joyful talk of impending nuptials turns to grim talk of war between two kingdoms suddenly at deadly odds with each other once again.
The war that unexpectedly explodes between the humans and fairies is characterized as a tragedy born of fear, mistrust and prejudice. (As well as some outright evil, as we’ll see below). And as each side unleashes violence on the other, all of those tendencies get reinforced. That’s the backdrop for Maleficent: Mister of Evil’s main theme: the importance of love and peace, both of which are strongly emphasized throughout the story.
After all, Maleficent’s maternal love for Aurora is what saved the young woman from an eternal slumber in the first film. This love can be overprotective—Maleficent sarcastically wishes disease and calamity on Philip in the hopes that her daughter won’t marry him—but Aurora takes it good-naturedly. And in the end, Maleficent recognizes how much Philip loves Aurora and consents to walking her daughter down the aisle at their wedding.
In its turn, Aurora and Philip’s love for one another is what unites their kingdoms in peace. Philip’s father, King John, is especially proud of this feat since he has been trying to broker peace for years. Furthermore, Philip’s choice to let a dark fairy live (even when the fairy tries to kill him and his best friend) causes Maleficent to stop attacking soldiers (who are just following orders).
Aurora’s love for Maleficent also plays a huge role in convincing Malificent to choose peace instead of war. Maleficent also meets another key character who tells her that if she can love and raise a human as her own daughter and have that love reciprocated, then there is hope for peace.
As the story unfolds, various fairies make brave and sacrificial choices to save and rescue others from certain death. One especially poignant scene finds a fairy giving her life to ensure that her two closest friends are spared.
As in many Disney films, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil takes us to a magical realm populated by both humans and fairies (who are often described with the uncommon word fey in the film).
Maleficent, with her wings and horns, has an undeniably ominous presence. Human Queen Ingrith calls her a “witch.” Indeed, Maleficent can blast through walls and toss people around like sacks of flour with the green flames that flow from her body. She can also turn the shapeshifter, Diaval, into any creature she desires—such as a raven and a giant black bear. In one pivotal scene, a friend of hers is killed, sparking a deep rage in Maleficent. Her eyes, typically bright green, turn red as she uses her powers to wreak havoc upon Ulstead in retribution. It’s no wonder that Maleficent (as well as others) are sometimes called “dark fairies.”
Even though Maleficent does unleash her powers on some unfortunate human victims as war commences, she (and others) also use their magical abilities for good, turning thorns into flowers, for instance, as well as saving a group of human children by flying them to safety during a battle.
As a dark fairy dies, his elders kneel by his body and perform a pagan-feeling ceremony to absorb his body into the earth and produce a bed of flowers. “Tomb blooms” (glowing flowers with magical properties) grow from the graves of fey people in the Moors. Aurora and Philip’s wedding is set to be in a church. Their wedding is performed by a bishop. A christening is mentioned. Someone speaks the phrase, “The truth will set you free.”
[Spoiler Warning] After Maleficent is killed while saving Aurora, she turns to dust, and Aurora sheds several tears over her ashes. The powerful expression of spontaneous love in turn resurrects Maleficent, causing her to literally rise from the ashes as a phoenix. The dark fairies (who believe the phoenix is the mother of their people) bow to her reverently, essentially treating her as a goddess.
Philip and Aurora share several kisses, including a passionate one after she accepts his proposal. Queen Ingrith attempts to wake her husband with true love’s kiss. The morning after Aurora and Philip’s wedding, Maleficent leaves but says she’ll return for the christening and winks.
Many female fairies (including Maleficent) wear tight and/or cleavage-baring outfits. We also see some bare stomachs and backs of both male and female dark fairies.
At the very end of the film, a porcupine-like fairy kisses the cheek of a mushroom-type fairy, and it’s unclear from the film exactly what the gender of either creature actually is. Immediately preceding that scene, someone says, “We’re not defined by where we’re from, but by who we love.” Those two scenes, combined, could be interpreted seen as subtly affirming any kind of romantic relationship for those who want to connect the dots between them.
A pixie (who we later learn had his wings shorn off by the queen) creates a red powder that kills fairies on contact. He then tests it on a dandelion fairy, destroying the creature but keeping the dandelion. Soldiers trap a multitude of fairy creatures in a church and use the red powder to kill them (although like the dandelion, we simply see them revert to their plant forms). One fairy sacrifices herself by flying into the source of the powder, her reverted flower form blocking it.
When the dark fairies attack Ulstead, they use vines to grab, throw and trap soldiers. The soldiers use their iron weapons and bombs made of the red powder to fight back. Scores of fairies turn to ash upon contact with the powder. Although we don’t directly witness any soldiers’ deaths onscreen, they are implied since several humans are picked up by flying fairies and dropped from great distances. We see a woman lose her balance and tumble off the edge of a balcony (presumably to her death). A group of dark fairies are ambushed by soldiers in the Moors and one is shot by multiple iron bullets while saving another. One character gets impaled by a crossbow bolt at close range.
A fairy bites a man to prevent being kidnapped, causing the man to fall and drop a lantern painfully on his accomplice’s head. Two men are strung up with tree vines by a dark fairy. It is implied they are killed since we hear their screams offscreen. A man threatens hanging for any soldier who leaves their post. The queen wants Maleficent’s head. An injured fairy struggles to fly straight, bumping into walls and falling several times.
A woman uses a weapon to shoot an iron bullet at Maleficent, badly wounding her and causing her to crash into a river and then go over a waterfall. A woman is thrown off a tower and screams as she falls (she is rescued before she hits the ground). While flying as a raven, a shapeshifter suddenly turns back into a man and crashes, though his resulting injuries aren’t serious. A group of fairies accidentally crashes into a tree. Peasants arm themselves with pitchforks against Maleficent—those who aren’t screaming and fleeing her ominous presence, that is.
Fairies have been kidnapped and placed into jars so that the pixie employed by the queen can perform experiments on them and find a way to destroy them. Soldiers desecrate the graves of fairies by stealing the “tomb blooms” that grow from them. A fairy child seemingly falls from a cliff but finds her wings at the last moment.
At a family dinner, everyone drinks wine and a toast is given. During a particularly awkward moment, Philip requests more wine to help him get through it.
Aurora repeatedly compromises her values to match those of Ulstead and the queen. She consents to wearing the queen’s gaudy and extravagant wedding gown rather than the simple one made for her by the fairies. She asks Maleficent to cover her horns with a veil to make everyone feel more comfortable. These choices eventually lead a spurned Maleficent to (temporarily) disown her adopted daughter. It isn’t until Philip reminds Aurora that he fell in love with the girl from the forest that she realizes how badly she let Maleficent down by agreeing to all these changes.
[Spoiler Warning] The queen is highly prejudiced against fairies because she believes her brother was killed by them. When others talk of amity between humans and fey, she states icily, “Peace will not be our downfall.” She secretly manufactures weapons in the dungeons and hides the spinning wheel that Maleficent used to curse Aurora. It is revealed that she is the one who put the king to sleep and started the rumors about Maleficent being evil. And it is further revealed that she does not love her husband since true love’s kiss fails to wake him. She also cunningly engineers all of the major circumstances that lead to the brief-but-intense war between the fairies and the humans. It should also be noted that Maleficent eventually turns the queen into a goat … and there’s no hint in the film that she ever returns to her human form.
As was true in 2014’s Maleficent, love is this sequel’s saving grace. It stops Maleficent from reducing the kingdom of Ulstead to a smoking pile of rubble—even when the dark fairy feels she’d be completely justified in doing so. But in the end, the harmonious love between her and Aurora convinces Maleficent to stand down.
But this is no whimsically delightful fairy tale. This film’s happily ever after conclusion only arrives after scores of characters—fairy and human alike—have met nasty ends.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil echoes the darkness in Disney’s original Sleeping Beauty. We see characters betrayed by loved ones. We witness prejudice between different races. And even though there isn’t a drop of blood on screen, characters are still battered by bullets, pierced by crossbow bolts and reduced to ashes by bombs.
So despite its strong redemptive themes, this sequel’s intense-but-sanitized violence might still be too much for sensitive viewers.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.