Jun 9, 2014

[Movies] Maleficent (2014)

I think it's safe to say that for a lot of us old school Disney folk who grew up on the now "classic" animated movies, Maleficent was one of the scariest Disney villains ever conceived. She was scary to look at with her all-black garb and her sickly green complexion. She was petty enough to curse a baby only because she wasn't invited to the christening. And she could turn into a fearsome dragon.

Maleficent is an attempt to expand her story and present an alternate reason for her being so, well, evil. Similar to what Wicked did for the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, this movie hoped to present a different side of this most elegant of villains.

But the movie took a weird turn, at least for me, and it seems to suffer that classic syndrome of the trailer being the most awesome part of the movie with little much else. And there are very mixed reactions to this movie depending on who you talk to, but I think even without the whole old school purist argument that seems to get bandied about, the movie in itself has a lot narrative challenges that make me falling in love with it a bit of a slim possibility.

Synopsis: Maleficent is a 2014 fantasy adventure movie directed by Robert Stromberg with a screenplay by Linda Woolverton. Depending on your perspective, this movie is either a prequel to the original 1959 Sleeping Beauty or simply a reimagining. I'll discuss this further later on.

We first meet a young Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy / Ella Purnell), who is simply one of the fairies living in the Moors, some sort of a magical realm that remains in contention with the human kingdom under King Henry (Kenneth Cranham). Throw an extended flashback narrative, we find out how a young Stefan (Michael Higgins) wanders into the Moors and forms an awkward friendship with Maleficent. As the years progress, the two fall in love but eventually Stefan leaves and becomes more focused on making his way up in the world of men.

After a failed skirmish with the magical creatures of the Moors, King Henry offers to name as his heir anyone who can kill Maleficent for him. Stefan (Sharlto Copley) eventually arranges to meet Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) and drugs her with a sort of sleeping potion and goes on to steal her wings from her using an iron chain to sever it from her body. He uses the wings as false proof of Maleficent's death and in time he becomes the king. Maleficent focuses on closing the borders of the Moors with a wall of thorns and plots her revenge against Stefan. And when she finally hears that Stefan has a child, the original course of events sort of take place.

Now it's hard to say that this is a true reimagination of the Sleeping Beauty story and that it should not be compared to that tale since they went through all that effort to match the christening scene. Had they not gone through all that trouble, then maybe it would have been easier to dismiss things. But they did more or less match things and that scene was beautiful when it was released online ahead of the movie and that got me all excited. But instead it turned out to be a bit of a bait-and-switch and the end result was not quite what I had hoped. And the movie goes on to more or less directly contradict the original Disney version of the story, which sends a weird message to me in terms of what they expect people to support in terms of their movies.

Angelina Jolie certainly has her moments when she certainly projects the classic Maleficent character well enough. She has an interesting array of stares and over the shoulder looks that do make you feel a little creeped out. But then she tends to overdo it as the movie progresses and you wonder if Maleficent the character actually knows how to look at a person head on as opposed to merely out of the corner of her eye. But in those moments when she tries to be cute, comical and whimsical, things just fall apart.

The movie has some disturbing undertones of rape culture that you think they could have better addressed. Sure, the original story is about a guy who fights past challenges to kiss this girl he never met. But to see it in live action, plus the more deliberate theft of Maleficent's wings earlier on make for some very disturbing narrative implications.

I can forgive the obligatory "epic battle scene" that seems to be a staple of various "modern" fantasy adaptations these days. In fact, I felt the opening narrative could have been developed into a pretty robust movie and leaving the whole christening scene as the ending of things. But instead there was a greater focus to turn Maleficent into a sort of good person, which is contrary to why most fans like her.

Maleficent is one of the most complex and compelling villains in Disney history. And this movie had her playing little pranks on the pixies guarding her and all that nonsense. And the biggest point of contention is the strange shift in her powers, which seemed limited to turning people into balloons and of course NOT turning into a dragon herself. Totally missed out on an opportunity there, Disney.

It saddens me that Maleficent has the potential to become the new story that will introduce this once amazing character to the children of today. Please, I urge you to have your children or your nieces and nephews to watch the original cartoon. The old bird deserves much better treatment than what she gets in this movie. Thus I can only rate this as 2 horrible examples of obvious make-up applications on the supporting cast out of a possible 5.

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