Article By: Dan Clark
They say there are two sides to every story—including fictional ones. As a child I remember finding great joy in books that would retell a classic fairy tale through the perspective of the villain. Maleficent takes that idea by giving us the ‘true story’ behind one of Walt Disney’s most legendary animated films Sleeping Beauty.
Starring a revitalized Angelina Jolie, Maleficent has all the makings of a classic Disney affair—magical creatures, majestic lands, and an underlying desire for enchanted adventure. What becomes apparent fairly quickly however is that there is not much behind the initial concept. Quickly it gets bogged down with an overload of exposition and is never able to recover. Maleficent fairs much better than other live-action fairy tale adaptions like Alice in Wonderland andMirror Mirror, nevertheless it suffers from many of the same issues.
As mentioned previously one thing Maleficent has going for it that similar adaptions lack is a strong character in the lead role. Jolie works wonders as the titular character. She has the ominous presence needed for one of Disney’s most iconic villains. Her theatrics are amusing to witness, especialy when she is given the opportunity to go full evil. Everything from her cold dead eyes to her maniacal laughter fit the character perfectly. If anything she was not given enough opportunity to explore this side of Maleficent, as we find out Maleficent may not be the cold-hearted witch we assumed she was.
We come to learn the world is split into two kingdoms. One ruled by the fear and greed of man, and the other a supernatural realm called The Moors. The Moors is full of colorful and peaceful creatures, and the young faerie Maleficent acts as their protector. When a young boy stumbles into the forbidden land he forms an unlikely friendship with Maleficent. They grow old together and eventually fall in love. It appears the two warring kingdoms may finally have the motivation to seek peace. Peace is not meant to be as greed takes hold. Maleficent’s lifelong friend betrays her for an opportunity to claim the King’s crown. Seeking revenge Maleficent places a curse on the new king’s daughter that will cause her to fall into a deep sleep on her sixteenth birthday.
As you can see there is great deal of story here that needs to be told before we even get into the main conflict. There is a dichotomous structure to the films design. The first half has an abundance of story that is rushed through in a clumsy manner. Motivations for major character decisions are broad and generic. Nothing is dwelled on in great detail, which at least keeps the pace moving. There are a few standout sequences including a Narnia meets Lord of the Rings battle between the woodland creatures and the knights of man. Momentum is clearly established and leads to a heart wrenching sequence of Maleficent loosing what she holds most dear.
There are many reasons to tell an old tale anew. For Maleficent a feministic element is rather apparent. The metaphorical implications of Maleficent being taken advantage of in such a forceful manner are undeniable, and some many argue a little to risqué for a Disney inspired film. Enough ambiguity is given to hide the harsher elements from the more innocent minds. Having such a weighty theme allows it to separate itself from lesser attempts at similar stories.
Nearly all of the momentum is lost in the film’s second half. After the curse is cast the progression begins to meander. Maleficent becomes a voyeuristic figure watching Princess Aurora from afar. Years go by in seemingly random chunks. Aurora’s age is the only decipherable factor one can use to determine how many years have passed. The purpose behind these prolonged sequences is there but the drive is not. An overabundance of dullness becomes a steadfast anchor bringing the pacing to a screeching halt.
Everything hinges on Jolie. All the characters that surround her are developmentally deprived. Depth is nothing more than an inept wish. Some may hope for an interesting characteristic or two but they will not find it. Sharlto Copley, who plays Maleficent’s former friend and the now King, is over the top in the worst ways possible. Elle Fanning is given nothing to work with and gives a bland performance in return. Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Lesley Manville who play the three pixies are all types of annoying in both CGI and human form. Still, this is Jolie’s show and she reveals every moment. If only she was given more time to relish the evilness of the character.
Maleficent has the vivid imagery that works as an additional representation for the films mood—colorful and vibrant when hope and curiosity fuel our protagonist—dark and eerie when anger overcomes her. Overall the CGI works effectively. Unlike Alice and Wonderland this world feels lived in. There is physicality to the landscape. Characters are a part of the world. Not just existing in a green screen atmosphere. Unfortunately there is more substance in the special effects than most of the characters. You have to feel bad for Angelina Jolie as she does everything she can possibly do to make it worth watching. This may be a new take on a classic tale, but it suffers from some age-old problems.