Visually stunning but more than a little unfocused, Maleficent is a beautiful way to spend an afternoon, but not much more. (A spoiler free review)

Disney has never and will never be accused of under-utilizing a brand. Why go to the trouble of creating something brand new when you can take something old and make money off it? Sleeping Beauty is one of Disney’s oldest franchises (the original, animated movie came out in 1959) and is also one with the most untapped potential. It doesn’t even have a direct to DVD sequel! And so Sleeping Beauty becomes the latest victim participant in Disney’s let’s take a popular animated film and make it live action endeavor. Following the truly terrible 101 Dalmations in 1996 and Tim Burton’s bizarre take on Alice in Wonderland (2010), all Maleficent had to do to please me was to not be terrible. Mission definitely accomplished. Fingers crossed for Cinderella, out next spring.

The film spans the time from Maleficent’s childhood until the end of the classic Sleeping Beauty tale. That’s a lot of material to go through in a relatively short time, which is probably why there are parts of the movie that feel as though they’ve been ripped apart and stitched back together a dozen times. This is particularly problem in the beginning; once Aurora grows into Elle Fanning, the movie becomes much more cohesive.

I really appreciated that the movie provided reasoning for Maleficent’s actions without excusing them. The film shows quite clearly that cursing Aurora was The Wrong Thing To Do. I was a little afraid the movie would just make up a whiny backstory and turn one of Disney’s greatest villains into an overly tropey tragically misunderstood victim. Nope. Instead, she’s a complex character who makes mistakes. Bravo, Disney.

While it is a beautiful experience, the movie lacks thematic direction. Is it about the nature of love? The strength of redemption and change? The power hatred and fear can hold over us? Or is it just about enjoying some popcorn and Angelina Jolie’s razor cheekbones?

In terms of appropriate age range, again, I have to say Maleficent is somewhat unfocused. Parts seemed geared toward a young audience (i.e. the antics of the fairies, the sing-songy female narrator), while other facets of the movie are decidedly more grown-up in tone. I can’t be the only one who saw the taking of Maleficent’s wings as an allegory for rape, can I? In addition, some of the visuals are decidedly dark and scary. Older kids should be fine, but this movie would’ve terrified me when I was little. Then again, Fraggle Rock terrified me, so maybe I’m not the best metric.

Jolie gives the role her all, truly. She revels in her evil smiles, which she has down pat. This movie has flaws, but Jolie is not for a second one of them. She managed to portray a complicated character while wearing prosthetic cheekbones, crazy contacts, and horns. And she did her own stunts. And she helped design Maleficent’s look. And she handpicked Lana Del Rey to sing the theme. I’ll stop fangirling now.

I will say Young Aurora is played by Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, which takes you a bit out of the movie. There’s no mistaking those lips. Also taking you out of the movie is Angelina Maleficent declaring that she doesn’t like children. To one of her six real life kids. Making cameos in the movie are Pax and Zahara (spot them as the only non-white children in the christening scene).

Have I mentioned how ridiculously beautiful the movie was? It honestly might be the straight up prettiest live action movie I’ve ever seen. They did a great job of matching Disney’s original Sleeping Beauty which is particularly impressive, given how stylized that movie is. A lot of the dialogue in the christening scene is taken directly from the animated film. Jolie even managed to match Eleanor Audley’s tone. Sorry I’m really stopping now.

Fairytale Bits and Pieces

The fairies have inexplicably been renamed Knotgrass, Thistlewit, and Flittle. Was that necessary? (No, no it was not.)

Knotgrass is played by Imelda Staunton, who still looks like Dolores Umbridge in all that pink.

In the original Disney movie, Princess Aurora gets the gift of beauty and the gift of song. Here, song is replaced by the much more sensible gift of happiness.

The song that plays over the credits is a cover of “Once Upon A Dream” sung by the aforementioned Lana Del Rey. It’s a hauntingly beautiful update to the Disney classic. I’ve been listening to it for months.

Maleficent has a buddy cop sort of thing going on with her raven, Diaval, which is quite amusing.

two and a half out of three once upon a dreams

sunbunny, certified Disneyologist and lover of pretty things


LaureMack said...

They are remaking Cinderella?? Color me cautiously excited!

LaureMack said...

Great review Sunbunny!

LaureMack said...

Great review Sunbunny!

sunbunny said...

Yup! Here's a link to the first teaser trailer. :)

Emily Ecrivaine said...

I view this film as something to watch on a lazy afternoon whenever you're NOT in the mood for deep soul-searching allegory. It's very pretty to look at, I agree with you on that, but I feel like its a lot of style over substance.

I give it lots of points for not ruining my favourite animated villainess of all time, though. Thank you, Disney, for taking the higher road there.

One interesting thing I noticed, though, was that they changed the curse from '...before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday, she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die' (which would then be lessened by Merriweather to '...before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday, she shall fall into a sleep-like death'. Why did they change that? It seemed to serve little more purpose than changing the three fairies' names.

lisa menaster said...

101 Dalmations live version was not terrible. It was a lot of fun, especially Glenn Close.

J.D. Balthazar said...

Just saw Maleficent this afternoon and I kinda loved it. Sure it was pure Disney, but that didn't matter so much. Jolie was perfect in the role, she was so layered and at times both creepy and utterly beautiful. I had this picture of how I wanted the story to go, and they actually gave me the story I hoped for. I'm not sure if I could ask for more from this film, except for a bit more information about the King's years before he took the throne and the years directly after.

Great review Sunbunny, I'm actually looking forward to Cinderella now.

mazephoenix said...

Great review. Saw the film and mostly loved it. Pity Maleficent is sometimes the only smart person in the cast. Stefan and his stupid revenge-quest made me rage. And the thing with the wings was clearly a rape metaphor, I think Angelina's said as much in an interview. Shudder.
The movie was so pretty, and a real treat anyway. Maleficent's costumes rivaled Regina from Once upon a time for awesomeness. Oh now there's a crossover I'd like to see.

Jonathan said...

Am I the only one who didn't like it? To me, Maleficent has to be a really evil character. The one that does something evil and revels in it, preferably accompanied by a loud MWOE-HA-HA-HA!!! It would have been fine by me that they gave her a reason for being evil (the taking of the wings was indeed beautifully done and made sense), but then afterwards, when she's caring for Cinderella and trying to take away the curse... To me, that's a complete assassination of a classic character I loved to hate...

It's weird that you mention the live action adaptation of 101 Dalmations, Sunbunny, 'cause that one did it completely right, in my opinion: Cruella is totally the star of that movie, but she remains deliciously evil, just like she was in the animated movie...