Revamping classic fairy tales has almost become its own genre, we’ve had Snow White and the Huntsman, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, and Oz the Great and Powerful, now the unfortunate thing about all this is that none of them have been all that good. I’m not saying they have no redeeming qualities- the often visually look great – it just that the studios are clearly pushing style over substance, as long as it looks great that means it must be great…right? This is of course not the case, and Disney is at it again with Maleficent.
With this movie, we get a version where the dark queen of the fairies may not be all that evil, but just a little misunderstood, which is not quite how she was depicted in the Disney animated classic, where her intentions were quite clear.
Maleficent is no longer the “Mistress of all Evil” anymore but instead, we learn that she was once a sweet young fairy who lived in the magical kingdom of Moor, flying around on beautiful wings and beloved by all her magical friends. Then she met a boy.
The two become fast friends and as they get older their friendship turns to love, but Stefan wants to grow up to be king and so he betrays her and cuts off her wings to prove to the current king that he destroyed her and thus winning the hand of the princess, which is step one to becoming the new king. This is certainly an unusual way to run a monarchy. Enraged by this horrible betrayal Maleficent waits patiently for her chance at revenge and this comes when the King has a daughter. Maleficent party crashes the christening and curses the baby.
But in this version, she curses the baby with “Eternal Sleep” and not with death, as was the case in the original story, which was then mitigated by one of the fairies into a sleeping curse, “Not in death, but just in sleep, the fateful prophecy you’ll keep.” Herein lies the problem with the Maleficent of this movie, they have made her into some kind of anti-hero so they can’t have her do anything too nasty. I’m not saying this idea can’t work but Maleficent is supposed to be the “Queen of Darkness” and not a tragically misunderstood hero.
Now I’ll state for the record that Angelina Jolie is fantastic in this movie, and she is the primary reason this film has any entertainment value whatsoever but is that enough? Sure she looks amazing and is able to imbue a good deal of pathos into a character who curses a baby, but the problem here is that she cursed a bloody baby! Even if in this version of the story she doesn’t use death curse, and later she feels really really bad about it, there is still the fact that she cursed a cute little infant for something one of its parents was responsible for. That is a hard story arc to work around.
Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) is fine as the sweet maid, who is raised by three idiot fairies – seriously, these fairies are beyond stupid – and it’s up to an ever-watchful Maleficent to prevent these bumbling comic reliefs from starving the baby to death or letting her wander off a cliff.
Later when she grows up she assumes that Maleficent is her Fairy Godmother because this gorgeous being with the cool horned hat has always looked after her, unfortunately, there is still that pesky curse to worry about and thus Prince Boring will eventually show up to complicate things, not to mention Aurora’s asshole dad.
King Stefan (Sharlto Copley) is given the thankless job of being the films real villain, and he’s given no character trait other than “I want to be king at all costs!” and as a threat to Maleficent, he is marginal at best. The film also gives Maleficent the Achilles heel of being harmed by iron – a standard fairy weakness – but I really didn’t need to see a movie where Maleficent has to try and escape the evil king.
The magical land of Moor is your standard CGI rendered world, full of funny creatures and wonderful waterfalls, and it is attacked by humans, for the simple reason that they are in fact mysterious and magical creatures.
This is not hard to believe, as humans are known for having a long history of attacking what they don’t understand, but when your army finds itself facing twenty-foot tree ogres riding giant boars you may want to re-think your military campaign.
So overall turning Maleficent into a sympathetic character didn’t work for me – no matter how great Jolie looked in the part – but I will give them credit for their take on “True loves first kiss” as that resulted in a rather touching scene.
This is a hard film to grade, Angelina Jolie is great fun to watch, and the fantasy elements of the film are mostly entertaining, excluding the three fairies who were annoying beyond belief, but the fact remains that Disney took a villain who is in my number one spot in the lexicon of Disney Top Villains, and thus it is hard for me to recommend it. For me the character of Maleficent is the personification of all evil and is something that good must overcome, she doesn’t need a tragic back story to make us sympathize with her, and certainly not one where it’s some kind of “Girl betrayed by boy” tripe, as that really takes away from her awesomeness.
I also call foul on the fact that Maleficent doesn’t even turn into a dragon in this film, instead, the filmmaker for some reason decided that it should be her flunkie who becomes the dragon, and that’s just bullshit. The dragon we do get does look pretty cool but it isn’t as effective as one would hope.
In a nod to the Broadway smash Wicked Disney brings us a convoluted back story to one of cinemas greatest villains, though Angelina Jolie puts in a great performance it can’t overcome the basic problem of “Did Maleficent really need a tragic history?”