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Villain Vignettes #11: Maleficent

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“Now, shall you deal with ME, O Prince – and all the powers of HELL!”

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Very few movie villains have the capacity to literally send a chill down your spine. Even fewer have a presence so threatening, so evil, that you truly feel a sense of fear. And in the history of animation, only one rightfully deserves the title “Mistress of All Evil”. Yes, today’s Villain Vignette features the one and only, Maleficent.

Maleficent is the antagonist of the 1959 Disney classic Sleeping Beauty. Her primary peeve is simple: she was not invited to the christening of the princess Aurora. So does she gracefully accept that she wasn’t wanted? Not at all. Blinded by revenge, Maleficent places an irrevocable curse on the newborn child: a curse that only true love’s kiss can break. It takes a certain kind of heartlessness to curse an infant, something Maleficent truly embodies.

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First, the name. What exactly does the word “Maleficent” mean? The dictionary definition is “something very close to malevolent or diabolical and is a lot stronger than naughty or mischievous”. You got that right.

Maleficent’s design is iconic and awe-inspiring. Her dress consists of two different shades: black, symbolizing darkness and evil, and purple, symbolizing royalty. From her green-tinged skin and blood red lips to her chiseled face and devilish horns, Maleficent’s design strays from most Disney villains, in that we truly respect her and fearfully anticipate her next move. Maleficent isn’t a witch, nor a queen. She is an enchantress. A sorceress. Her power is awe-inspiring, her laughter gives us goosebumps and every strike of her staff makes us quiver with fear. Design-wise, Maleficent is actually rather elegant and queenly. Credit to animator Marc Davis for not giving her a traditional “old hag” or “evil queen” look. That’s what makes Maleficent respected. How can someone so regal-looking be so plain evil? Not to mention the excellent vocal talents of Eleanor Audley, who brings Maleficent to life with a menacing and chilling performance.

Think about this for a minute. If not for Maleficent, would you still love Sleeping Beauty? The answer would probably be: not a chance. The movie would fall flat without her intimidating presence. If not for her, the stakes wouldn’t be so high. There wouldn’t be an epic battle with a dragon!

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We are never supposed to feel sorry or sympathetic for Maleficent as a character. We are meant to loathe her. And we have reason to do so, because she is just plain cruel. Putting a curse on a baby? Who does that?! That’s not all, Maleficent is relentless in her quest to make sure the curse is fulfilled. She arranges a search for the princess, then imprisons her true love. Then she herself lures Aurora to the spinning wheel, persistent until her death. It doesn’t stop there. She actively prevents anyone from ever reaching the princess, magically creating a wall of thorns to surround the castle, and then, summons “all the powers of hell” to turn herself into one of the coolest dragons in animation history.

We need to delve deeper into Maleficent’s story to know why she took the course of these actions. Of course, the recent live action movie attempts to do so, but purely from the perspective of the animated film, the reason why Maleficent is mad is because she was not invited, thus hurting her ego. This shows us that she is the kind of person who demands respect. And if it’s not given to her, she will punish everyone around her.

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And then there are Maleficent’s henchmen. Her pet raven, Diabolo is sinister and as evil as his mistress. Diabolo is ever ready to carry out Maleficent’s orders, and does his job much more efficiently than her, um, other cronies. Speaking of, how did such an elegant and graceful villain end up with a bunch of useless, bumbling creatures? How exactly Maleficent has the patience to put up with these guys who can’t do a thing right is beyond us.

Few other villains even come close to Maleficent’s level of wickedness and those that do, lack her style and execution. This is why, to me at least, she’s hands down, the greatest Disney villain of all time.

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Links

Sleeping Beauty Podcast Review
Sleeping Beauty Diamond Edition Blu-ray review

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  • Now this is the mother load of every villain that should and may be!!

  • Matthew Latham

    Disney Theory: If Maleficent is an enchantress, did she curse the prince in Beauty And The Beast? (P.S. She can change her appearance.)

    • Good theory, but why would she come randomly knocking on his door? That’s rather unlike her to do. Or did she want an invitation to the prince’s 11th birthday party? Hmmm…..

  • I’m probably the only person who never really liked Maleficent.

  • Eric Faulkner

    Spoiler Alert: She is a Main Boss in Kingdom Hearts.

  • Bob Smith

    I always loved the sound her staff makes when it hits the ground.