The Differences Between 'Maleficent' and 'Sleeping Beauty'

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Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent claims to be a deeper look at the story behind Disney’s Sleeping Beauty; showing a more sympathetic, nuanced version of the classic tale.

But finding complexity is one thing; inventing entirely new characters is another. While at some points Maleficent shows us new sides to the story, at others it takes us to a previously unimaginable Bizarro World version.

Where do the stories diverge, and where do they intersect?  We set out to map their two sometimes overlapping trails. Yes, that means the following contains spoilers, so please check back after you’ve seen Maleficent. (If you haven’t already seen Sleeping Beauty, which has only been out for 55 years, then you’re beyond help).   

In the beginning…

Sleeping Beauty: Is, from the film’s get go, a fairy tale, read straight out of a storybook.

Maleficent: Narrator Janet McTeer announces she is going to tell “an old story anew.”

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King Stefan has a baby.

Sleeping Beauty: He and his queen don’t waste any time and the princess appears right at the top. They name her Aurora.

Maleficent: He gets around to it eventually. But first he spends his callow youth toying with the heart of a woodland fairy named Angelina Jolie’s Cheekbones.

Does Maleficent fly?

Sleeping Beauty: Not that we recall. 

Maleficent: Like Superman—and the first third of the movie is her origin story.  

King Stefan drugs Maleficent, and hacks off her Dogma wings.

Sleeping Beauty:  Doubtful that anyone had the guts to pitch that particular take during Walt Disney’s lifetime.

Maleficent: There’s no family-friendly way to put it: In this iteration, Stefan (Sharlto Copley) is a bastard. And not that it matters, but he’s not even a blue blood; he’s a peasant who drugs and hacks his way to the throne.         

Maleficent puts a curse on King Stefan’s baby Aurora just because she didn’t get a proper invite to the christening. 

Sleeping Beauty: That’s all the motivation a lady needed in 1959.

Maleficent: Well, yes — that plus the king drugged her and hacked off her wings.

The newborn Aurora is whisked away from the kingdom, and raised in the woods by three fairies.

Sleeping Beauty: Technically, yes, this is what happens. 

Maleficent: Technically, yes, this is what happens.         

The fairies are incompetent twits.

Sleeping Beauty: This is implied, but Flora, Fauna and Merryweather are nonetheless celebrated as Aurora’s saviors, despite the fact that even after more than a decade of custodial work they still don’t know how to crack an egg. 

Maleficent: Their haplessness is expressly stated. One of the fairies is actually called Thistletwit (Juno Temple). The names of her peers aren’t much more flattering: Flittle (Imelda Staunton) and Knotgrass (Lesley Manville).           

Maleficent is an incompetent twit.

Sleeping Beauty: Kinda. Who else doesn’t regularly touch base with her team, and keep them focused on the mission, which is to find Aurora. 

Maleficent: Don’t make us laugh. Jolie’s Maleficent is as sharp as her cheekbones. She knows where that baby is before the kid needs her first diaper changed.

Maleficent is like a mother to Aurora.

Sleeping Beauty: Ha! There are no mothers in the classic Disney universe. Females are either: (a) underage; (b) of age and dead; or, (c) of age and evil.   

Maleficent: It’s better than that: The teen-aged Aurora (Elle Fanning) considers Maleficent her godmother. It’s nice to see the kid appreciate that while lurking in the shadows Mal made sure she didn’t starve to death under the “care” of the fairy twits.            

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Maleficent looks like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.

Sleeping Beauty: More like Tallulah Bankhead in a turban.    

Maleficent: Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding!  

Maleficent’s BFF is a bird.

Sleeping Beauty: Yes.    

Maleficent: Yes, except her bird is capable (under her power) of changing into a man (Sam Riley) so that Maleficent’s best barbs have a proper audience.

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Aurora is a generic Disney princess who is kind to all woodland creatures.

Sleeping Beauty: Not that there’s anything wrong with being kind to all woodland creatures, but there’s not much else going on — Aurora is (maybe) the fourth-most interesting character in a movie named for her.    

Maleficent: The “kind” part fits, but she’s too real and Earthy to be generic. She literally gets down in the mud, and experiences genuine emotional conflict when she learns the truth about her history.   

Maleficent tries to remove the curse off of Aurora.

Sleeping Beauty: Of course she doesn’t. Uncle Walt would’ve burned Sleeping Beauty’s castle to the ground before he allowed one of his villainesses to go good.     

Maleficent: Of course she does. Just as Brad Pitt doesn’t make 12 Years a Slave to play a slave owner, Jolie doesn’t make Maleficent to play a kid killer.   

Aurora pricks her finger on a spindle.

Sleeping Beauty: Yes.      

Maleficent: Yes. How else to fall into a sleeping death and trigger the final, third-act character transformation of Maleficent?     

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Prince Phillip saves the day.

Sleeping Beauty: Him and his dreamy lips.

Maleficent: If you mean the guy (Brenton Thwaites) who looks like Harry Styles, then, no, neither he nor his J-14 good looks save the day.      

Maleficent saves the day.

Sleeping Beauty: Not on Walt Disney’s watch. What next, Cruella De Vil joins PETA?

Maleficent: She does! After the One Direction kid is tossed out for failing to rouse Aurora, Maleficent offers a tearful, sorrowful maternal peck on the forehead to her slumbering goddaughter and, wouldn’t you know it, saves the day!

Maleficent turns into a dragon, and tries to kill Prince Phillip.

Sleeping Beauty: And how. A terrifyingly awesome moment — the stuff of kiddie nightmares since.       

Maleficent: No and no. She turns her BFF into the dragon (to rescue her from King Stefan’s army), and nobody tries to kill Harry Styles because nobody cares about Harry Styles.

King Stefan is overjoyed to learn that Aurora is alive.

Sleeping Beauty: Daddies are the best!       

Maleficent: He gives her a quick hug, and sends her to her room. What a jerk.              

Maleficent is killed dead because it’s what she deserves.  

Sleeping Beauty: Yes.       

Maleficent: If by Maleficent you mean King Stefan, then, yes.                

Aurora praises Maleficent as both a hero and villain, and they all live happily ever after.   

Sleeping Beauty: Not…exactly…       

Maleficent: When it comes down to it, Maleficent is Catwoman, only better and without the showcase for Halle Berry’s and Benjamin Bratt’s basketball skills.