Film: In defense of ‘Maleficent’

By Meryl Gottlieb|| @buzzlightmeryl    
Maleficent | Directed by Robert Stromberg | Rated PG
Rating: 4/5    

mal movie posterInitially, this was going to be a standard review of the newest Disney film, Maleficent. Then, I researched online only to find several other critics who did not share the same good-natured feeling I had for the film. Instead, I found a lot of average ratings and even some harsh words. I found this a bit shocking, for I truly enjoyed those 97 minutes.

It’s a bit campy at times, but I’m taking it for what it is: an attempt at a summer blockbuster. It’s a visually huge film and has been highly promoted — and I’d argue highly anticipated — since its first teaser trailer. It’s not groundbreaking for the genre, but it does present a lot of interesting aspects that I truly enjoyed.

Maleficent takes Disney’s Sleeping Beauty to new heights as it tells the tale in a way that is a far cry from the 1959 animated version. Take the old story where Maleficent curses an infant Aurora (Sleeping Beauty’s actual name) to prick her finger on a spinning wheel on her 16th birthday and fall into a “sleep-like death,” and now add some great cinematography, an interesting re-imagination and an actress at the top of the A-list and you have Maleficent.

Angelina Jolie looks menacing as hell in the costume. She does an excellent job embodying the role and making Maleficent fun to watch. About every other scene features a close-up of Jolie, slight eyebrow raise, full red lips, cheekbones and all. I wasn’t opposed to them, but there are a lot.

Yes, visually Maleficent is perfect. But, the new tale does come with its flaws. As much as I liked the film, I have to say the backstory and “true version” of the story wasn’t as creative or full like the heights reached in the musical Wicked, which did an outstanding job retelling the story of the Wicked Witch of the West. Vengeance for a spited love and cruel boy are what drive Maleficent to her evil nature — a trope used countless times. However, the real world parallel to the act done to Maleficent that spawns her true hatred for her former beau is not the typical route for Disney.

Thus, where you think Maleficent will do well, it is mostly average. Where the film truly impressed me was the different tale it told as Aurora aged. That is where it got interesting. That is what drew me in. The scenes with a younger Aurora, played by Jolie’s daughter, were a refreshing comedic break; they also served as some of my favorite moments of the entire film. Interactions with the older, almost 16-year-old, Aurora (Elle Fanning) also proves interesting. It becomes a relationship that is in stark contrast to the one shown in the 1959 animated film. In fact, Aurora probably had triple the amount of screen time here than she did then. Although to be fair, she was actually in a sleep-like death in that film and really is only in a sort of power nap in the new tale.

In this relationship is what will cause the most stir: the different take on “true love’s kiss.” It’s not on par with what Frozen did for Disney princesses, but it is another attempt to please the modern generation, who often look at the early, meek Disney princesses with a hint of disgust, by taking back a signature move of the man swooping in to save the helpless woman. Again, it didn’t make as much of an impact on me as the true love’s kiss ploy in Frozen — now THAT was a statement — but it certainly fit the story the film was presenting.

Prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaites) is thrown into the drama but is hardly monumental. Get the image of him tackling the thorn woods out of your head. For the most part in this film, he’s the sleeping beauty. And I don’t mind it. It’s not that I’m a bra-burning feminist who wants an end to the prince-princess storylines, it’s just that I could never accept the love between Aurora and Phillip or even Snow White and Prince Charming or Cinderella and Charming because their “love” was never developed. Once again, Frozen finally called out how ridiculous it is to rush into a marriage with someone you’ve only known for a day; he could try to kill you and your sister and take over your kingdom for goodness sake! Luckily, that nonsense is dealt with in Maleficent.

maleficentFurthermore, the film’s entire purpose was to humanize Maleficent, as Wicked did for the Wicked Witch. As much as I liked the film overall, I just wish they had allowed her to be actually evil for a tad longer. The famed Christening scene in which Maleficent curses Aurora allows Jolie’s creative whims to soar as she makes a larger than life performance. Jolie was deliciously evil, and I just wish we could have seen more of it.

What I liked least in the film was the portrayal of the three good fairies, played by Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville. They were absolutely my favorite characters in the original animation with their sass, wit and competence. But in Maleficent, they were fussy, inept and, well, incompetent. It was quite a disappointment. Because of the new relationship between Maleficent and Aurora, they were edged out, and their purpose in the story was essentially cut.

Maleficent’s right-hand man bird Diaval (Sam Riley) adds the moments of comic relief the good fairies fail to create. He’s really Maleficent’s only friend and is the one character who was truly expanded the best. He’s the sidekick I always imagined Maleficent deserved to have.

Perhaps I would have liked Sharlto Copley more as the antagonist had his accent not been so distracting. It was like a bad Sean Connery. Please stop talking.

The film has some faults, but Jolie is its saving grace. It’s not monumental filmmaking, but it’s definitely worth the hour and a half to see a great performance by Jolie, some very rich visual images and a cool new twist on an old tale.


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