I’ve been anticipating Maleficent for a long time. As a big Disney fan, I don’t usually like when Disney decides to make a live action version of one of their properties (101 Dalmations is worse than you remember, trust me), but casting Angelina Jolie as the titular witch was enough to pique my interest.
Trailer after trailer showed off how good Jolie looked in costume, Lana Del Rey’s amazingly dark “Once Upon a Dream” cover, and even made me interested in the whole “this is the TRUE story” angle. But the entire time I’ve been worried that the actual film might not live up to the mountain of hype I’d made for myself thanks to the recent glut of lackluster gritty fairy tale reboots. Thankfully, the final product isn’t too far off the mark.
Maleficent is like a fine ham and cheese quiche that might not have been baked long enough. It’s still good, but some bites are a little more raw than others.
Director: Robert Stromberg
Release Date: May 30, 2014
The film follows Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), a young fairy who once fell in love with a boy named Stefan (Sharlto Copley). After he betrays her in order to become king, Maleficent, angry at the deception, curses his child to a deep sleep at age sixteen. But as the years go on, Maleficent watches Aurora (Elle Fanning) grow and questions her true motives. Does she really want to see that little girl suffer? Oh, and the whole time Stefan is actively trying to kill Maleficent for reasons.
Maleficent is actually my favorite Disney villainess. She’s a powerful woman who’s just evil for evil’s sake. She didn’t need a reason (even if attacking a princess seemed petty on the surface), she reviled in a charismatic foul charm that helped her stick out from the other Disney villains (and led to her breakout role in the Kingdom Hearts series). But Maleficent decides to throw all of that out by completely re-writing Sleeping Beauty. Changing the events of that film, Maleficent is more of an origin, good guy gone bad then gone good again story. It’s not exactly a bad fairy tale, but it’s abruptly different. It’s a lot more clean than the older version (Maleficent just has powers instead of drawing her fire power from Hell, for example), but with that sterility comes a lack of oomph.
But strangely enough, as much as Maleficent wants to become its own film, it’s paradoxically at its best when it mirrors the original animated film. For example, the scene Maleficent is most famous for (crashing Baby Aurora’s christening) is just fantastic here. Jolie is in top form as she delivers cheesy line after line (and diehards will be pleased to know most of that scene’s dialogue is ripped straight from Sleeping Beuaty with a few welcome changes) in a completely hammy way. But given the overzealous nature of the story, it all absolutely works. She’s fierce, she’s charming, she’s alluring, and every little side smirk or stare nails it. If Disney ever pushes forward with another live action Maleficent, or use the character in any matter, casting someone other than Jolie would be a huge mistake. She is Maleficent.
But while Jolie doesn’t phone it in, the same can’t be said for everything else. While brisk in pace, the story feels a bit hollow as it doesn’t quite know which audience to appeal to. You can gauge a sense of turmoil as it clashes between kid friendly and serious. There are a few scenes that can pass off as actual drama, but are stuck in between a trio of awful pixies. The three pixies (whose names have been changed to Flittle, Knotgrass, and Thistlewhit for some reason) are just awful. Their involvement does manage to provide one cute moment (as Maleficent toys with them for pleasure), but I don’t remember their characters being this intrusive or plastic in Sleeping Beauty. Elle Fanning is okay with what little she has, Sharlto Copley turns a nice paranoid individual, and that’s pretty much it. It’s all Angelina Jolie’s show, but that’s okay.
The main problem with Maleficent doesn’t lie with its pale story or cheap action sequences, it’s defanging Maleficent herself. You can tell for yourself too. It hits an extremely high point in the middle of the film when Maleficent is at her most evil, and it’s fantastic. Yet, when she’s de-clawed and the film begins to root for her, her black leather outfits and razor sharp cheekbones just aren’t as appealing. It just becomes another generic fairy tale film where folks speak in faux English accents for indistinguishable reasons.
But I reaalllllllly liked Angelina Jolie in this. I’m serious. Seeing her act out the famous Sleeping Beauty scene is well worth the price of admission. Keep workin’ those horns, gurl.