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Sleeping Beauty Fable Comes Full Circle with Maleficent

The character Maleficent was a Disney creation first introduced in their 1959 animated feature “Sleeping Beauty.” But the story of the princess who falls under a spell of eternal sleep has been told since the beginning of fairy-tale time.

The story of Sleeping Beauty evolved—under different titles—over approximately 400 years (1000 if we count some overlapping elements from Medieval times). The early written origins of the story can be traced from the French novel “Perceforest” (author unknown) written in 1527 to a tale by Italian storyteller Giambattista Basile (1636) called “Sun, Moon & Talia” from a collection entitled “The Tale of Tales,” which is generally accepted as the first collection of fairy tales ever printed.

In 1697, a version of the story,“The Beauty Asleep in the Woods,” was published by Charles Perrault in his book, “The Tales of Mother Goose.” The Brothers Grimm borrowed heavily from this version in writing their own 1812 story of a beautiful princess awakened from a spell-induced slumber, “Little Briar Rose.”

The origins of Maleficent as a female personification of evil are less clear. Basile’s story casts a Queen as the jealous, vengeful villainess but she was married to the King and not an independent outsider who inflicts a curse on the royal family. The villainess was changed to a wicked fairy by Perrault, whose version was closest to Disney’s.Perrault also introduced the element of a handsome Prince whose kiss could break the spell.

So it fell to 20th-century writers and animators and actress Eleanor Audley to invent Maleficent for Disney’s classic “Sleeping Beauty.” The film took 10 years to make and cost $6 million. It was the most expensive movie the studio had produced to that point in time.

Maleficent remains both the favorite and the most feared character in Disney’s gallery of infamy. Now she returns in a live-action version of the classic story directed by Robert Stromberg and starring Angelina Jolie.
“It was important to me as a director to retain enough of the elements of ‘Sleeping Beauty’so that people who are fans of the original won’t be disappointed when they see this,” explains Stromberg. “I felt it was important that people not only see this classic character realized in a new light but also see the genesis of some of those story elements that they remember from the original film.”

To blend the old and new into a finished screenplay, Disney hired writer Linda Woolverton. “In my time at Disney both as an executive and as a producer, Linda Woolverton is the most important writer Disney has had,” says producer Joe Roth. “Over the past 20 years she’s written ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘The Lion King’ in the animated area and ‘Alice in Wonderland’ in live action. More than any other writer, she has really kind of unlocked the notion of what a Disney film is.”

Woolverton began her process of discovering the secret life of Maleficent by watching Disney’s animated “Sleeping Beauty.” “After watching the movie, I came up with some ideas that revealed more about her character,” Woolverton explains. “I created a past for her that leads to the singular moment in which she curses the baby Aurora and then takes us past that moment from Maleficent’s point of view through the ending of the film. But it’s a reinvention; it’s not just a retelling of the same story.”

In addition to the challenge of reinventing a fairy tale that has been a staple of every childborn in the last 50 years, Woolverton had to honor both the iconic character that Disney created and the talented actress stepping into the role. “The character really is fantastic and once we had Angelina Jolie, my task was to seamlessly meld the two into one to recreate a classic, but wholly unique Maleficent,” concludes the writer.

Opening across the Philippines on May 28, 2014, “Maleficent” is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International through Columbia Pictures.
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