Maleficent

No one defines misunderstood heroine more than a scorned bitch with horns. Academy Award winner Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sam Riley and Sharlto Copley star in Maleficent.

MaleficentCast of Characters:
Maleficent – Angelina Jolie
King Stefan – Sharlto Copley
Princess Aurora – Elle Fanning
Diaval – Sam Riley
Knotgrass – Imelda Staunton
Thistlewit – Juno Temple
Flittle – Lesley Manville

Director – Robert Stromberg
Screenplay – Linda Woolverton
Based on the fairy tales La Belle au bois dormant by Charles Perrault and Little Briar Rose by the Brothers Grimm, and the ballet The Sleeping Beauty by Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky
Producer – Joe Roth
Rated PG for sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images

As a young fairy, Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy) lives in the moors – the woodlands just outside of the kingdom. One day she meets a young boy named Stefan (Michael Higgins) and a friendship begins between the two that grows the older they get. However, as the years go by, a threat looms more and more over her homeland. Now grown up, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) must defend the moors from King Henry (Kenneth Cranham), who’s determined to conquer the forest realm. Stefan (Sharlto Copley) warns Maleficent, which is in turn a rouse just to have her wings taken from her, so that Stefan can prove himself worthy to be the king’s successor.

Hellbent on revenge, Maleficent shows up to King Stefan’s newborn daughter’s christening offer a gift – a curse stating that before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fall into a sleeplike death. Fearful of what’s been proclaimed, the king orders all spinning wheels to be destroyed and places his daughter in the care of three pixie fairies – Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), Thistlewit (Juno Temple) and Flittle (Lesley Manville). As the child grows, Aurora (Elle Fanning) finds herself smack dab in the middle of a conflict between the forest she grew up in, ruled by Maleficent and the kingdom that holds her legacy.

Everyone knows the tale of Sleeping Beauty, whether it’s the original fairy tale source or the 1959 Walt Disney animated classic. Maleficent is a revisionist take giving the viewer the origin, motive and perspective all from the iconic Disney villain’s point of view. The trailers clearly pointed that out when it advertised “You know the tale… now find out the truth.” This is brought to us by Academy Award winning art director Robert Stromberg, who won for Avatar and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, in his directorial debut.

And like Avatar, this film almost sucks as much as it did.

Let me be clear that as much as I love the 1959 animated version of Sleeping Beauty, I was not expecting nor wanting a shot-by-shot remake. This was marketed as a tale from the villain’s perspective, and I was looking forward to seeing what drove Maleficent into becoming the iconic, evil, party-snubbed bitch that she’s known to be. The problem is this isn’t a villain’s perspective. Without giving away spoilers, Maleficent here pretty much has one pissed-off bad day at the office (the christening ceremony), and that’s about it. This is far from the point of view of a “villain”. It’s very tricky to pull off a villain-centric film ’cause you have to find a way to get the viewer to naturally be against the antagonist, but also have a little bit of empathy toward them and their motivations. The act of betrayal against her at first is somewhat effective (the closest we’ll ever see a date rape drug used in a PG-rated Disney film), but by the second act, Linda Woolverton’s script somehow twists Maleficent into the heroine of the story in such tacked-on form.

By the way, courtesy of merriam-webster.com: Maleficent – working or productive of harm or evil.

Who the hell would name their cute, peaceful loving child Maleficent?

Putting aside her image and demeanor, Maleficent’s name alone immediately conjures up a depiction of pure evil so grand that it requires an origin story handled just right to bring out even the slightest amount of sympathy from the viewer. The story, though, lacks so much focus, is tonally imbalanced (one moment Maleficent is placing her horrific curse on Aurora, the next she’s having a slapstick mud-throwing fight with her), and feels rushed. If you wanna convince me that there’s a method to the madness of one of Disney’s most memorable villains that I should understand and feel for, you need substance. This film has none.

From a visual standpoint, Maleficent is impressive, and first impressions here are definitely that this director comes from an art direction background. However, a film that’s merely just visually impressive means nothing to me. Hand me a cake, and I’m gonna eat more than just the frosting on top. Avatar was visually impressive and I hated that self-righteous film. If there’s anything that this film has over the James Cameron flick, it’s the performance by Angelina Jolie. Honestly, most of her resume is cluttered with junk, but when she brings her A-game to the table, she can be spectacular. She’s clearly relishing the opportunity to play this character, yet the writing does her absolutely no favors. Jolie’s best moment is, fittingly enough, the near-verbatim christening scene. It’s not that it’s near-verbatim of the animated film, but that it’s the most lively and animated that we see out of Jolie. It’s there where she really embodies the character and captures the look and the spirit, originally provided by Eleanor Audley, so well without it coming off as just a hokey impersonation. Why Stromberg and Woolverton didn’t capitalize more on that by letting Jolie ham it up throughout the entire movie (which a fairy tale setting perfectly allows), I don’t know. Instead, they tether Jolie down to a muddled story that can only be best described as a very polished looking turd.

Even more disserviced by the material is the remainder of the cast. Elle Fanning (great in Somewhere with Stephen Dorff) shows here that she’s good at smiling, laughing and being about as daft as one can get. The original Aurora showed moments of foolishness as well, but she’s Marie Curie compared to this. Utterly wasted, is Sharlto Copley as King Stefan, who, this time around, is twisted into a caricature villain with no redeeming value, empathy, likeable traits, and is a tad bit insane. Prince Phillip (whose character’s involved in a Frozen-esque twist that’s nowhere near as effective or heartfelt as it was in Frozen) and the good fairies (who somehow shifted allegiances from the moors to the kingdom at the snap of a finger) are reduced to nothing more than bumbling idiots. This film and, more importantly, Princess Aurora’s well-being, would’ve been better served with Larry, Curly and Moe raising her. Flora, Fauna and Merryweather certainly weren’t Mrs. Doubtfire, but Knotgrass, Thistlewit and Flittle would have social services banging on their door before day one ended.

I will admit, there’s one instance where Aurora’s utter stupidity is put to good use. It’s when she mistakes Maleficent for her fairy godmother. Angelina Jolie’s reaction for just those few seconds is priceless.

Despite a fun, lively turn from Angelina Jolie and a visually dazzling backdrop, Maleficent is ultimately wasted by a jumbled up narrative with no substance, and black and white characters that are either boring (Aurora), stupid (the fairies), clumsy (the prince) or nut jobs (the king). The idea behind this film is intriguing, but Stromberg’s messy, unfocused direction and Woolverton’s script, cluttered with cardboard character after cardboard character, only succeeded in making me envious of Aurora’s comatose state.

I give Maleficent a D+ (★½).

2 thoughts on “Maleficent

  1. I love your views on this concept of the “villain’s perspective”. I would contrast this effort with Elphaba from Wicked. That story changed my opinion of the “Wicked Witch” where it sounds like Maleficent failed.

    • Thanks. I haven’t seen Wicked, but know of it, and heard great things. Another great backstory would be Magneto. In the first few X-Men films, he’s clearly the villain. Then, X-Men: First Class showed his origin and the trauma he experienced in the concentration camps. You don’t condone the actions he takes later on, but you now understand his mistrust of the humans. Maleficent just had terrible characterization all around. Everyone was flat, even Maleficent. It was more Jolie’s performance that elevated the character a bit.

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