Sunday, June 1, 2014

Maleficent review

    Maleficent is one of the many Wicked-inspired movies which attempt to re-invent an already-famous fairy tale into something new and different. Oz: The Great and Powerful was Disney's first attempt to cash in on this idea and I wasn't terribly fond of it. The Oz movie introduced a large number of subplots which will never be followed up on because, well, it's a prequel to the MGM Wizard of Oz movie.

    Maleficent, at least, isn't a prequel. It's a re-telling of the Disney Sleeping Beauty movie and an already-classic fairy tale. If there's any movie franchise Disney should have a handle of the fundamentals on, it's the one which inspired their logo. Still, I walked into this one with a measure of mixed feelings. I love Sleeping Beauty and I love Angelina Jolie but it's all too easy to try to capitalize on the success of a classic without capturing its essence.

Young Maleficent is adorable, really. I want to adopt her.
    In this version of the tale, the titular character is a winged satyr-like figure who is one of the many fairies living in the Moors. Living beside the humans who inhabit an expansionist human kingdom, she is the fairies' chief protector. The king of the neighboring human kingdom invades but is defeated by Maleficent, driving him mad with revenge. Lacking other relatives, the king promises his kingdom to whoever can kill Maleficent.

     I won't share the rest of the story with you but it results in Maleficent becoming quite vexed at humanity and the King's successor in particular. Mad enough she decides to lay a curse on a small baby girl named Aurora involving sleep, spinning wheels, and a wall of thorns. This is where the story diverges quite spectacularly from the original 1959 animated movie.

    Angelina Jolie, as always, is absolutely wonderful as Maleficent. Given she has free reign to develop a mostly one-note villain, she does a wonderful job highlighting Maleficent's sense of betrayal and outrage at humanity's treatment of the fae. Not to mention her own personal reasons for despising Princess Aurora's father. 

Angelina Jolie's scenes with her real-life daughter, make the mother-daughter subtext even better.
    Much has been made of other reviews to the potential sexual metaphor for what happens to Maleficent about 1/3rd into the movie but it's not something that's blatantly obvious. It's a good metaphor for adults but kids will accept the action as what it is. Either way, the scene is powerful and goes a long way to justifying her later revenge.

    In many ways, this is a very feminist movie with both Aurora as well as Maleficent being the stars. The two characters have a very strong relationship and it's rare to see a movie about the relationship between two women. Unfortunately, the original Sleeping Beauty was pretty feminist too with the evil figure of Maleficent counteracted by three older-looking women. Here, the three fairies are portrayed as complete nincompoops and I can't say I was too pleased with that.

    Despite being one of the few early Disney heroes with a personality, Prince Phillip had that excised here and is reduced to the role of a bit character. I don't think this was a major deterrent to the movie but I, honestly, think they could have removed him completely without losing anything. King Stefan, by contrast, is a figure who seems to have a character arc but we never actually get to hear much in his way of reasoning. Then again, I suppose ambiguity isn't necessary. His reasons make sense, even if they're evil.

The succubus-like form of Maleficent suits Angelina Jolie. We need more monster-girls (and boys).
    The best thing in this movie (after Angelina Jolie) is the movie's special effects. The Moors are beautifully animated and are about the most entrancing fantasy special effects I've seen since the original Lord of the Rings trilogy. Every single one of the fairies is beautiful to look at and I salute the creators for making this movie the visual spectacle it is.

    In conclusion, Maleficent is a fun fairy tale which is suitable for the whole family. Fans of the original Sleeping Beauty may be vexed by the changes, especially if they liked the three fairies, but there's nothing to get too upset over. I also liked the twist on "true love's kiss" even if I've seen it before and recently too (by Disney, no less).


1 comment:

  1. Jolie hardly ever puts in a bad performance, but man, I just wished they gave her more to do here. Good review Charles.