I don’t know you, I may have walked with you once upon a dream…
…but honestly, who are you?
This is not the Maleficent from Disney’s 1959 animated classic, Sleeping Beauty. There’s a physical resemblance, sure. For about 10-15 minutes, the story and tone seems to reflect the Disney version as well. But mostly this is a completely new retelling, including new environments, and newly structured characters and motives. Unfortunately, it’s the title character that suffers the most from the creative liberties taken. Yet, it’s still Angelina Jolie, playing the title character of Maleficent, who ends up stealing the show from start to finish with her powerful features, dark silhouette, and devotion to her character — no matter how weakened the character is now.
Maleficent begins years before the events of Sleeping Beauty, when Maleficent was a young winged fairy living in one of two neighboring kingdoms — the magical one filled with magical creatures. The inhabitants of the other kingdom, humans, live in constant fear of their mystical neighbors. Nevertheless, an unlikely friendship develops between a young Maleficent and Stefan, a young human boy. The romance blossoms but the greed of humanity turns the boy’s heart. Thus, and I’ll leave the details for you to find out, we have a spiteful Maleficent. At this point we’re treated to a bit taken directly from Sleeping Beauty, including the introduction to the King’s daughter, Aurora, and Maleficent’s curse placed upon her. Sixteen years, three somewhat funny fairy-babysitters, and a prickly spindle later, we’re again led along a piecemeal story that stumbles quickly to a finish that is hardly satisfying.
The saving grace is Jolie. She leads a cast of very talented actors, including Sharlto Copley (District 9), Elle Fanning (Super 8), and Sam Riley (Control), who all do their best to make good of the disappointing story crafted around them. Copley is great as the emotionally deteriorating King. Fanning doesn’t need to do much with the Aurora character, but what she does, she appears to be accurately enjoying. But to return to Jolie, who hasn’t led a film since 2010’s The Tourist, it’s a welcome treat to see her trademark lips, cheshire smile, hear her confident voice, and relish her incredible talent for portraying gut-wrenching emotional turmoil once again. She nails the wickedly sly side of this new Maleficent, too.
Maleficent may be a wonder to behold but that same wonder has become tiresomely familiar and distracting. Cool creature design does not equal cool movie. There’s just no substance to the endless light-up foliage and bulbous magical beings on screen. Even the overabundance of Pandora’s florescent flora and fauna in Avatar, though looking super awesome, was meant to emphasize the beautiful fragility of a world that would inevitably need protection against an unappreciative, technologically advanced species.
In Maleficent, we’re exposed to the magic kingdom in wondrous fashion but with no sense of foreshadowing or purpose aside from thinking ‘oh, look at the pretty flying shrimp elf-fairy!’ Even the three good fairies that watch over Aurora fall victim to poor special effects. If one recalls from the disappointing Alice in Wonderland (2010), the new style of integrating actors’ faces onto otherwise CG characters looks bizarre and overall, really frickin’ fake. Generally, the visuals in Maleficent look fake too, aside from the fairy wings. Though rest assured that Maleficent is, simply put, a much better movie than the new Alice.
To most accurately express my overall disappointment in the new story — aside from the screenwriters’ choice to make a broken heart be the instigating factor for Maleficent’s vengeance (REALLY!? Are we really still that unoriginal and willing to degrade our best female characters!?) — I was honestly just saddened not to hear Jolie yell, “Now, shall you deal with ME, O Prince – and all the powers of HELL!” I mean, Disney was willing to put it in back in 1959.
Maleficent opens in Bay Area theaters Friday, May 30th, 2014.