Friday, June 13, 2014

Maleficent Review

When Disney released a picture of Angelina Jolie in costume to promote the upcoming Maleficent (2014) movie, everyone went bonkers over it! It was a simple close-up that showcased the Disney villain's iconic headgear and face. I admit even I was instantly psyched to see it. But a movie starring a villain sounded like a gutsy move for Disney. It had potential to screw up a classic character, or to be dynamic and interesting. Incidentally, it did neither.
A beautiful, pure-hearted, winged young woman, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), had an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom until one day an invading army threaten the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land's fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal - an act that begins to turn her pure heart into stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces a battle with the invading king's successor, King Stefan (Sharlto Copley), and as a result places a curse upon the newborn infant Aurora. Raised by three bumbling pixies (Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, & Juno Temple), Aurora (Elle Fanning) is caught in the middle of a seething conflict between the forest kingdom she has grown to love and the human kingdom that holds her legacy. Maleficent realizes that Aurora may hold the key to peace in the land and is forced to take drastic action that will change both worlds forever - and perhaps to Maleficent's true happiness as well.
I constantly hear praise for Maleficent as being a feminist take on the classic fairy tale. I don't think that's the case. Feminism, as I understand it, is the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of equality. That's a great thing to advocate! But the three main male characters are really awful for different reasons. King Stefan is a power hungry monster who will walk all over anyone to reach his goals; Prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaites) is the most vapid and pointless character in the movie, almost as if he inconveniently wandered on set while the cameras were rolling for two very short scenes; and while Maleficent's shape-shifting crow, Diaval (Sam Riley), has enough spine to voice an opinion once in a while, he's basically a subservient toady. Demonizing or controlling men is not what feminism is about. However, most of the women characters in Maleficent are at least as simple and ridiculous as the men are. Ultimately, I don't think feminism plays a particularly significant role for or against.
Maleficent has a fantastic and even romantic fairy tale vibe. It's some high end fantasy and often feels like a classic fairy tale that I was unfamiliar with. The classic Disney fairy tales usually started out with the camera focusing on a book with a brief narration to introduce the story. In Maleficent, there is a narrator that sounds like a sweet grandmotherly lady reading to us a bedtime story. I liked the narrator at first, but it quickly became evident that the narrator was being overused. The narration delivered a lot of exposition telling us things that the movie should be showing us rather than telling us, and it robbed the characters of development. We're told what Maleficent was doing and shown Jolie in dramatic poses instead of showing her do these things. It weakened the story and the characters by not letting us see the changes these characters are going through.
The major draw for Maleficent was to see Angelina Jolie play Maleficent. She looked amazing! The costume was perfection itself. Her makeup and prosthetics really helped sell this Disney icon. Those cheekbones could cut a person if they weren't careful. Jolie looked, sounded, and acted the part so beautifully, it was almost chilling. As Maleficent tries on this "evil" role as she seeks revenge, she genuinely looks scary! Apparently, Jolie in full costume was so intimidating that they couldn't get young child actors to go near her. The only one unafraid was Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, Angelina's six-year-old daughter, who was used to play young Aurora so that the two characters could be in close proximity. Here's a clip to help illustrate how amazing Jolie is in this role:

The visuals were plentiful and detailed, but they relied heavily on CGI and 3D effects. I'm certain most of the scenes were done in front of a green screen. It lacked heart and made everything feel even more artificial than a fantasy movie already seems. The pixies who resembled the Three Stooges looked awful and were very irritating. I'm sure the garish colors and flashy CGI was used to draw in audiences, but it failed to impress me.
Overall, Maleficent was okay. With only her voice and sense of bearing, Jolie effortlessly makes the notoriously wicked fairy seem real. No one else involved in Maleficent seems to have that magic. It was weird to see this powerful classic Disney villain depicted as a heroine who lapses into villainy. Reconstructing one of the most evil animated characters of all time this way didn't necessarily ruin the iconic Disney character, but it certainly didn't do her any favors. I want to say the story would have been better had it not used preexisting characters and changed their story, but then there would be no real attraction to see this movie. I still think Maleficent is worth seeing, just to see Jolie play this role so incredibly well. This is a good movie to watch as a family, and with a PG rating it's not too scary for young kids. I daresay it's more tame than the original 1959 Sleeping Beauty. It's not good enough for the cost of a theater ticket; it's a renter.

After seeing Maleficent, are you anxious to see the upcoming live-action Cinderella remake? It's set to release in 2015. Comment below and tell me why or why not!

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