Maleficent, directed by first time director Robert Stromberg and starring Oscar winning actress Angelina Jolie, re-tells the Sleeping Beauty story from the villain’s point of view. The how’s and why’s are now being answered as to why Maleficent would become so evil she would curse a child. Set against a stunning backdrop of special effects and dark fantasy, Disney brings to life this unknown story of their most popular villain.
The character of Maleficent was first unleashed on audiences in Walt Disney’s animated masterpiece Sleeping Beauty in 1959. Over the next 55 years the character has become a massive pop icon that fans have come to love. With her dramatic look, voice, and horns, she has captured the imagination of people everywhere. She is the embodiment of pure evil, and has become more popular than most Disney heroines. She is considered the greatest Disney villain to ever have been created. Hence, her popularity made this movie possible to begin with. If she weren’t so beloved, this movie would never have been made. But what made the character so loved and fascinating was that she was the darkness within the darkness. And that’s what really hurts the movie, that they took this amazing character and gave her so many reasons to be bad that the filmmakers ended up declawing one of the best villains pop culture has.
In the original movie, Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent curses the infant Princess Aurora to “prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die” before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday, for no real reason other than she wasn’t invited to the party. Here, the movie explores the reasons why Maleficent would do such a thing. We learn that because of a betrayal from her youth, that ultimately turned her pure heart to stone, she is driven by revenge and a fierce desire to protect the moors, the fairy kingdom, and her home. Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) cruelly places an irreversible curse on Aurora out of anger. Aurora (Elle Fanning) is caught in the middle of the age-old conflict between the forest kingdom and the fairy. As Aurora grows, Maleficent learns to love her and realizes that she may hold the key to peace in the land, and is forced to take drastic actions that will change both worlds forever.
The main story focuses on how to make a villain good again. Which is a wonderful idea, but the main reason why Maleficent is loved is that she is the villain. Think about it, would you love Darth Vader or Hannibal Lector as much if one day they woke up and decided not to be evil anymore? When taking away the main thing that made the character interesting, you’re left with a very beautiful looking movie, with good acting, awesome special effects, but the most boring story. At least when you wake up, you can enjoy how good Angelina looks and acts. But without her, this is one major snooze.
What does work is Angelina Jolie’s performance. She looks great, and she commands you to watch her every time she speaks. She did take the role a little more seriously than was probably needed though. Certain times she plays it so painfully straight, only offering us that one truly Maleficent scene: When she cruses the child, basically the movie does a line-for-line reenactment of the original movie. It’s the scene from the trailer that plays so well, with her glamorous evil grin and sultry tones. It would have been nice to get that more in the movie. But for the most part she is very stone-faced or screaming about something. She’s great at doing it, but it needed a bit more camp. At the end of the day, it’s still based on a cartoon. A little more fun would have been nice.
Other than Maleficent, all the other characters around her fall to the wayside and become hollow shells of what characters should be. The script makes King Stefan and Aurora so two-dimensional they barely make sense as characters. Aurora you kind of understand, but only because she’s with Maleficent so much that her character is being understood though our main characters eyes. In this story, Maleficent basically raises Aurora. As she grows, we watch Maleficent’s evil soften over the years. Leading you to see that Maleficent isn’t all bad, she just had one really bad day once and is trying to make up for it.
But King Stefan (Sharlto Copley) becomes so stereotypical so fast that you find yourself not caring about his needs and wants. He becomes the villain of the movie so quickly that if you blink you miss it. And the three good fairies that take care of Aurora are so underused one begs the question why bother putting them in the movie at all. Just because they were in the original didn’t mean they had to be here. To say they were two-dimensional is an insult to two-dimensions. These three very expensive CGI characters are a waste of space. Not only are they terrible and bring down every scene they’re in, but they are the worst designed and scary thing in the flick. They’re more Three Stooges than caregivers. Every moment is spent making sure you understand what makes Maleficent tick, so other characters are forgotten about all together.
First time director Robert Stromberg is mostly known for being a special effects artist and designer. Which is apparent in the movie, all the special effects, designs, the general look and feel, are all amazing. But the movie feels like a first draft that need a few more passes. It’s clear this is a first time director being handed big keys to a big kingdom he wasn’t ready for. He has two Oscars for Art Direction. Continue to be the big fish in your little pond, Rob, not everyone needs to direct.
There are still many things to like about this movie: Costumes, special effects, Angelina Jolie, production, creatures, etc. It’s a shame they had a lack luster script that wasn’t thought out and a first time director who didn’t know other wise. If you’re looking for a movie based on the Sleeping Beauty character that you love, you’re going to be disappointed. Instead, what you’re given is a beautiful movie about evil finding it’s way back to good through love and understanding, which isn’t a bad thing at all, it’s just not the movie fans think they’re getting.