Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent offers a deeper look into Disney’s 1959 Sleeping Beauty, showing a more sympathetic re-telling of the classic tale. The new story reinvents Maleficent’s character and lets the audience see how the world of Sleeping Beauty that was made famous by Disney is very different when it revolves around the villainess instead of the cursed princess. This film was put in the hands of first time director Robert Stromberg after Tim Burton walked from the project. Stromberg had been the production designer of Disney’s reimagined and live-action version of Alice in Wonderland and Oz the Great and Powerful so it just makes sense to have the same man work the same magic on Maleficent. But does Maleficent succeed from this magic or does it fizzle with disappointment even with Angelina Jolie’s remarkable talent in a role that only she could play?
Disney has released multiple trailers for this movie over the past few months and each one just seems more exhilarating than the last. The trailers succeeded in building anticipation and excitement to the point that I had so much expectations and was pretty confident that I would like this movie a lot. As the film begins and gives us our first glimpse into the world of the faeries called The Moors, I suddenly feel a sense of dread that signals something isn’t right here. This is when I realize that my hopes for this movie are too high. I went in expecting a darker take on the story but the colorful enchanted realm (similar to Stromberg’s land of Oz) with all of its happy non-human occupants, magical beings, and vibrant trees and flowers just threw me off completely.
Wait – is this the beginning of Maleficient or a Disney short that you often see accompany a Pixar film?
My question was quickly answered as we see Maleficient as a child lying in her cradle made of twigs and flowers. It could almost passed off as a commercial for Pampers Diapers until you see the two famous horns on the child’s head.
The first third of Maleficent is set up to tell her origin story. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work. The inclusion of this origin story hurts the film more than it helps because it ruins the charm and beauty of the Sleeping Beauty tale. As much as I like to believe that Maleficent is capable of being kind and good-natured at one time or another when she was younger (but why would she be called “Maleficent” all this time if that were to be true?), I actually find it hard not to resent the part about how she eventually turns cold and heartless because of a betrayal by her unrequited lover, the future King Stefan (Sharlto Copley). The fact that this cliched theme’s been overused in stories and movies many times over only makes the story even more unoriginal, too predictable and sighfully dull. Furthermore, the theme just doesn’t fit right into the scheme of things and only adds more plot holes to the narrative.
For example, since Maleficent resented the world and was filled with hate and rage after she was betrayed, it doesn’t make sense that she would wait until the child’s christening to confront her former lover face to face. Realistically, it would make more sense and seem more likely that she would confront him when he married his queen, perhaps on their wedding day (another occasion where she would unlikely receive an invitation), and take it out on his new bride rather than wait to take it out on his first born. Stefan’s marriage to another woman would seem more of a probable reason for Maleficent to seek her vengeance if she was indeed betrayed by love. But oh well this is still the story of Sleeping Beauty, so I can understand that certain events still need to occur to maintain the theme and purpose of the film such as Maleficent imposing on baby Aurora’s christening just to put a curse on the innocent child. This movie would have been more entertaining and the story more believable if the crew had spent more time reworking the plot and come up with another origin story that tied in better with the classic tale.
Now let’s talk about the woman behind Maleficent. Angelina Jolie is remarkable more than ever in this role as Maleficent. She is after all the reason why this movie was made. Producer Joe Roth had said that Maleficent would not have been made if Angelina Jolie had not agreed to take the title role.
She seemed like the only person who could play the part. There was no point in making the movie if it wasn’t her.
Angelina Jolie with her prosthetic cheeks and nose along with a pair of Maleficent’s trademark horns looks enchanting and elegant as ever and very befitting as the eponymous Disney villainess. Her face is too beautiful and she will have your eyes fixated on her the entire time the movie runs its course. She carries with her this inexplicable powerful, yet very graceful screen presence and aura as well as the star power that few actresses today possess. She can be horrifying when she wants to be (as demonstrated in the scene where she spies on baby Aurora through the window of a wood cottage and makes faces at the child). She can be outright cold and despicable even in the presence of a very adorable toddler Aurora (played by Jolie’s own daughter, Vivienne). She can also be fun and playful when she pranks the three ditzy fairies: Flittle (Lesley Manville), Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton) and Thistlewit (Juno Temple). She is fierce and fearless (during the film’s final battle with King Stefan and his men) and compassionate as well as motherly when she realizes her love for Aurora (played by Elle Fanning). Jolie’s ability to demonstrate the wide range of acting skills called for by the role is what makes her exceptional as Maleficent.
The film focuses primarily on Angelina Jolie and everyone else just sort of take a back seat. Even Elle Fanning’s Aurora doesn’t do much in this film. Her character is there to serve as a means to show how Aurora affects the changes Maleficent undergoes throughout the film. She does fulfill the destiny that fate, or rather the curse, has in stored for her. But very disappointingly, her slumber is very brief before she is awaken by true love’s kiss. Prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaites) doesn’t do anything at all for this story other than to be in it for the sake of being in it. He doesn’t save the day nor does he end up fighting the dragon and worst of all, he even fails to revive the princess! The film’s great departure from Disney’s 1959 animated version may have Walt and the Grimms brothers rolling around in their graves and pulling out whatever hair they have left on their heads.
Regardless, this is a very beautiful film to watch with your family. The 3D aspect of the film is exciting and works well to make the live action world pop in many instances throughout. The different color palettes used in different scenes are vibrant and very colorful at the beginning of the movie and more dark and dreary later on as Maleficent too goes through similar changes in emotions. The CGI is overused, as expected from this type of films. It’s used to conjure up impressive images of barbed trees that grow and extend as walls to keep invaders away from The Moors. It’s also used frequently to transform Maleficent’s crow Diaval (Sam Riley) into a man, a wolf, and a fire-breathing dragon. The lavish set pieces and props, all of which seem to have been constructed indoors on a much smaller scale than seen in other Hollywood films of this caliber, along with the flamboyantly designed costumes at times lend the film an impression that we’re watching a stage-play production and so this cheapens the quality of this expensive cinematic production.
Originally, I thought this film was going to let us see a darker side of Angelina Jolie as the mistress of evil but surprisingly it showed more of her compassionate and even to a little extent, her humorous side. We know that Angelina is great at playing roles that require her character to be cold and unapproachable, so for anyone expecting to see more of this side of her, you will be in for a treat. Sadly though, the rest of the film fails to live up to its potential. Even with Jolie’s talent and charisma along with the beautiful visuals created by the Disney team, this film still suffers from a flat, predictable script and dull storytelling, thus preventing it from being as good and amazing as it could have been.