Is ‘Maleficent’ Too Scary For Kids?

Maleficent, opening today, tells the untold story of the memorable villain from Disney’s 1959 classic Sleeping Beauty. Like Wicked for preteens, the movie is a revisionist take on the popular fairy tale, revealing the events that shaped the villain we thought we knew, and suggesting that maybe she’s not so bad after all.


Opens: Friday, May 30 2014

Director: Robert Stromberg

Cast: Angelina Jolie, Elle FanningSharlto Copley

Rating: PG for sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images

Run time: 97 minutes

A young fairy girl, Maleficent lives a peaceful life in a forest kingdom called ‘The Moors’. When a human boy, Stefan, enters the Moors to steal a jewel, they strike up a friendship, and eventually, a romance. Years later, Maleficent has grown up to become Protector of the Moors, while Stefan’s ambition has him seeking the throne in the human kingdom. When an invading human army tries to capture the Moors, Maleficent and Stefan are briefly reunited, but he ruthlessly betrays her to serve his own desire to become king. Seeking revenge, Maleficent places the familiar spinning wheel curse we know from Sleeping Beauty on his newborn daughter, Aurora.

Throughout, Maleficent aims to subvert familiar fairy tale elements, suggesting that there’s more to these fairy godmothers, evil witches, handsome princes, and ‘true love’s kisses’ then what we’ve been told.

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What Parents Should Know About Maleficent

It’s a little surprising that Maleficent managed to slide by with a PG rating. It certainly pushes limits and seems to be on the cusp of earning a PG-13. It’s possible it received a PG only because the (many) acts of on-screen violence are generally bloodless.

Parents should know, however, that while they lack gore, some of these scenes are intense, with brutal acts of violence and death, both on-screen and implied. While there are scenes of idyllic forest life and attempts at comic relief from a trio of fairies channeling The Three Stooges, much of the film is quite grim.

At various times, characters are struck with weapons and chains, flung through the air, burned with hot metal, drugged (so that a body part can be forcibly removed) and killed by a fall from a great height. There are battle scenes which look straight out of Lord of the Rings, complete with magical tree monsters.

And of course, who could forget the scariest scene from the animated Sleeping Beauty? The battle featuring that scary black dragon gets the live action treatment here. It should go without saying that if your child was scared by that scene in the original film, then you may want to pass on bringing them to Maleficent.

While every child is different, Maleficent seems most appropriate for children at least 8-10 years old and up. Younger or more sensitive children may find some of the darker imagery frightening.

Older kids and teens however, will likely enjoy the 3D visuals, as well as the unexpected twist on a familiar story. It’s a good bet that Disney lovers and fans of the increasingly popular ‘fractured fairy tales’ genre will find a lot to like here as well, including Angelina Jolie’s take on the iconic Disney villain.

Educational Value:

While the film is not intended to be educational, it could certainly inspire discussion with students about fairy tale tropes as well as the differences between the animated Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent, and  The Brothers Grimm or Charles Perrault versions. 

Image © Disney

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