Maleficent is an odd little movie that manages to both pleasantly surprise and disappoint.
Visually, the movie is one of the most stunning Disney projects to date, featuring dazzling panoramas that will take your breath away. Every tree, cloud and beast in Maleficent’s magical kingdom is expertly animated on screen with loving detail. When the title character soars through the clouds, you feel as if you’re right there with her, like a small creature hanging onto her powerful wings for dear life. The effects culminate in a feast for the eyes that will more than make up for any additional 3D admission price.
As well, I can confirm that the rumours you’ve heard are true: Angelina Jolie acts the shit out of this movie. With just one cocked eyebrow she’s able to convey more smug contempt than entire casts can muster. When she’s not on screen, you wonder when she’s coming back. When she howls with betrayal, your heart breaks for her. I’ll be honest here and tell you that the woman made me cry at a damn Disney movie where lions weren’t even thrown off cliffs (RIP Mufasa, still not over this). She is not just good—she’s magnetic.
In these aforementioned areas, the film delivers much more than I’d anticipated. But while Maleficent is a decent movie, it’s one that disappointedly fails to rise to its star’s level of greatness. What is the movie’s biggest fault? Not the acting; while Sharlto Copley is rather shouty as King Stefan, this issue is overcome by great performances from the likes of Jolie and Sam Riley, who plays a great raven-turned man named Diaval. The problem is also not the lack of trademarked Disney humour; although the first third is one-note, the movie has some delightfully funny moments courtesy of Jolie (seriously, she really carries this).
No. The movie’s biggest fault lies in its inability to keep the implicit promise it makes to its the audience.
As you no doubt know, Maleficent is based on the fairy tale “The Sleeping Beauty” written in 1697 by Charles Perrault. The classic story centers on a beautiful princess who is cursed by an evil fairy to prick her finger on a spindle and fall into eternal sleep lest a prince awake her. Like other seventieth century villains, the “bad” fairy is given as much motivation as a Real Housewife, with her actions being driven by the simple fact that she wasn’t invited to a party. Perrault’s impetus seems to have been “sorry logic, there’s magical shit that we need to get to and we can’t waste time fleshing out the baddie”.
The inclusion of one-dimensional characters in Parrault’s story is completely understandable, however, given that the purpose of folk tales was to impart lessons such as “don’t take candy from strangers” (“Snow White”), “wolves are fucking terrifying” (“Little Red Riding Hood”) and “witches be bitches” (“Rapunzel”).
Disney’s 1959 adaptation of “The Sleeping Beauty” aimed to add more dimension and humour to the classic characters. The evil fairy in the movie was given not only a name (Maleficent, in case you were wondering), but also minions and vast powers that included turning into a badass dragon. Despite these additions, Maleficent still had little motivation beyond being snubbed for a party.
Fifty-five years later, Disney promised the world something it hadn’t seen before: it was going to bring to the screen a revisionist fairy tale that would focus on the villain, rather than the hero. Maleficent made a bargain with its audiences: come see the movie, and you’ll understand the nuanced drive behind the villain and the heroes’ actions. Sadly, the movie just doesn’t keep up its end of the deal.
While Maleficent is given reasoning for her ill intent, that reasoning is a tale as old as time (cue Beauty and the Beast soundtrack). She’s angry because a man scorns and then metaphorically violates her. Really? In the first Disney movie about a female villain we couldn’t come up with a more complex story than this? Other than uninspired, this plot line is also incredulous. Copley’s Stefan is selfish, unfunny, and uninteresting—there is no way our badass beauty would even bat an eyelid if this dope left her. Due to this confusing and forced match-up, every subsequent interaction between the two characters is devoid of tension.
Despite some missteps, the movie thankfully transforms Maleficent into something more than a scorned woman by introducing Frozen-like twists which undercut the generic “boy saves girl” storyline. Most of the other players, however, are little more than pieces of cardboard that Jolie acts around.
The elderly king wants to conquer a magical land because….reasons? Maleficent’s paramour horrifically betrays her because he wants to be king… I guess? Why does he want to be king so badly? He just does. Don’t ask his motivation. While Stefan veers off into slight madness near the end of the movie, this element is disappointingly explored for only a few minutes. This superficiality taints the entire film, but especially the final showdown, which desperately needed more emotional depth in order to earn a cathartic reaction from the audience.
Despite its novel focus, Maleficent is unable to escape the trappings of its classical roots—while some villains can be rounded out, some are still evil just because the story requires them to be.
So is Maleficent worth your dollars? If you’re not terribly bothered by the lack of promised nuance, I say yes. Despite not being great, the film is entertaining, beautiful, and features one of Jolie’s most captivating performances. If you have a few bucks to spare, it’s well worth seeing in 3D.