When director Joachim Rønning took on Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” creating something original was one of his priorities. And in building out the fairy tale world, the filmmakers came up with a backstory even bigger than their movie would have time to tell.
“Yes, the film is based on the characters of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and the ‘Maleficent’ universe,” said Rønning in advance of the film’s release this weekend. “But it’s a continuation of an untold story.”
“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” is set five years after the events of the 2014 movie that offered a new spin on a Disney classic. Aurora (Elle Fanning) is all grown up and making big life decisions, regardless of how Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) might feel about them. Maleficent’s relationship with Aurora remains a key part of the film, despite it being put to the test by potential in-law Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer).
But the big revelation in “Mistress of Evil” is that Maleficent is not the only one of her kind. The film introduces the dark fey, who have all been living in exile from the human world, and digs further into Maleficent’s origins.
Among the new dark fey introduced are Conall (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Borra (Ed Skrein), two leader figures of their community. Visually, the dark fey are a stark contrast to the various CGI fairies that populate the Moors. And they also look distinct from one another.
“As a civilization, they are very, very diverse,” said costume designer Ellen Mirojnick, who explained that the dark fey’s backstory informed how their different looks were developed.
Because one of the underlying themes of the “Maleficent” franchise is “man versus nature,” it was important for Rønning that the production’s team look to nature in crafting the dark fey and their civilization. And they were struck by a surprising source of inspiration while working at Jolie’s house.
“We were working on the script at her house together with the screenwriters,” said Rønning. “We were trying to crack the code to the dark fey because we wanted to have different factions.
“And then, one of [Jolie’s] younger daughters came in the kitchen one day. She had done a school project about biomes that you find in nature,” explained the filmmaker. “She had made this board with pictures of the different biomes, and we all just looked at each other like, ‘Brilliant, we have the different factions of nature here.’ That was a huge breakthrough for us.”
From there, the four different kinds of dark fey that are shown in the movie were born: The tundra fey, the forest fey, the jungle fey and the desert fey. These four different factions are as visually distinct as the environments they are based on.
The desert fey have wings with colors that evoke their environment, and wear things that appear bleached and rough and cracked. The tundra fey are all ice, with a palette of white and blues and grays. Green and wood are what inspired the looks of the forest fey, while the jungle fey aesthetic was all about endless colors.
“What I really hoped to achieve in terms of the entirety of the dark fey and their costuming was that you not really notice the costuming that much,” said Mirojnick. “Because they’re a species that all have to look organic, and not ‘costume designed.’”
Additionally, they had to consider the dark fey’s wings and their ability to fly with every design.
“You would look at something and say, ‘Do you believe that will go up in the air? Will that fly?’” said Mirojnick.
Production designer Patrick Tatopoulos explained that they had actually developed a full backstory for the dark fey to help explain their different looks as well as why they are all living in exile on an island. This includes the idea that the dark fey all originated in one place — their own version of the Cradle of Humankind.
“We had such a backstory for this and it’s not all necessarily revealed in the movie,” said Tatopoulos. “Their original world was that island. The island exploded, like a giant volcano, so they left many, many thousands of years ago and moved around the world, to different parts of the world, different climates. … But they’d been tracked and trapped by people through the centuries and they came back to their original island.”
This history helped guide the design of the island that Maleficent briefly explores during the film, and how the various factions of the dark fey re-created their different home environments.
Both Tatopoulos and Rønning explained that these details were very important to Jolie. As creatures that have been forced out of their homelands, the dark fey are essentially a band of refugees. Their backstory requires care and adds another dimension to the movie’s overall story.
Although the movie alludes to some of these elements, most of the dark fey’s backstory is not explicitly addressed during “Mistress of Evil” since the focus is on Maleficent actually meeting her kind for the first time.
“Sometimes you come up on backstories that are just here for us, the people working on the movie, to understand what we’re doing, and you don’t necessarily need or have the opportunity to reveal all of it,” said Tatopoulos. “But it’s fun. It’s one of the funnest things in the design world.”