I’m a Disney fan. Have been since I was a kid. So seeing Maleficent, a reimagining of the classic Sleeping Beauty told from the villain’s perspective, had me intrigued. What I got was an hour and a half of pure pain that made me want to turn into Sleeping Beauty so I didn’t have to watch it.
The plot of Maleficent follows Sleeping Beauty’s basic story. Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) is an evil witch who curses Aurora (Elle Fanning) so that she falls into a death like sleep on her sixteenth birthday. What Linda Woolverton (the screenwriter) does here is add some back story and motivation for Maleficent. Woolverton’s intentions are good but she destroys the character and turns her into something that isn’t Maleficent. Maleficent is a powerful figure who doesn’t back down from anyone. Now, she lets one guy be the focus of her entire life and everything she does is based off that one moment he changed her. Granted the King (Sharlto Copley, District 9) is an ass and does something terrible (clips her wings), but considering how much she flip-flops on her plan it must not have scarred her as much as the plot lets on. She seems quite determined to kill Aurora but saves her at every chance she gets. This is all BEFORE she meets Aurora and comes to love her. Save ten years of your life and let the girl die!
You read that second to last second correctly: Maleficent comes to love Aurora as the movie goes on. What this ends up doing is creating a Frozen like ending that had many people throwing their hands in the air. It’s not even done well! This FURTHER goes in the face of Maleficent as a character and left me wanting to exit the theater.
Since this is Disney, we can’t have a villain be the main focus of a movie. Maleficent is turned into an anti-hero instead of keeping her wicked ways from Sleeping Beauty. This aspect was the most enticing portion. I wanted to see Jolie go nuts and be the evil bastard we all know Maleficent can be. But if she’s not somewhat redeemable, then the audience will hate it. Well they hated it anyways. This character choice ends up making her a frail shell of what we have been accustomed to for the past 50 years.
The script is so sad that I wanted to pat it on the back and say, “You tried but you need to stop.” There is a strange amount of narration where there could have been dialogue or even character development. This isn’t The Creeping Terror where filmmakers lost audio. This is a big studio that had plenty of time to edit the movie or reshoot a scene so that a narrator wasn’t needed. Jolie has very little dialogue and speaks in very short sentences. Maleficent wasn’t a quiet character in Sleeping Beauty, so this makes zero sense. The King, a supporting character, should not have more dialogue than the star of the movie. All of this is quite odd, as Woolverton has been working with Disney for some time and written some of their most classic films, such as Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast.
The one redeeming element in Maleficent is the art direction. Joe Roth, art director for such films as Avatar and Oz: the Great and Powerful, creates a lush world that never gets old to look at. When practical sets are used, they look great and invoke the look of Sleeping Beauty perfectly. Roth is a rookie director though, and ends up taking his growing pains out on the film. Fight scenes are impossible to watch with the constant zooming in/out and slow down fuzziness that Roth seems to love so much. He keeps zooming in exactly when something interesting is going to happen in the fight, thus making it happen off screen and losing the impact. I took my 3D glasses of multiple times as they hurt my eyes to see.
Rick Baker’s makeup on Jolie is worth noting. The horns and cheekbones look fantastic and completely sold me on the look. Jolie looks strangely airbrushed at points, and so much at others that people started to laugh.
Angelina Jolie IS Maleficent. As much as this movie hurts to watch, she makes the pain somewhat better. When she is given time to spread her wings (pun intended), she shines as the wicked villain. She clearly has a love for the villain and could have played her perfectly if given a great script and a seasoned director. Sharlto Copley is a good actor, but the King has nothing to do except be a one note character. Jolie and Copley try, but can’t muster up an ounce of chemistry, which ends up hurting the plot development. There’s not sizzle or spark for us to truly care for them as a couple, and that derails every plot development afterwards. Sam Riley plays Diaval, a new character, and does a decent job as the comic relief. Elle Fanning has the look of Aurora down, but again is a one note character. She’s bubbly and nice, but that’s all we know about her. Brenton Thwaites gets the short straw as Phillip. Phillip was one of the first Disney prince’s to get character development and (surprisingly) a name. To see him be swept aside as a pretty face and inconsequential to the plot is a little saddening.
Maleficent presents a bigger issue for Disney in general. Besides Marvel, Star Wars, and Saving Mr. Banks they cannot make a live action movie to save their lives. All style and no substance has been their motto for far too long and they need to change. Hire a good screenwriter (which they did here) and a seasoned director and let them do what they do best. While I was researching the movie before this review, I got the feeling that Disney didn’t like the final product and wanted things changed. They are prime example for letting filmmakers do what they do. Pirates of the Caribbean wouldn’t have been the smash hit if they hadn’t let Johnny Depp do what he wanted. I’m hoping that Disney will learn from this and make better movies going forward. They could start with the Guillermo Del Toro Haunted Mansion movie.
Maleficent gets 1.5/5.
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