I kind of have an affinity for the “official novelization” of movies. I don’t buy them religiously because I don’t go to the movies religiously anymore, but I like them for two big reasons. (1) The novelizations are based off of the script, as that’s all that’s “finished” when whatever author they hired to write them does them. Hence, they incorporate the original endings and deleted scenes. (2) If a movie is “bad” or “lacking”, the novelization tends to fix that. That’s because while the filmmakers may be focused on visuals or making good eye candy, the author is usually concerned with making things that seem forced or illogical “work” to make a good story. Plus, the person writing the novel has an advantage over the filmmakers because they’re able to do interior monologue and thoughts for motivation rather than relying on action an actor/director may or may not be able to convey. In my experience, even if people were ambivalent to “Revenge of the Sith”, they tend to agree the novelization was fantastic because it was done by a talented writer with experience writing stories for the Expanded Universe who “fleshed it out” enough to make everything “make sense”.
So, with that in mind, I looked at Disney’s official licensed novelization for “Maleficent” (called “The Curse of Maleficent”) before I pass it off to my niece (as she loves the movie) just to see how they did. Most people agree that movie was very “forced” with a lot of holes, so I figured the author would have done a better job.
I couldn’t help but be amused…and a tad “angry” about one part.
How the author handled it was essentially the opposite…they never got into “Maleficent’s head” at all. The entire novel is third-person limited and told, more or less, in three sections by three different characters…two of which were not essential to the movie. The first part is told by some nameless “extra” who pretty much skims and sums up Maleficent’s background. The second part is told by the “red fairy” (I have no idea what their names are and it doesn’t matter). In both cases…almost everything that happened in the movie happens “off screen”, and they essentially just “sum it up” and explain their thoughts regarding it. There’s very little actual dialog in the story. In fact, most of the movie’s actual dialog is replaced by “summing up” those scenes as well.
In fact, the author frequently would go into lengthy bits where one of those two characters would summarize what they learned about what happened that was an actual event in the movie and their perspective on it. For example…a pointless sequence of those three fairies arguing, then realizing they’re missing Aurora, and then seeing her seated on the cliffside. Then, to end that section…they would show an artwork (the artwork was the best part of that story, by the way…it looked highly stylized and I think it would have made an animated version of the film better) showing a scene from the movie that basically says to the reader: “This is what actually happened.” In a sense, telling the story mostly through the few pictures, this was actually more like a children’s story than a novel. (They do a similar motif for recent children’s stories like “This is Not My Hat”.)
The closest we ever get to actually being in the events of the film while they happen is the third “storyteller”: Aurora herself. And those parts are actually what I hoped to see. The author actually dealt with one of the movie’s big elephants-in-the-room: she comes to love Maleficent as a mother…in spite of the fact it was Maleficent’s own actions which led to the death of Aurora’s real mother, a woman who never did anything to Maleficent and was a good person. The story even draws attention to the fact that the woman (Queen Leila) was nice to Maleficent and the “evil” fairy didn’t care because she wanted her revenge and essentially punished her for nothing. And late in the story, Aurora actually does realize she never got to see her real mother because of Maleficent and she, for a short while, hates her for that…which is perfectly understandable. This is something the movie could have touched on and didn’t, and was “taken care of” by the novelization. And how she gets “over it”…how she realizes that Maleficent acted the way she did out of personal hurt and letting her hate get the better of her; further realizing that Maleficent, deep down inside, is not a “bad person” but she just had her “nicer qualities” choked out of her by a painful betrayal; and, finally, realizing that while she may not have gotten to grow up with her real mother, the real reason Leila is dead was from grief from her husband’s craziness, both from neglecting her as well as refusing to let her go and see Aurora while she was growing up, not to mention forcing her to live apart from them for sixteen years not out of concern for her safety but out of an attempt to “get back at Maleficent”, and ultimately considers Stefan to be the more “guilty party”…yeah, I think that kind of works. I may not completely “agree” with this reasoning, but thanks to the novel going through her thought process, I can “believe” it, and that’s ultimately what has to happen when telling a story.
Furthermore, although Aurora is as she was in both versions of the movie, a glorified MacGuffin, by telling the story from her perspective…it actually helps make her more “relevant”. So that’s actually a good move as well.
But the rest of everything is a mess. It’s like the novelist couldn’t figure out how to make the story work any more than the filmmakers, and so the novelist intentionally just put those events out there and said: “Here. Do with them what you like. Draw whatever conclusion you like.” Surprisingly…that’s a bit better than the film, because when we focus on Maleficent and her raven (who only turns into a human once in the entire story in the novel version) we get little explanation. And the storytelling format I told earlier…I’m not sure if it would have worked at all if I hadn’t seen the film…especially toward the end. After Aurora becomes “sleeping beauty”, that part of the story is told by the head fairy until she wakes up, and so the parts with Maleficient finding Phillip, grabbing him, taking him to the castle, and trying to use him to wake up Aurora are kind of “snapshotted” and hard to piece together.
Finally, there’s the one part I couldn’t stand. In a part of the story where Aurora is telling things, she frequently refers to Maleficent as her “fairy godmother” at all times. Like in the movie, it’s not until she learns the truth about her identity she also learns her name. But at one point, the story slips up and Aurora thinks of her as “Maleficent”. I’m a fanfiction writer…and my readers would be all over me for that like white on rice. I expect it from me being an amateur, but this is officially licensed merchandise put out by professionals. Come on.
So, all in all…yeah, it was a bit better than the movie even if it was worse in some ways, as the improvements were in places it “counted”.