Sleeping Beauty has long been a revered and iconic staple in the classic Disney library for many people. Although at the time of its creation in 1959 it was cited as a box office failure, the story of Princess Aurora has gained popularity as one of the crowd favorites from classic Disney. While I may not be so excitable about the idea of a Sleeping Beauty remake, I’ve always had a fondness for the story’s villain, Maleficent. She was the embodiment of what I grew up perceiving to be the traits every villain should have; she was unforgiving, cruel, cunning and could turn into a damn dragon! So… what about a movie all about her?
Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie as the title character and Elle Fanning as Princess Aurora, takes place as somewhat of an origin story as well as a retelling of the famous Sleeping Beauty animated feature with the idea that we, the audience, “heard the story wrong” the first time. Basically, in a world where the “greed of man” has led humanity to be at war with faerie people, Maleficent meets a boy when they were both young, gets tricked into feeling like she found he “true love” and is back-stabbed (almost literally) by him when he turns out to be just another asshole human. This pisses her off, leaving her to believe there is no such thing as good in the world and she goes from being a protector of The Moors (AKA magical faerie land) to a malicious and powerful sorceress out for vengeance. From here, the story basically takes a spin on the classic Sleeping Beauty story: Aurora is born, gets cursed, three faeries raise her, etc. Of course, there is an interesting turn of events in there while the princess grows up but I won’t ruin any of that here.
I think it would be unfair to start my thought-process of this movie without getting this out there: Angelina Jolie does a fantastic job as portraying a very creepy and “almost” evil Maleficent. Down to the look, the cadence of her voice and even just walking around, you’d be hard-pressed to find another human being able to portray the character so perfectly. She is one of two reasons I was very on-board to the idea of the film in the first place because, frankly, I kind of just love her in everything she’s in (forgetting about Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, of course!). Elle Fanning plays a funner version of Aurora than I remember being part of the original work and her smile alone steals some scenes, making her a great “sleeping beauty”. I’d be lying if I said I cared at all about Sharlto Copley as an actor in much, so it was fitting for me to see him as just kind of a bad, paranoid driven king who I shouldn’t have any real connection to anyways. The three faeries that take care of Aurora growing up (Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton and Juno Temple) were fine, but as the childish comedic-relief I honestly couldn’t care less about them.
The second reason I was okay with spending some time watching this film also did not disappoint; Maleficenthas some beautiful set pieces, environments and special effects that really drive home the power of the character as well as the beauty of her homeland. Sure, some effects were kind of hokey, specifically a scene dedicated to showing how angry Maleficent is at one point that as she walks by some path, the waist-high stone wall on either side of her get thrown behind her like a child throwing blowing an air compressor at some sand. But, whatever! When used in the correct situations, the special effects transform a regular, grungy medieval world into a fantastical place that can be as outlandish as it can brutal.
So all that being said, what were some problems with the movie? I think the biggest issue I had with Maleficentwas that the story tried to stay too close to the source material of Sleeping Beauty than create a new experience for itself. The origin story of Maleficent takes up maybe half-an-hour of the total screen time which feels rushed for no reason. The character is the title of the film, go ahead and take 90 or 120 minutes to build the character up more! This isn’t to say they take a long time on the Aurora stuff either; in fact, Aurora basically goes from infant to sixteen in two scenes and befalls her fate after maybe 20 minutes after that. But seriously, they did a such a great job of making a one-note “I’m evil because I’m the villain” character have more depth that I strongly feel they should have gone further and develop her even more slowly. I suppose I can see why they wanted to keep it shorter, but as someone who’s only draw to the fairy tale in the first place was the lead character it was all I wanted.
The second biggest problem was the pacing of the story. This ties directly into the first point of feeling like they needed to give more time to the background of Maleficent but in general the pacing was kind of terrible. It took the proper amount of time for points of the story that didn’t seem too important (seriously, those faeries are pointless) and literally fly through YEARS of what could be great character development for ALL the characters! This is the issue of trying so hard to fit 10lbs of something into a 5lb bag, most of the sticking points of the tale are glossed over in what feels like 20-minute segments rather than fit cohesively into a great, fully realized script and imaginary world. This isn’t even to say how kind of silly the deus ex machina ending or the easy-to-guess “twist” of the movie are, which are simply cheap and easy answers to the writers perhaps writing themselves into a corner. It felt like the creators of the script couldn’t tell which story they wanted to tell; that of Maleficent or that of Aurora and in trying to do both and intertwine them may have neglected making one solid story rather than two mediocre ones.
So what’s the final verdict? Maleficent is a good, fresh take on an old story that more often than not hits some really fun highs. It isn’t a revolutionary film but is fun enough to not hate your time with it, whether going with some children or just a night out alone. In the end, while the time had with it is decent, you’ll more than likely find it a passing moment that is completely forgettable after the credits roll. But hey, at least it isn’t Snow White and the Huntsman