While writing up that solid Mulan teaser, I cut a whole tangent about Maleficent: Mistress of Evil and its place in the live-action remake canon. But now we have a brand new Maleficent trailer to judge and it is exactly what my tangent-rant was about, so now let’s talk about Maleficent and its place in the live-action remake canon. Maleficent came out in 2014, the second of the current crop of live-action remakes, sandwiched in between Alice in Wonderland—the movie that kicked off this trend—and Cinderella. The early wave of live-action remakes are fairly revisionist, empowering their heroines in ways the cartoons largely did not. Maleficent took the biggest swing of the first-gen remakes, reimagining Sleeping Beauty from the villain’s point of view, but wait, she’s not actually a villain, she’s a misunderstood (and abused) heroine in her own right. Maleficent did well, raking in $758 million. But then came mostly-faithful Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast, which made almost and over a billion dollars, respectively. There also came, in 2016, Pete’s Dragon, far and away the best of the remakes, but also the least faithful adaptation. It flopped.

Five years after debuting, Maleficent is back with a sequel, one engineered from the lessons Disney learned in the interim, which is primarily: Invention doesn’t pay. I like the first trailer for Maleficent 2—it’s Angelina Jolie and Michelle Pfeiffer having an evil-queen-off, what’s not to like? Angelina is SO GOOD as Maleficent, she rises above mass market mediocrity. But I had a sense, after that first look, that Maleficent 2 was somewhat putting the genie back in the bottle and pushing Maleficent back into her villainous role. I thought maybe, given the greater success of more faithful adaptations, Disney would want a Maleficent more recognizable from the cartoon. This new trailer confirms it. Maleficent is a baddie again.

It still doesn’t look like a total recreation of Sleeping Beauty, but Maleficent 2 is clearly pushing Maleficent back into being an antagonist. Michelle Pfeiffer even has a line in the trailer to this effect: “You have done an honorable job, going against your own nature…” You can almost hear the Disney execs saying, Your little idea for a feminist fairytale did okay, but now it’s time to go back where you belong and make us some REAL money. I don’t think it will be as straightforward as all that, because Michelle Pfeiffer is emitting STRONG evil queen vibes, but we’re clearly in for a conflict that pits Maleficent against Aurora, as it is in the fairytale. And that line about “love doesn’t always end well”, how much do you want to bet that, in the end, it’s the love between Maleficent and Aurora that breaks?

Maleficent set up a world that could take big leaps and look back somewhat critically on the passive heroine of the classic cartoon. Maleficent 2 looks a little more…under control. Angelina and Michelle Pfeiffer are always EXTREMELY WATCHABLE (so, frankly, is Elle Fanning), so I’m sure there will be a lot to enjoy in this movie. I’m just interested to see how Disney’s obvious preference for fidelity in material plays out in one of their more creative remakes.


Attached - Angelina Jolie out in LA on the weekend with her kids and friends.