The biggest weekend draw at the box office was the highly anticipated, overly produced/directed, summer Disney movie Maleficent that centers in and around one of Disney’s most iconic villains, and the only one to ever call upon the powers of Hell. Casting a compelling and rivoting spell, Angelina Jolie plays the sorceress and takes the stage to tell her side of the classic fairy tale Sleeping Beauty. Think of this movie as another in a long lineup of an emerging “post-Wicked” genre of revisionist backstories to classic and timeless tales.
Maleficent is a movie about the untold story of what “really” happened in the classic Grimm fairy tale Sleeping Beauty. Note, any studio or production company can adapt the fairy tale for their own movie because it benefits from having fallen into the public domain. No one has the exclusive rights to produce movies featuring Grimm and Hans-Christian-Andersen fairy tales. Anyway, I digress. Unlike the original Disney classic, this movie opens up with Maleficent as a young enchantress fairy in a magical land outside the kingdom of men. She befriends a young man and forms an intimate relationship with him. But, all is not what it seems (a common theme throughout the movie). He betrays Maleficent and takes the kingdom of men for his own. Like in the original, Maleficent shows up at the christening of Aurora (Briar Rose/Sleeping Beauty) and places a curse upon the child. Until the child’s 16th birthday, she is raised by incognito fairies to protect her from the curse of pricking her finger upon the spindle of a spinning wheel. During these years, Aurora forms a remarkable and unlikely friendship with Maleficent. But, fate has a way of working her magic despite human precautions. And, Aurora falls into her deathlike sleep on the eve of her 16th birthday, just as Maleficent cursed her. As this is a revisionist plot, you will see very little of your Sleeping Beauty left from the original Disney classic. In many ways, this tale surpasses its predecessor. So, prepare yourself for a wild adventure with twists and turns around every corner.
The biggest and most outstanding reason to see this movie is to witness Jolie portray Maleficent with uncanny brilliance! Everything from her smile, to her body language, to the manner in which she delivers her poetic lines is fantastic. Suffice it to say, it is highly unlikely that Disney could have found any other actress that both had the look and feel of the very essence of Maleficent. It is as though the audience is watching Maleficent herself, and not an actress playing her. However, the other actors pale in comparison to Jolie. With the exception of Jolie, the entire move was nearly completely miscast and static. Not that it was expected for other performers in the movie to be on par with Jolie, but they should have at least been able to capture the very essence of their respective characters as well. Now, the young girl who plays Aurora when she is a child was quite good–but that’s it. Disney should re-evaluate how they cast chief and supporting players when featuring such a prominent actress. But, had this movie come out during Oscar season, it would not be surprising to find Jolie nominated for her role as Maleficent.
Sweeping landscapes and brilliant lighting design captured by the lens in epic cinematography…too bad most of the movie exists in After Effects. Seems to me, it would have been easier just to make the entire movie animated. Unfortunately, Maleficent suffers from overly employing the use of CGI in nearly every scene. And not in small ways that help to make an existing landscape more authentic or keeping it to the story, but in big ways. It’s nearly as bad as the planet Pandora. From the moment the movie opens to the time it closes, very few moments go by in which CGI is not featured prominently in the scene. Whatever happened to finding landscapes that essentially have the look the studio is going for, then adding some CGI here and there to create movie magic? Why create an entire world in After Effects when there are plenty of qualifying locations on this planet to choose from? In fact, the graphics in this movie were sub-par compared to even the ones from The Phantom Menace. And the score did not fare so well either. Nearly forgettable is the best way to describe the music from the movie. From a technical perspective, the movie showcases a lack in imagination and a barrage of chaotic imagery backed by a canned orchestral par-for-the-course score.
Unfortunately, first-time director Robert Stromberg has just proven that he needs to stick to focussing on production design and not venture into the director’s chair just yet. Had it not been for Angelina Jolie’s amazing performance as the villain, his movie would have gone by of John Carter or The Lone Ranger. Had he focussed more on the production design, the graphics artist may not have had to design entire landscapes for long shots that were way too lengthy with digital renderings overtaking the silver screen. Not sure whether this movie has too much or too little production design. Depends on your perspective, I suppose. Whatever the case, the movie did not live up to the expectations that come with a Disney movie based on their own material, so to speak.
Whether you enjoy revisionist stories or just want to spend a couple hours on a date or with your family, this movie is a decent way to spend an afternoon or evening. Don’t bother seeing it in 3D, though; standard 4K will suffice. Maleficent puts a new twist on an all-too-familiar story about how we live now, and the importance self-discovery in the here-and-now, as opposed to how we live “once upon a time.” And it does so by suggesting, among other things, that young and older women are not natural rivals or arch-nemicists, even if that is the perpetuated idea of what predominantly exists in fairy tales, Hollywood, Broadway, and the world. And while that may sound sappy, it is precisely the kind of hokey that, story by story, may finally make a real difference in the lives of the young and old alike.