Maleficent titleMaleficent3star“Royalty…Nobility…Gentry. How quaint. Even the rabble.”

With backlash from both critics and audiences over the malevolent villain from the 1959 animated classic, the argument remains that the once frightening Maleficent has been botched into an empathetic heroine to root for in the 2014 creation of Maleficent.

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Normally remakes are mere cookie cutter remakes repackaged as new product, but follow the same formula as their predecessor. It takes guts to remake such a cinematically historical figure, and notably one of the most purely evil Disney villains. The tale of a villain’s story and past is more unique than what has been unearthed on screen lately while maintaining the integrity of the original story with a 21st century twist.

With that being said, Maleficent has it’s flaws as a film (hence my 3/5) rating, but I wouldn’t call it the complete bomb that critics are blasting it with.

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Maleficent is a dark fantasy CGI wonderland re-imagining of the 1959 Disney animated classic Sleeping Beauty. Carried entirely by its villainess Angelina Jolie, the film takes a twist on the classic by retelling the story from the antagonist’s point of view.

MaleficentIf the over-saturated graphics in the film look familiar, it’s because you’ve seen them before. Making his directorial debut with this film,  Robert Stromberg is an American special effects artist and designer most recognized for his Academy Award wins for Best Art Direction in James Cameron’s Avatar and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. The film also has another Academy Award winning veteran behind the scenes–screenwriter for Maleficent Linda Woolverton. Woolverton is an American screenwriter, playwright and novelist who became the first woman to write an animated feature for Disney by writing the screenplay of Beauty and the Beast, the first animated film ever to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Her most recent works include the screenplay of Alice in Wonderland making Linda the first and only female screenplayer with a sole writing credit on a billion-dollar film.

Stromberg spoke with IndieWire about the importance of emotion in storytelling, which is why “Maleficent” is such a primal tale at its core.

“If you were to boil it all down, the movie’s essentially a hunt for what true love is. And the way we play with that is we have somebody who’s perhaps in love [Maleficent] but betrayed and doesn’t believe that true love exists. So the moral to it is we can all feel dark ourselves but not to lose hope because there is light in places where we might not be expecting. And working with Elle [Fanning] was like this beacon of light vs. the darkness of Maleficent. It reminds me a little of the girl plucking petals from the flower in ‘Frankenstein.’ It’s such a wonderful contrast and the joy in making this film was bringing those two elements together and discovering things that we normally wouldn’t know.” via IndieWire

It’s apparent that Maleficent has a power-duo behind the scenes, but on-screen  the powerhouse scene-stealer is Angelina Jolie. Without giving the plot away, I admit that I have absolutely no qualms with the plot twists nor the alleged “feminist politics” scattered throughout the film that critics are eyeballing and sneering at.

“It’s a dazzling showcase of fantasy-based filmmaking in the 21st century that also manages a feeble attempt at injecting feminist politics into an antiquated narrative. Yet its eventual climax strains from the obviousness of these efforts, as if the filmmakers decided to forgo storytelling cohesiveness in favor of its forward-leaning implications. At the end of the day, it’s another franchise effort in fancy clothing. This should come as no surprise: Hollywood has never been a haven for subtlety. But anyone impressed by Jolie’s capacity to make the business bend to her will should expect more.” via IndieWire

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How can you not expect an inch of pro-feminism when the narrator of the film, despite her historical profile as pure evil, is a woman? And since the narrator isn’t a man, it didn’t faze me that her persona was injected with feminine desires, love and pain. This “angle” isn’t something that distracted me, but kept me in tune with the character triumphantly played by Angelina Jolie who was the captivating force behind the entire movie. Although the supporting cast including Elle Fanning as Aurora had moments of notoriety … without Jolie, the film would have tanked. Every smirk, grimace or stare commanded attention from the viewer. Even her antagonizing shriek was reminiscent of the old Angelina from her performance in Girl Interrupted; she gave me chills.

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My only real complaint about the film was the over-abundance of  CGI and digital animation for Maleficent’s minions. The fairyland of good and evil along with the human world vs. the fairy world immediately reminded me of Ridley Scott’s 1985 cult classic Legend.

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Legend 1985The difference between the two films, aside from the plot and technological age gap, was that Legend experimented in the realm of soundstages instead of location filming. Yes, the film is very aged, but the fact that the film was shot on the 007 Stage at Pinewood, on of the largest sound stages of it’s time, recreating a comparable fairyland, is much more appealing to the eye than a world of computer graphics. Not only that, but the film has similar gremlin-like creatures in groundbreaking costume designs that I felt Maleficent could have accomplished instead of CGI, cuddly characters. Did I also mention that Legend is also rated PG, and those goblins are far more terrifying and accurately represented in their exterior of evil?

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When creating Sleeping Beauty, Walt Disney said he wanted the film to be “moving illustration” meaning going beyond the usual painting and incorporating elaborate, illustrative details. If you pause the film at any frame, you can find a beautifully composed image. Sleeping Beauty was kind of the end of an era in Disney film-making because of the cost.  This is a film that says animation is art, not digital. Maybe one day we’ll revert back to making film as art instead of a digital universe.

Sleeping Beauty 1959

When I persuade people to see Maleficent, I remind them to remain level-headed on the purpose of the film. Keep in mind the target audience; the amount of wickedness that can actually be created to maintain a PG setting while upholding one of the darkest Disney villains is no easy task. As much as we’d like the Mistress of all Evil to live up to her title, this is Disney and your target audience is a younger generation. You’re seeing this film solely for Angelina Jolie, and her performance is worth your time and ticket stub.

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Sleeping Beauty Closing Credit

6 thoughts on “Maleficent”

  1. I definitely get all of the strengths you mention about feminism. It’s nice to get a dose of that injected in the story instead of the usual “man rescues the girl after meeting momentarily”. It’s easy to see how they had the character overcoming the men attempting to destroy her power and of course the themes of motherhood.

  2. I absolutely believe you. I want to see this film so bad! Jolie is a favourite of mine, I have missed seeing her on the cinema screen. I’ve never seen Sleeping Beauty, so I think I will have a very interesting POV, too. Great review, and I love the background information you shared. Having read many reviews of this film, I’d never heard most of this. Thanks for sharing, Courtney!

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