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Maleficent – Movie Review

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Maleficent – Movie Review

Rating: C- (Below Average)

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Maleficent begins with the narrator stating that the audience is about to see the real story behind Sleeping Beauty. While the movie is kind enough to say, right off the bat, that this is a completely different take on the source material, the viewer is still going to be in a bit of a shock. Despite being a Disney production utilising some of the same character names, this has absolutely little in common with the fifty five-year old animated feature that has continued to endear through each generation. After that effect has worn off and one starts to see it as a new version of the classic fairy tale, it merely becomes a mediocre fantasy that just lays flat through its entire running time. While a live-action recreation of the animated film would have seemed redundant, it’s a tad perplexing why Disney executives greenlit such a deviation from one of their most famous movies and one of their most celebrated villains.

This is a movie that feels like it was made by filmmakers who haven’t seen the animated adaptation of Sleeping Beauty. If they wanted to do their own interpretation, that’s perfectly acceptable, but when it utilises the character names invented for the Disney version, it’s difficult not to make the comparisons. The screenplay is written by Linda Woolverton who, having been the credited screenwriter on Disney’s animated classic Beauty and the Beast, knows how to adapt a fairy tale with the necessary contemporary spin. Yet the entire script reads like fan-fiction. Don’t expect the same “mistress of all evil” to appear in Maleficent, as she spends about three minutes of screen time acting like a villain and the rest of the movie portrays her as a nice hero who is not all that bad. The only scene in the entirety of the film that actually resembles the animated production is the baby christening, since it’s the one time Maleficent acts villainous.

This is shortly after a very rushed back story that attempts to explain why she became annoyed at not getting an invitation. While it’s somewhat understandable why she would hold such a grudge, her transition to evil comes off as very hasty. Meanwhile, King Stefan is very malicious for no purpose other than power, resulting in a one-dimensional character with any semblance of development thrown out of the window early on. The fairies aren’t any better, mostly portrayed as annoyed at everything and constantly bickering over nothing. Unlike the animated film where they are pivotal to the plot, these fairies don’t contribute much of real importance.

The rare point where Maleficent does improve on Sleeping Beauty is its depiction of Aurora, who is given a lot more screen time here than in the animated feature where she spent most of the time snoozing. Elle Fanning displays a bubbly enthusiasm as Aurora and she nicely captures the free spirit of somebody, who in classic Disney princess fashion, wishes for more in life. Her reaction to being told of her true heritage also comes off as a lot more genuine and reasonable in this incarnation. It’s a shame that Maleficent’s power has to be diminished in order to make Aurora the most dimensional of a rather flimsy set of characters. Meanwhile, Brenton Thwaites has merely the simple task of showing up on his steed in order for her to fall in love at first sight and he’s believable enough as Prince Phillip, though any sense of heroism has been removed from the character.

Owing to his experience as a production designer on Alice in Wonderland and Oz: The Great and Powerful, director Robert Stromberg does put a lot of work into the look of the movie. King Stefan’s castle and the magical forest Maleficent inhabits are all impressively constructed and fit the characters and tones of the piece. Maleficent is a nice film to look at, though the 3D adds nothing to the experience and it would be best to view it in the more brightly lit 2D showings. Despite also having a visual effects background, the computer work is surprisingly rough. There’s an obvious fakeness to the creatures and other assortment of CG effects that appear in the movie. The three fairies are the most glaring of all, with the actors being motion-captured onto tiny computer-generated bodies and the results end up smack-dab in the uncanny valley.

After a while, it becomes fruitless to compare Maleficent to Disney’s renowned animated feature as the two are completely different specimens with different goals. However, even on its own, this doesn’t have the sense of imagination a fairy tale should contain and by attempting to humanize a potentially villainous character, the filmmakers have sucked out all of the elements that would make her interesting. Instead, it’s mainly replaced by a wide assortment of cheesy moments and weak characterizations. Sleeping Beauty may not have had the strongest screen personalities, but there was still a lot to admire and remember, not least of which is the Tchaikovsky-inspired score (utilised here with a strangely moody cover by Lana Del Rey during the end credits). Despite the best of intentions, Maleficent is cobbled together fan-fiction that ultimately feels like a vanity project for Angelina Jolie.

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Review By: Stefan Ellison

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