I’ve never been known as a trendsetter. So imagine my surprise—and delight—when I found out my Sleeping Beauty–inspired novel, While Beauty Slept, would be published the same year a high-profile Sleeping Beauty reboot hit movie theaters. Invariably, I knew, my book would be compared with Angelina Jolie’s big-budget Disney film Maleficent, even though I suspected the two stories would take very different approaches. I had always intended my book to read as historical fiction rather than fantasy, imagining the dramatic events of the fairy tale as if they had happened to real people.
I was pretty sure Disney would be going in the opposite direction—and judging by the recently released Maleficent trailer, I was right.
There’s lots to love about it, from the appropriately eerie Lana Del Ray cover of “Once Upon a Dream” to the overall creepy tone. We like our fairy tales dark these days, focusing less on the “happily ever after” and more on the dangers that come beforehand. The Maleficent of the 1959 animated movie is one of the great Disney villains, right up there with Cruella de Vil and Snow White’s Evil Queen, and when I wrote my book, I renamed her Millicent so that she wouldn’t come across as a cartoon bad guy. If I wanted my story grounded in reality, it didn’t really work to have a character whose name literally means “I do terrible things!”
I’ve still got a soft spot for the original Maleficent, though, and Jolie perfectly captures the character’s magnetic evil. With her glowing eyes, spine-chilling cackle, and one-of-a-kind black antler hat, she’s mesmerizing. The only thing that took me aback was when one of her freaky-sharp cheekbones nearly popped out of the screen; I hope that effect was achieved through makeup or special effects, rather than a starvation diet.
There’s plenty more movie magic in the trailer: flying fairies, a levitating Elle Fanning, and trees that morph into soldiers. There are battle scenes and rugged castles that look like outtakes from Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, both series I love. But I worry about all these epic fantasies blending into one indistinguishable mass of CGI overkill. A friend of mine once expressed her distaste for traditional westerns by saying she didn’t like movies “filmed in brown”; it seems we’re now living in an era of fantasies filmed in gray.
Maleficent is an iconic character, and Angelina Jolie has the star power and talent to pull off that tricky role. Self-interestedly, I’d love the movie to be a huge success. But I also hope the film is able to create a sense of real magic: the kind that comes not from clever programmers sitting at computers, but from a story that whisks you away from the everyday. With While Beauty Slept, I wanted to create a world where the drama arises from human actions and emotions. I believe the story of Sleeping Beauty has resonated all these years because of its characters and its imagery: the dramatic curse, the finger pricked on a spinning wheel, a princess sleeping alone in a tower. None of these moments needs over-the-top special effects to cast its spell on an audience.