Rated PG for sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images.
Starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Sam Riley, Brenton Thwaites, Kenneth Cranham, Sarah Flind, Hannah New, Isobelle Molloy, Michael Higgins, Ella Purnell, Jackson Bews.
Written by Linda Woolverton, based on "La Belle au bois dormant" by Charles Perrault and from the story "Little Briar Rose" by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm -also based on Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” written by Erdman Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Winston Hibler, Bill Peet, Ted Sears, Ralph Wright, and Milt Banta.
Directed by Robert Stromberg.
Why can’t Disney leave “well enough” alone? Sequels (and even more unfortunately “prequels”) happen, but the folks working under the mouse ears really can’t help themselves when it comes to tinkering with a good thing. No longer content with limiting releases of classics by placing them in their proverbial “vault,” Disney has taken to re-telling their own beloved stories, often with a dark twist. The latest “Mickey Mulligan” is a Sleeping Beauty do-over – but this time, the story is told from the evil queen’s point of view in Maleficent.
Angelina Jolie stars as Maleficent, and her story begins in the Moor kingdom, adjacent to the boundaries of humans. The Moors are not human, but are a fairyland melting pot comprised of tiny fairies, some kind of stick critters and others that resemble some sort of miniature swamp hog/elephant hybrid. As a child, Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy as a child and Ella Purnell as a teen) falls in love with a human boy intruder named Stefan (Michael Higgins and Jackson Bews). In adulthood, the pair loses contact with each other and the human king declares war on the Moors. When Maleficent defends her country, the king offers his throne to anyone who can defeat her. Adult Stefan (Sharlto Copley) uses his friendship with Maleficent to drug her and steal her wings, thus gaining the human kingdom. Stricken with hate and anger, Maleficent vows revenge against Stefan, and curses his newborn baby girl Aurora with a deathlike sleep, to be encountered by pricking her finger on a spinning wheel on her 16th birthday. Stefan employs three bumbling Moor fairies (Imelda Staunton, Leslie Manville and Juno Temple) - somehow disloyal to Maleficent - to hide the girl away until after her 16th birthday, hoping to bypass the curse.
Here’s where things get really weird.
Maleficent uses her powers to turn a crow named Diaval (Sam Riley) into human form, so she can keep tabs on the girl as she grows up in a secluded cottage. Content to wait 16 years for the curse to take effect (instead of just killing a defenseless baby), Maleficent actually begins to have a relationship with the sweet little girl as she grows into a young woman (played by Elle Fanning). Maleficent even introduces Aurora into the Moor kingdom, giving the princess great delight. Aurora is equally affectionate, referring to the brooding queen as her “fairy godmother.”
Oh yeah, and right before her 16th birthday, Aurora meets a handsome prince guy named Philip (Brenton Thwaites) in the woods. More on that later.
Realizing her mistake at involving an innocent girl in her vengeful plot, Maleficent tries in vain to reverse the curse, only to discover that Aurora has secretly traveled to Stefan’s castle to try and end the feud. While inside, the curse magically lures Aurora to a spinning wheel, where she falls victim to its sleep-inducing powers. Meanwhile, the incompetent fairies who were supposed to be taking care of the girl try to get that handsome prince guy to Aurora’s bedside, where they hope “true love’s kiss” will overpower Maleficent’s curse.
Well, since Philip and Aurora only knew each other for about 5 minutes, they really didn’t have much chance to fall in love – so the kiss doesn’t work. It is then left up to Maleficent to storm the castle, face Stefan and prove what “true love” is all about. Oh yeah, there's a dragon, too.
First, there are a few things I liked about Maleficent. I liked some of the visual effects, including flying sequences involving Jolie and the girls who also played the title role. I also liked the conflict of conscience Maleficent feels over using Aurora in her evil plot. Jolie’s performance isn’t terrible, even if a little overdone at times, and she is, of course, stunning as usual. Jolie also dons fake, pointed cheekbones, which is puzzling, since she has probably the best cheekbones in Hollywood.
Now, for the bad part.
Without screaming “blasphemy!” at the obvious sweeping changes to the Sleeping Beauty story, I have more than a few irritations over Disney’s recent penchant for promoting its “sisters before misters” (see: Frozen) change in romantic philosophy. While I think it’s commendable to point out the silliness of “love at first sight” while championing the cause of gender-equal empowerment, I don’t think you have to throw out all romance – which used to be a Disney staple, not the least of which is/was…Sleeping freaking Beauty. It would seem that the mouse ears folks are waging a war on men; spoon-feeding little girls with the idea that men are useless foils, evil in nature, or at the very least, of little significance. I have no problem with recognizing women as equally empowered to men – but do you have to re-write classics like Sleeping Beauty to get that point across? Frozen is a good example of explaining this without trampling on a classic animated feature.
And speaking of messing with classics, what’s next? Another remake of 101 Dalmatians, with Cruella DeVille working undercover as a PETA volunteer? The Little Mermaid, with Ursula as a caring, misunderstood dolphin-safe tuna advocate? Snow White with the mirror convincing the Witch Queen she’s really beautiful inside, thus inspiring her to start an anti dwarf discrimination campaign? You know, sometimes evil is just evil – you don’t need to give in to some sort of cinematic psychotherapy to explain it. I’m almost sure Disney is working on a new version of the Bible, with Satan as a misunderstood, competitor cheated by his brother Jesus.
(Note* A live-action version of Cinderella is due in theaters this March – starring Downton Abbey’s Lily James in the tile role and Cate Blanchett as the sure-to-be-misundertood evil stepmother – A Beauty and the Beast live-action film is also in the works)
There plenty of other deficiencies with Maleficent, including the dreadful special effects that attempt to squeeze the huge real-life heads of Staunton, Manville and Temple onto tiny, computerized fairy bodies. Speaking of the three fairies, it’s more than a little annoying that they are depicted as moronic, neglectful steward/babysitters in the movie. Flora, Fauna and Merryweather ought be rolling over in their cartoon vaults by now.
Little girls may be easily distracted by the cute critters, pretty princesses in pretty dresses, horses, castles and other fairy-tale minutiae in the movie, but to the parents who grew up on classics like Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent will seem like a lot of dragon fodder.
What to know what Jenniffer thinks of the movie? Check out her review here!