Ah, Sleeping Beauty, the classic tale showcasing the power of true love between princess and prince… is a fraud! At least that’s what Disney Circa 2014 wants us to think, and Maleficent is its attempt to show us the side of the story we didn’t ask to hear. The big question is, does first-time director (but long-time special effects artist) Robert Stromberg and writer Linda Woolverton convince us that we’ve been living a lie, or is Maleficent just Sour Apple-colored eye candy?
As the story goes, a young fairy named Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy) falls in love with young Stefan (Michael Higgins) — a human — and grows to trust him with all her heart. When that trust is broken years later by an older and greedy Stefan (Sharlto Copley), adult Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) becomes filled with hatred and erupts a wall of thorns between her magical kingdom and Stefan’s, breaking all interaction between humans and mystical creatures. That is, until Stefan’s daughter Aurora is born, inspiring Maleficent to punish Stefan by cursing his daughter to fall into a death-like sleep on her sixteenth birthday. What follows is a casual race against time to save a teenage Aurora (Elle Fanning), accompanied by irritating/clueless fairies (Imelda Staunton, Leslie Manville, and Juno Temple), wicked imagery, and a search for love in the wrong places.
I like saying positive things, so I’ll start with this: Visually, Maleficent is amazing. Whenever a vengeful Angelina Jolie with horns uses her power to manipulate the beings and earth around her — all in a sexy green glow, no less — I was like whoa! This flick’s saving grace is how it looks. Much of this movie would make a great wallpaper for your desktop, the imagery overall is just beautiful, be it the mystical landscape or evil-fairy-magic. Maybe an awesome visual direction is something that comes with having a director who’s made his career as a visual effects artist, though maybe that’s why poor direction comes nearly everywhere else.
While I was vaguely entertained by Maleficent, there’s a lot of not-entertaining stuff about it. It’s more fair to call the flick endurable if you have your expectations set medium-to-low! The first and second acts are paced very slowly, and drawn out enough to the point where the final act feels very rushed. In a bid to show us what we don’t know, Maleficent teaches us more than we need or probably care to know at a misguided pace.
The notes I write while watching movies are sometimes cryptic even to me — for Maleficent I had written “Another D film”, which was puzzling. While this movie didn’t have me jumping for joy, it’s probably worth more than a D rating! After some thinking I realized that “D” meant “Disney”, which is really true. Maleficent is simply another typical Disney fairytale in a number of tried-and-true ways, and the ideas that aren’t typical resemble Frozen enough that it can’t be coincidental. There’s next to nothing original in Maleficent, it’s all been in Disney films past.
And (!!!) the high majority of the cast are expressionless from start to finish. It’s clear that they had as much fun being in the film as I had watching it, which is probably the biggest problem Maleficent has. When watching a movie, our enthusiasm is directly tied to the energy of the cast, and if everyone on screen showed some moxie, I’d be able to say that this film is a dumb popcorn flick that looks really cool but has its flaws. Instead, I’m here telling you that Maleficent is merely endurable and unoriginal, despite some cool CGI.
I appreciate the effort to add some originality to the Sleeping Beauty story and if executed well Maleficent could have been really great. I kind of made fun of the idea above, saying that we didn’t ask to hear another side of this story, but there’s no better time to erase the past than when the current generation of kids don’t know the original. It has the right cast (if they would do more than phone it in), an awesome visual effects team, and it’s the right time to do this movie if it’s going to be done. Unfortunately Maleficent was just taken in a poor direction overall.
Tl;dr: Maleficent looks sexy, but it’s beauty is skin deep and it’s maybe worth renting on a lazy day.