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The true story of Disney's evil Maleficent

Angelina Jolie shines as the green-skinned, sharply cheek-boned villain in Disney's "Maleficent"
Walt Disney Films

Did you know that prior to Walt Disney’s 1959 animated adaption of "Sleeping Beauty", there was no dark and vengeful character named Maleficent?

Disney has released a new trailer for the highly anticipated new film "Maleficent" starring Angelina Jolie, and the villainess looks stunningly evil.

In the movie synopsis from Yahoo Movies, "Maleficent" is “The untold story of Disney's most iconic villain from the 1959 classic "Sleeping Beauty." A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman with stunning black wings, Maleficent has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army of humans threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land's fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal - an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces an epic battle with the king of the humans and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Maleficent realizes that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom - and to Maleficent's true happiness as well.”

In a 2012 interview with US Weekly, Angelina Jolie speaks about her upcoming role as Maleficent, stating, "It's not anti-princess, but it's the first time they're looking at this epic woman [in a different way]," she explained. "I hope in the end you see a woman who is capable of being many things, and just because she protects herself and is aggressive, it doesn't mean she can't have other [warmer] qualities. You have to figure out the puzzle of what she is."

But what is the history of this character? If Disney invented her name and all of her evil mannerisms for their 1959 production, does that mean that there were no vengeful queens or insulted fairies prior to the animated film? Hardly.

Approximately 400 years ago, Giambattista Basile put in writing the first known collection of fairy tales titled "Il Pentamerone" (the Tale of Tales). Within that collection was the story Sun, Moon, and Talia, officially recognized as the earliest known version of "Sleeping Beauty". There was no malevolent female fairy cursing an innocent baby princess in Basile’s story; only wise men warning an unnamed King of a poison which could be found in the kingdom’s supply of flax. When the Princess Talia gets a splinter in her finger while weaving flax, she is considered dead by her father and left to lie in state in the forest.

Basile’s version is far from chaste, however; there is a king who finds the sleeping Talia and rapes her, leaving her to bear two children, Sun and Moon, while still locked in her eternal slumber. The forest fairies take care of the children, and the poisonous splinter is removed when one of the children suckle her finger. Now awake, Talia is re-visited by the king who brings her and the children to a secret cottage in the woods. Only now is an angry queen introduced – the vengeful wife of Talia’s lover who is determined to cook and eat the children as retaliation for his cheating. Of course, in a typical twist of fate, the children do not get eaten nor does the king abandon his new family. The queen is not heard from again, and everyone lives happily ever after.

According to The Truth About the Sleeping Beauty Fairy Tale on Altered, “After Basile’s Pentamerone was written, the "Tales of Mother Goose" was published in 1697 by Charles Perrault in France and contained The Story of Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Puss in Boots, and Tom Thumb. This was followed by "Fairy Tales" in 1705 which included several Basile stories including The Fair One with Golden Locks. By 1812, the Grimm brothers had assembled their famous collection of stories in "Grimm’s Fairy Tales." Grimm’s Tales went through seven editions as the brothers watered down the stories to make them more suitable for children. Early versions of Sleeping Beauty only bore a vague resemblance to our well known modern version.”

Perrault’s version, titled 'The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood', introduces an old, forgotten fairy who casts the dark spell of sleeping death upon the little princess. Other then her very small role in the opening sequence, the old fairy is not heard from again. This version is considered closer to today’s modern version, with the pricking of the finger and the whole castle falling into a 100-year sleep which could only be broken by the kiss of a prince. The princess wakes up, they get married, and have a daughter named Morning and a son named Day.

At this point, a queen stepmother is introduced. She is described as a lovely woman who happens to have Ogress blood, which causes her to have an uncontrollable urge to eat her own grandchildren and daughter-in-law. She is tricked by the cook, and when she finds out that the princess and the children are still alive, she orders everyone to be killed by being thrown into a pit of poisonous snakes. The prince discovers her plan, and she ends up killing herself by diving headfirst into the snakepit.

The Grimm brothers produced seven different versions of the tale, with the last version hitting all the familiar highlights of the story. The unnamed thirteenth fairy is mad she wasn’t invited and casts the obligatory spell; there are no other female antagonists in the Grimm tale. The story ends at the point where the princes kisses Briar Rose and she awakens from the curse.

Which brings the history of the story all the way forward into the 1950’s, when the Walt Disney company decided to create their own version which included the introduction of the wickedly green-skinned but horribly elegant Maleficent to theater goers all around the world. In recent polls asking people to identify which Disney villain they considered to be the most evil of all, who do you think always wins the number one spot?

That's right. Maleficent, in all her black clad, fire-breathing glory.

Check out the list for more information.

"Maleficent" releases May 30, 2014.


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The original Maleficent
The original Maleficent Walt Disney Films

The original Maleficent

In 1959, Disney released the animated movie "Sleeping Beauty" with the iconic villainess Maleficent. She was green, mean, and vengeful - and quickly became one of the most beloved of all of Disney's many animated villains.

CGI and The Polar Express
CGI and The Polar Express Warner Bros.

CGI and The Polar Express

In 2004, Warner Bros. released the animated movie "Polar Express." The movie proved to be very popular; however many people complain about the odd CGI animation used in the film. Critics complained that the computer motion capture used to detail facial expressions was weird and creepy.

In Disney's upcoming "Maleficent" feature film, the same technology was used to animate the three fairy godmothers.

Flora, Fauna, and Merrywether
Flora, Fauna, and Merrywether official Sofia the Great still

Flora, Fauna, and Merrywether

The three Fairy Godmothers from 1959's animated "Sleeping Beauty" have been quite busy in the past 10 years. The three Godmothers have recurring roles as professors on Disney Jr.'s "Sofia the Great" cartoon show, and now they are starring in Disney's new "Maleficent."

Angelina Jolie on the set of "Maleficent"
Angelina Jolie on the set of "Maleficent" US Magazine

Angelina Jolie on the set of "Maleficent"

In a June 20, 2012 story about the set of Disney Picture's "Maleficent", US Magazine printed exclusive pictures of Angelina Jolie in costume on the set of the movie.

Walt Disney Picture's "Maleficent"
Walt Disney Picture's "Maleficent" First official poster

Walt Disney Picture's "Maleficent"

This poster of Angelina Jolie as Maleficent was released by Walt Disney Pictures in 2012. Since then, several more posters and trailers have been released by the studio. The picture releases on May 30, 2014.

Charles Perrault
Charles Perrault artist Philippe Lallemand (1636–1716)

Charles Perrault

Charles Perrault (12 January 1628 – 16 May 1703) was a French author and pioneer of the classic fairy tale genre. Not only did he write the original tale The Sleeping Beauty, he is also well known for penning Le Petit Chaperon rouge (Little Red Riding Hood), Cendrillon (Cinderella), Le Chat Botté (Puss in Boots), and La Barbe bleue (Bluebeard).

Elle Fanning
Elle Fanning Official press photo

Elle Fanning

Elle Fanning plays the part of Aurora, the princess doomed to fall into a 100 year long coma-like sleep until she is released by the kiss of her one true love, in Disney's "Maleficent".