“Maleficent” is the farest of the summer
To describe Disney’s new fairy tale reimaging “Maleficent” is like going into a ride at Disneyland. You sit back in your seat as the ride queue music drifts into the line you came from, you are on a track and being revealed the story and its wonderful animatronics. You find yourself being turned and twisted following the story of Maleficent and her adventures while admiring the craftsmanship. But when the ride is over, you feel saddened. Not because it was a bad ride but you wish it went on longer and appreciate the fun you had going on. Let me tell you that when the minute this movie ended, I didn’t want to end. And when you find yourself engaged into this world of fantasy hammering against reality, its rare for family movies these days to do that. But then again, I shouldn’t praise it too much seeing it has flaws but you know what they say, not every movie is going to be perfect. But with “Maleficent,” I can make an exception.
The story starts off with the origin straight away and its a good setup while a bit “been there, done that.” Maleficent is depicted as a winged fairy (horns by Rick Baker and performance by Angelina Jolie) who is the leader of other good hearted and well-designed CGI creatures in a gorgeous heaven called the Moors. Everything seems elegant and colorful till a tyrannical king that is neighbored close to her only seeks to destroy the faerie world. Why does he want to do this? We never find out. But if one knows their folklore, people are cautious and prejudice to mischievous sprites so I can sort of let that pass. His son Stefan (Sharlto Copley) sees something different in her until (as you can guess) he grows so distance from her that he starts to admire her less. Why? Is it because the human world forces this prejudice or does it even exist? This is something never made clear as the narration we get tells us how Stefan is more interested in being king as his dying father challenges his adversaries to kill the good-natured fairy and bring back proof.
And thus, like in all fairy tales, Stefan goes back to seemingly seek for forgiveness but instead makes off with her wings instead of killing her seeing how time they spent again told by narration and montage footage. Because of this, Maleficent turns cold-hearted and curses his first daughter-born child that at 16 she will prick her finger on the needle of a spinning wheel and die…oh, I’m sorry, “fall into a sleep like death.” And just like in Sleeping Beauty, the child grows to be the happy-cheerful Aurora (Elle Fanning making up for her dreadful performance in 2010’s The Nutcrakcer) who surprisingly grows a bigger bond to the grumpy fairy and sure enough, Maleficent starts to realize she might have made a mistake.
When watching this movie, I was a bit nervous seeing this is Disney taking their adaption of Sleeping Beauty and giving it addition/alternate material. The crow is there but he can turn into anything under Maleficent’s command (sometimes a walking and talking Sam Riley who is equally entertaining). The three fairies that “look after” Aurora are there but are more dumber than a sack of potatoes. The goblins that existed in the castle are now goofy but well-designed forest creatures. The prince is there but is more forgettable than you can imagine. Even right down to the scenery and cinematography, this film really feels like a fresh take on the 1950s animated classic (that I do wish I had time to revisit…even though I do remember a good portion).
For everything it alters, it does have a unique take to it. Like the creatures Maleficent has to look after which I found to be very well done. They almost feel like they were taken out of Max Reinhardt’s Midsummer Night’s Dream but only in color. I like how the raven is not reduced to a bird half the time and turns into a human as it gives something for Maleficent to interact and play around with. What they alter or tag on, is really ingenious but again, this is your standard fairy tale and it retains to that nature story-wise and environment wise. Its a family film that is taking its source and updating it for a new audience so your going to expect good things and bad things anyway and I took it with stride.
The one thing that really holds this together is Angelina Jolie’s take on Maleficent. I’m glad this was made with her as I can’t picture anyone else pulling this role off. You can just see she is having fun playing a wicked fairy that is getting revenge and you can’t help but delight in how wicked she is. Jolie even nails the 1959 animated version’s voice down to a tea; mannerisms and all. Its great and you do feel sympathetic but perhaps a bit too much. Straight away, they establish she is the good one and carry this throughout. Even when she is casting enchantments, it doesn’t seem all bad (except the prophecy of course) or when she is going against soldiers, she doesn’t kill them immediately. And perhaps, its for the best. You could argue it would make the character a bit too extreme and dark but it wouldn’t hurt to make things a bit more edgy.
And that’s the key word here, edgy. A lot of the scope and scale is there to make this a grand episodic fantasy along the lines of Lord of the Rings or The Dark Crystal. There’s a battle scene at the start that almost feels like it has the tone of the Narnia movies but then the movie shifts to being light and innocent like Willow or Hook. But its not a bad transition and again you do really feel bad for Maleficent when she feels her curse was no a good idea after all and fails in trying to prevent it. This is very much what kept me going and I’m sure its what viewers will enjoy.
But of course, there are problems. When one is rooting for Maleficent, no one is feeling sorry for King Stefan. I really feel like more could have been done with his character and at times, they do hint some tragedy as he goes mad over plans to kill the fairy but it never came together for me. There’s a bit where he’s told someone close to him dies and he just shrugs it off in revenge. He goes mad thinking Maleficent is going to attack again and tries to get his guards to stay up all night. This could have been potential for a really good villain or at least a really a tragic character along the lines of Captain Ahab, but it doesn’t go anywhere other than him being a tyrannical ruler.
And the three good fairies…well, I’m deeply mixed about them. At first, I thought their shtick was good but good enough. Some people might find them annoying (and creepy as their CGI counterparts) and even question just how “smart” they are. There is a picnic scene where they are arguing over something and they don’t notice the princess they are taking care of nearly falls off a cliff. Then again, they haven’t gone out of the Moors that much but how did you take care of yourself. I understand the fairies in the 1959 animated movie weren’t perfect but at least they had some understanding of living a human life. Here, I left like I was watching The Three Stooges let alone more than three wood creatures. Obviously, they are used as a comic foil instead. Sometimes its funny with the way they argue and bicker but other times, they might get on your nerves a bit. The good thing is that there isn’t much of them and maybe its for the best.
Again, what worked best for Maleficent was Angelia Jole’s performance and the world its placed in. I would actually like to argue this is what Pixar’s Brave should have been. Rich in its own mythology instead of using the Scottish as comedic foils and reducing the Celtic land’s beauty to scenery. Personally, I’m a sucker for fantasy movies like Legend and Willow and I feel Maleficent works is you best see it in that angle. Its not meant to be complex as it wants to tell a simple story. If your looking a fantasy movie is not overly complex and just tells the story straight, this is for you. But if you want something with a harder edge like The Neverending Story or Return to Oz, this might not be. For me, I came in with low expectations and walked out at the end credits knowing I saw a enjoyable film for viewers of young and old. Even if the story is not perfect, your bound to find something enjoyable with the 90 minutes well spent.
Posted on June 1, 2014, in In Theaters (Sort of) and tagged Angelia Jolie, dark ride, fairy tale, Fantasy, Maleficent, Positive, Review, Robert Stromberg, Sleeping Beauty, Summer Blockbuster, Walt Disney. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.