By Matthew McKibben | May 30, 2014
Director: Robert Stromberg
Writers: Linda Woolverton (screenplay), Charles Perrault (story), Jacob Grimm (story), Wilhelm Grimm (story), Erdman Penner (screenplay Sleeping Beauty 1959), Joe Rinaldi (screenplay Sleeping Beauty 1959), Winston Hibler (screenplay Sleeping Beauty 1959), Bill Peet (screenplay Sleeping Beauty 1959), Ted Sears (screenplay Sleeping Beauty 1959), Ralph Wright (screenplay Sleeping Beauty1959), Milt Banta (screenplay Sleeping Beauty 1959)
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, Juno Temple, Sam Riley, Brenton Thwaites
Maleficent is not a great movie, but it is a movie that I thoroughly enjoyed from beginning to end. At this point, Disney has movie-making down to an efficient science and I truly wonder if they’re now incapable of making a bad movie. For the most part, Disney movies are either mediocre, pretty good, or classics. And at different points in the movie, Maleficent is all three.
The movie begins with a young Maleficent (Isobelle Malloy) flying through her fairy kingdom, giving us a glimpse into a magical world inhabited by various woodland creatures. Maleficent is a happy fairy and things are grand for her until she meets and falls for a young human child named Stefan, a poor boy who has grand dreams of living in the giant castle on the horizon. Humans, we’re told through narration, are a greedy and violent lot, and the dynamic of the fairy world and the human worlds not trusting one another is established early on. In an early battle between humans and fairy creatures, the human King is mortally wounded and vows the riches of his kingdom to whomever can kill Maleficent. A now grown Stefan (Sharlto Copley) sees an easy path to power and de-wings Maleficent, thus setting him on the path of guilt-strewn king and Maleficent on the path as the rage-fueled fairy queen we all know and love. The early part of the movie is the only real deviation from the classic Disney 1959 film, Sleeping Beauty, with the rest of the movie at times being a shot for shot remake of the original.
While Angelina Jolie was perfectly cast as Maleficent, I don’t think she was perfectly utilized. In the blink of an eye, the movie goes from establishing Maleficent as the villain who places the sleeping curse on Princess Aurora to a kind of watchful guardian of Aurora but they never really effectively sell the shift. If your goal is to basically condemn the young Aurora to a life of Hell, why look after her and keep her protected and safe? Angelina Jolie and her cheekbones chew up a lot of scenery in this, however I felt like they could have camped up her part a bit more. I would have loved to see her as the full-on villain for just a tad bit longer before they start her back on the path to redemption.
Elle Fanning, on the other hand, was both perfectly cast and fully realized as Princess Aurora. She isn’t tasked with any huge dramatic scenes, but she really brought the character to life in a way that I found, for lack of a better word, enchanting. Sharlto Copley as King Stefan was a bit all over the map. He had some pretty decent scenes in which he also chews up a bit of scenery as he descends into madness, but there were other times when I found his performance almost laughably bad.
The rest of the cast was spotty. Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, and Juno Temple played Thistletwit, Knotgrass, and Flittle, the three fairies tasked with protecting Princess Aurora until she reaches her 16th (plus a day) birthday. These fairies were perhaps the weakest part of the movie and I found myself groaning almost every time they were on screen. When they’re in fairy form, the CGI rendering was laughably distracting. In human form, they were tasked with giving the audience comic relief via Three Stooges-style slapstick shenanigans. While they had a few decent moments, Imelda Staunton was the only actress who came close to pulling it off. Sam Riley played Diaval, the shape-shifting crow who serves at Maleficent’s call, or caw, as it were. He wasn’t asked to do too much but I found his performance to be rather bland and forgettable.
Despite the negative tone of the above paragraphs, the movie somehow just worked for me as a lighthearted fairy tale. The story moves along nicely and Robert Stromberg’s direction is solid. He’s pretty well established as a visual effects artist and you can see that with the movie. The different worlds within this kingdom are all perfectly realized, complete with varying and dynamic CGI creatures that I’d like to have seen more of. This is Stromberg’s directorial debut and it’s solid enough that I’m curious to see what other things he’s capable of doing.
As I stated above, much of this movie is almost a shot for shot remake of the classic 1959 film. Being the Disney geek that I am, I thought it was pretty awesome seeing everything from the classic Sleeping Beauty castle, to Prince Philip (Brenton Thwaites), to the classic scene in which Maleficent places the curse on the young Aurora, to the iconic shot of Princess Aurora asleep in her bed. With Cinderella due next, Disney is banking on the idea that people are interested in seeing all of these iconic animated iconography made “real.” I have to admit to being pretty excited by the idea.
Disregard the marketing you’ve seen for this movie; despite having some dark moments, Maleficent is a pretty straightforward and surprisingly lighthearted retelling of the Sleepy Beauty story. I found the movie rather enjoyable and I’m looking forward to taking my kids to see it in the near future.