‘Maleficent’ Boldly Rewrites Disney Animated Classic
Disney’s bold mission to rewrite many timeless classics has been controversial. Still, the decision has also secured billions of financial success. The root of this stems back from 2010’s Alice in Wonderland. Since then, the practice has been commonplace with the likes of Oz the Great and Powerful. Now Sleeping Beauty’s own Mistress of Evil herself is getting a face lift in Maleficent.
Setting the facts straight, Maleficent is not the same tale told in 1959’s Sleeping Beauty. It does however, borrow from time to time plot points found in the animated film. Our first introduction to Maleficent is as a winged little girl from a CGI fairyland on the doorstep of a medieval kingdom. Sweet innocence flies out the window when Maleficent, now a fully blossomed Angelina Jolie, is betrayed by her childhood human friend.
For a while, one wonders where is the iconic villain we all know from the 1959 film. The one best known for her dramatic entrance and devious curse at Princess Aurora’s christening. That moment is there in all its glory, stripped near verbatim from the animated film. It’s a scene that Jolie is obviously relishing in her delivery. Fate would have it that Maleficent’s childhood friend is Aurora’s father, King Stefan (Sharlto Copley).
First-time director, Robert Stromberg, doesn’t rush headfirst into this iconic moment. Before this even transpires, Maleficent spirals down a dark path full of battles and betrayal. It’s a ballsy move by Disney, the first of many. At times, it’s questionable who Maleficent is intended for.
Going forward, the plot points mirror what we’re expecting. Aurora is taken into the woods, cared for by three fairies until she turns 16. Meanwhile, Maleficent is lurking in the woods, keeping a close eye on the cursed girl. At times, it borders on creepy, but slowly evolves into something quite polarizing.
Aurora grows up as a young Elle Fanning, who’s simply there. For the little that Aurora is in the film, she’s serviceable working best alongside Jolie. Ironically enough, Aurora is just a spoke on the plot’s ever-so-fast wheel. Her fate isn’t that much of a surprise, but how she reaches that point.
Ultimately, this is Jolie’s film from start to finish. Maleficent is tailor-made for Jolie in every way possible. Everything not revolving around her doesn’t quite ignite with interest. The fairies are three bumbling CGI wastes of space and weird looking too. Likewise, Brenton Thwaites as Prince Philip is glossed over and shoehorned in for the sake of having him in there.
Nothing besides our lead is given time to actually breathe. Rumors have been floating around that the film had been hacked down from a much longer run time. It’s safe to say that may have been the case. The end result is a fairy tale too concise for comfort. Maleficent doesn’t collapse from its limited foundation, but fleshed out side characters and situations would be a fair improvement.
Fortunately, Maleficent is a visually sensational canvas of fantasy. The fairies, trees and other creatures are whimsical additions that contrast with the dull and dreary human world. While story is not Stomberg’s strongest suit, the visuals certainly are. But one would expect that from a production designer on Avatar. Couple that with James Newton Howard’s haunting score and Maleficent is beautiful to behold on the outside.
Like Alice and Oz, Maleficent will be difficult pleasing die-hard fans of Disney’s previous iteration. Still, for those who embrace the new direction, there’s a fair share of magical moments to take from this choppy tale. For the rest, stick with Sleeping Beauty.