Maleficent: Epic Fairy tale or Psychological Letdown?

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In 1959, Disney released an animated film called Sleeping Beauty, based on the fairy tale of the same name by the Grimm Brothers. We still remember it for its artistic backgrounds, epic finale, and—of course—the greatest villain that Disney has ever given us, Maleficent. With her quiet elegance, her slimy disposition, and her awesome powers, critics and audiences fell in love with the villain. Years later, Disney decided to give her a backstory, much like Wicked did with the Wicked Witch of the West, and create the dark fantasy movie Maleficent, directed by Robert Stromberg and released on May 30, 2014. So far it’s become a box office success, grossing over $170 million within the first week. However, critics remained skeptical upon leaving the theater. Maleficent currently holds a 51% on Rotten Tomatoes and 7.5 stars on IMBD.

And I’m just going to quote the Nostalgia Critic’s final thoughts on the 2012 Les Miserables movie: I’m glad I saw it, but I don’t think it’s as good as it could’ve been.

First, let’s talk about what worked. The setting gives viewers the feeling of any fairytale movie, and Maleficent is excellent at showing the contrast between the world of fairies and the world of humans. The CGI doesn’t look real, but it’s still nice to look at. The costume design is creative as well, defining the fairies, the humans, Maleficent, and Aurora. I also like how the cinematography is put together, allowing viewers to see what they want to see without giving them too much.

Before I go any further, let’s address the white elephant of the movie: Angelina Jolie as Maleficent. In the trailers, I could tell that Jolie knew she had a rough job and she was putting her all into it. The film gave me the same impression: that Jolie was trying the best she could with everything the writing was giving her (more on the story in a moment). And I’ll also give her credit for making Maleficent a sympathetic Shakespearean villain.

The other impressive actress in the film is Elle Fanning as Aurora. In the 1959 movie, Aurora’s screen-time was so short that the filmmakers gave her little to no personality. One could argue that the three good fairies and Maleficent were the main characters. Here, they expanded Aurora’s role as much as they could, making her a curious, warm-hearted young girl who thought Maleficent was her fairy godmother. And Fanning’s acting was impressive as well.

Unfortunately, those were the only two—okay, three; the crow was cool—characters that were developed well. I’m not a fan of the three good fairies in the 1959 flick, but I’ll give them this: they were smart. They gave the girl a different name so that her identity wouldn’t be discovered, they were at least good parents, and they kept a close eye on her. This movie gave them a serious downgrade. They’re so annoying and so stupid that I wanted to bang my head on the seat in front of me every time they opened their mouths to talk. And the list of horrible pieces of character BS in the movie doesn’t end there. The humans are akin to the Whos in the first half of the live-action Grinch film: contrived, one-dimensional, horrible creatures with no redeeming qualities. And King Stefan’s one-dimensional character isn’t just bad; it’s disturbing. In the first three minutes of the film, he seemed like a good kid with a believable backstory. But his sudden transition into greedy, psychotic tyrant came out of nowhere. No build-up at all.

And that gets me into the worst part of the film: the story. I know I shouldn’t nitpick a fairytale, and this movie is okay at being a fairytale. But the first few minutes are so rushed that I didn’t have a clue of what was going on. And it doesn’t get much better after the first few minutes. If you thought the original fairy tale was confusing, this movie will do nothing to help that. It felt like it tried to fit too many plot points into an hour and a half, and say “hey, we’re Diet Wicked!” In fact, if they had made a prequel centered on the first few minutes, and then a live-action version of Sleeping Beauty, I think we would’ve had not just one, but two strong Disney films.

As is, however, the film is worth a view or two, but nothing more than that. If you want an epic fairytale, you’ll enjoy this movie. But if you’re looking for a psychologically brilliant story, you won’t find it here.

Overall rating: 4 stars out of 10.

PS: This might be an inappropriate request to make, but as long as we’re making Diet Wicked movies, could we have a backstory of Jafar with Tom Hiddleston playing the sympathetic villain? Just a thought.

Photo source: http://movies.disney.com/maleficent

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