7 Villainous Sins: Maleficent (1959)

Note: All quotes in this post are directly from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. The film citation is listed at the end of this post.

High in the Forbidden Mountains, dwelling in her sprawling, gloomy castle, Maleficent found out she wasn’t invited to a party. And this wasn’t just any party; this was the kingdom-wide festivities that King Stefan was throwing to celebrate his baby daughter. People from all stations and standings were invited, from subjects, to fellow royalty (King Hubert and Prince Phillip), to “the three good fairies” (Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather). King Stefan and his queen were shown much support, and on their way to the castle everyone sang, “Hail to the King. Hail to the Queen. Hail to the Princess Aurora.” Yet, it seemed as though Maleficent, her pet raven Diablo, and her goons, were the only ones not invited. She raged at this news. Why did this happen? That isn’t clear, but she makes her presence known at the event anyway, exclaiming, “Well, quite a glittering assemblage, King Stefan. Royalty, nobility, the gentry, and… How quaint. Even the rabble. I really felt quite distressed at not receiving an invitation.” When it is made clear that her lack of invitation was not a mistake, Maleficent sets off a dangerous domino effect, one that she presumes will make all the others in attendance at the festival pay. But when we set the 7 Deadly Sins into motion, we need to handle everything with the utmost care, because usually the only one who ends up paying is us. Maleficent certainly learned that one the hard way.

A feeling of rejection is often the source of many ill feelings, irrational actions, and instant reactions. Maleficent largely comes across as cool and collected, but under the surface, it’s clear that this feeling of not belonging is nagging at her enough to do something about it… and to continue doing something about it for sixteen years. King Stefan and the Queen refer to Maleficent as “your excellency,” showing us just how powerful she is. However, her very sensitive reception to rejection tells us that maybe she isn’t as secure in and fulfilled by her power as she seems, and perhaps that’s where her problem really begins.

Everyone else seems to know of Maleficent’s great power. The three good fairies affirm this. Flora lets the king and queen know that “Maleficent’s powers are far too great” for Merryweather’s gift to overcome her. Fauna says to Flora that Maleficent “always ruins your nicest flowers,” showing her aptitude for even petty actions. Fauna goes a step further into Maleficent’s psyche when talking to Merryweather: “Maleficent doesn’t know anything about love, or kindness, or the joy of helping others. You know, sometimes I don’t think she’s really very happy.” There it is, isn’t it? Maleficent isn’t happy to begin with, so when something exposes one of her sensitivities, it sends her into a frenzy, and that’s exactly what we see happen.

As opposed to the Evil Queen, Maleficent’s deadly sin trajectory starts with wrath which festers over sixteen years, exacerbated by sloth in having her goons handle her mission for her, leading to further obsession. When she finally gains success, she exudes pride with an inflated ego in assuming that she can’t be beat by the opposition. 1959’s Maleficent holds some of Disney’s most prized icon power when it comes to villains, and yet not even she is spared from the hits of the 7 Deadly Sins and their harrowing consequences.

Upon learning that she has not been included, it is clear that wrath has taken over Maleficent. She makes quick work of offering baby Aurora a “gift” that will avenge her rejection: “Listen well, all of you. The princess shall indeed grow in grace and beauty, beloved by all who know her. But, before the sun sets on her 16th birthday, she shall prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die.” She is so angered by the prospect of others not wanting her around that she is willing to curse a baby, and she commits to seeing this curse to fruition.

We see a literal confirmation of her wrath from the narrator when he describes that, “For everyone knew that as long as Maleficent’s domain, the Forbidden Mountains, thundered with her wrath and frustration, her evil prophecy had not yet been fulfilled.” As time goes on after the good fairies have successfully taken Aurora into hiding to evade Maleficent, her wrath only grows from that initial seed the rejection caused, and her goal becomes obsessive. She even admits to Diablo after Aurora is asleep and Phillip is captured that it was, “A most gratifying day. For the first time in years, I shall sleep well.” She has lost sleep for years in pure wrath over not being invited to a party. Her disproportionate reaction has now taken up sixteen years of her life, which could have been filled with a bounty of other things. Then again, that wouldn’t make her a very good villain, would it? Moving on isn’t very becoming for the villainous.

However, on the other side of the coin I want to point out that Maleficent’s home is literally called the “Forbidden Mountains.” Was she designated there because she, too, is considered forbidden, or are the mountains forbidden because she’s there? Who chose that name? It’s worth asking, especially since if it’s a case of her being constantly rejected for years, being cast away in a place no one wants to be, and never having true companionship, then her reaction to not being invited to one event starts to make more sense. Regardless of the source of her wrath, though, it still sets a perilous precedent for her future when she makes it the fuel of her actions.

“My pet. You are my last hope.”

When the narrator tells us that Maleficent is full of wrath, we are shown an example of another deadly sin that she exhibits. Similar to the Evil Queen, it kind of slips into the story unassumingly, but sloth’s role cannot be diminished, as it spikes Maleficent’s wrath yet again. She is talking to her goons when some important information comes to light. She asks them, “Are you sure you searched everywhere?” Their response, however, is not what she was looking for when they say that they’ve been searching in cradles. Maleficent then says to Diablo, “All these years they’ve been looking for a baby… Fools! Idiots! Imbeciles!” Throughout the previous sixteen years, Maleficent has left it up to her goons to look for Aurora; had she done it herself, she wouldn’t be asking them if they searched everywhere. By sending others to do the job she wanted done for years, she’s failed to rise to the occasion herself. This leaves her far less time to achieve her plan, since Aurora is just about sixteen by that point, and she has to scramble to make it work. However, does she learn from this error? No, she sends Diablo in her place instead, and while this does end up working out, she ran the risk of the same failure by not overseeing the task when she easily could have done it herself.

Maleficent’s pride emerges quickly when things start going her way. Diablo successfully finds Aurora and the good fairies, so Maleficent is able to know when Aurora will return to the castle and that Prince Phillip is supposed to meet her at the cottage that evening. As soon as Aurora is alone in the castle, Maleficent lures her to the spinning wheel with an orb of magic, completing the prophecy. Finally, Maleficent is the one who meets Phillip, capturing him and taking him back to her dungeon at the Forbidden Mountains.

Her wrath propels her to complete all of these tasks, and once she does, pride comes out in full force. When the good fairies find Aurora collapsed on the ground, Maleficent declares, “You poor simple fools, thinking you could defeat me! Me! The mistress of all evil!” It’s apparent that Maleficent sees herself as above than the fairies, even though they had tricked her for sixteen years. It’s possible that Maleficent is using her pride as a façade for her ongoing insecurities over both exclusion and the fact that she wasn’t able to find Aurora until that day. It’s now that she is flexing her power over everyone in order to redeem herself and show that she will come out on top in the end no matter what it takes. And she’s acting like it didn’t take much to overcome her opposition.

We see her pride grow as she goes into the dungeon to find satisfaction in taunting Prince Phillip, thinking there wouldn’t be a way for him to escape her clutches, and her words would simply drive him mad. She tells him, “But see the gracious whim of fate. Why, ’tis the selfsame peasant maid who won the heart of our noble prince but yesterday.” She’s making it a point to tell him that the woman his father wants him to marry is the same woman he wanted to marry anyway, because as things stand, he won’t be able to do that due to Maleficent and her power over him.

Once Phillip is able to escape with help from the good fairies, Maleficent is enraged once again, but arrogant in the choices she makes to try to overwhelm him and his escape. When she creates the thorn forest around King Stefan’s castle, she says, “A forest of thorns shall be his tomb. Borne through the skies on a fog of doom!” She is definitive in her use of the word “shall,” and has faith that this show of her power will be more than enough to subdue him. When that is not the case, her wrath intertwines with pride and she exclaims, “Now shall you deal with me, O Prince, and all the powers of hell!” She likens herself to hell here, which is no small comparison when considering what that means she can inflict upon him. She has seemingly unending pride in her capabilities to win this battle with Phillip, not considering that he could be a worthy adversary, and that is her final mistake.

“Touch the spindle. Touch it, I say!”

We know what happens next: Maleficent turns into the dragon, battles Phillip until he pierces her heart with his sword, killing her. Maleficent is destroyed, and Phillip goes on to wake Aurora with “love’s first kiss,” awakening the kingdom from their sleep, as well. This sleep cast the visuals of the film in a murky green color, which is also eliminated once the curse in broken. I see this as symbolizing that the reach of Maleficent is finally over, as her magic does appear as green in the film.

In one final fit of rage after she is stabbed as the dragon, Maleficent still snaps at Phillip once more, and shows us that she is still wrapped up in her deadly sins as they are in the process of proving deadly. At times, the sins provide a level of delusion about what’s important, and we can so often hold onto our point or the “principle of the thing” even when it causes a deep detriment to us. Maleficent was never able to learn and let go; she sends Diablo after sending her goons had failed her, and she still lashes out in rage during her dying fall. She couldn’t even give herself a peaceful death.

The heroes of Sleeping Beauty lie in the side characters, as the main focal point, Aurora, really isn’t in most of the film; she’s either a baby or she’s asleep. Our heroes are Prince Phillip and the good fairies: Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. Phillip displays humility in his acceptance of giving up a royal position in favor of true love, and diligence in pursuing victory over Maleficent even when it looked bleak. These are the inverse of Maleficent’s pride and sloth. The good fairies show diligence in always doing what is in Aurora’s best interest even when they were inexperienced or afraid (like going to the Forbidden Mountains), as well as patience when they didn’t use magic for sixteen years, and charity when they volunteer to take care of Aurora for those years to keep her safe. These are the inverse of, again, Maleficent’s sloth, as well as her wrath, and charity is in there for good measure.

The moral of Maleficent’s story and sins? Well, as difficult as it is, we need to learn to let things go when it doesn’t serve us to pursue them any longer. This takes a lot of reflection and honesty about why we’re still holding onto things and what they are actually functioning like in our lives. Maleficent held onto her anger for sixteen years just to be defeated in the end. And, for what? Over whom? People who couldn’t bother to invite her in the first place. The pain of rejection undoubtedly sucks and can make us question a lot of things, but at the end of the day, we are the only ones drained of the energy we exude by holding on. As for the ones we got rejected by, well, perhaps they don’t need access to our Forbidden Mountains.

Maleficent was decidedly fierce and diabolical, but she was no match for these 7 Deadly Sins. Any other takers? Oh, for sure. And the next challenger is…


Film Citation

Clark, Les, et al., directors. Sleeping Beauty. Disney+, Walt Disney Animation Studio, 1959, https://www.disneyplus.com/?gclid=7fe7aee2437119b4fd7ecdba2d7cbfda&gclsrc=3p.ds&&cid=DSS-Search-Bing-71700000089414475&s_kwcid=AL!8468!10!79783502887522!disney%20plus&msclkid=7fe7aee2437119b4fd7ecdba2d7cbfda. Accessed 25 Oct. 2022.

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