A fashionable trend of late, villains of classic fairy tales are telling their side of misconstrued yet popularized myths; here, Maleficent reveals not only how she acquired her demonic visage, but also that she’s not as bad as one might think. Though transforming the iconic witch into an anti-hero is a potentially captivating premise, it also deprives the film of a great antagonist. Star Angelina Jolie must carry the entirety of the film with virtually no support; everyone from her faithful pet raven to the young princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) barely offer any aid in providing memorable characters or noteworthy bits of dialogue. Jolie works with what she’s given, but the script rarely allows her any room to shine. Though the changes to the plot become more drastic as the film progresses, the tone remains mostly serious, hinting at how superior a straightforward retelling might have been.
Two kingdoms sit side by side but couldn’t be further apart. Arrogant King Henry (Kenneth Cranham), leader of the humans, determines to conquer the neighboring land of the fairies no matter the cost. Standing in his way is Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), the powerful commander of the mystical moors, and her army of colossal warrior trees who manage to stave off every attempt at invasion. When Henry offers the throne to anyone that can defeat the fairy queen, ambitious young knight Stefan (Sharlto Copley) uses his childhood connection to Maleficent to get close and then betray the mighty sorceress. Wounded and heartbroken, Maleficent retreats deep into the woods to await the day she can exact her revenge, using faithful crow Diaval (Sam Riley) to spy on the king and his newborn daughter, Aurora…
Telling an old story anew, the renowned “Sleeping Beauty” fairy tale is largely turned on its ear, injecting one of the most iconic of all animated villains with a dose of humanism and warmth. And it’s not particularly fitting. Jolie is almost visually perfect in the lead role (despite the most obnoxious, grossly unnecessary cheekbone prosthetics), donning the weighty horns, black garb, and sinister glances with menacing relish. It’s highly likely that no one objected to the notion of Jolie as the famed Disney sorceress; it’s a promising thought with an utterly harmonious look. But when she leans toward redemption and righteousness, shedding tears, or succumbing to a few armored knights, her image no longer retains the awe of the mighty Maleficent from Disney’s 1959 masterpiece. Barking commands to magical treelike monstrosities, flying about with jumbo wings, and becoming too delicately framed in close-ups further detract from her impressiveness. And the modernized editing utilized to stylize combat sequences is entirely mismatched.
With the shift from cartoon to live action, many of the normally accepted plot concepts appear incredibly unbelievable. Trusting the mortal enemy fairies to raise a human child, Stefan allowing his infant daughter to be removed from the safety of the castle for the majority of her youth, and the ludicrous coincidence of Aurora’s 16th birthday being the exact day she’s accidentally made aware of the curse and her father’s existence, are difficult to take seriously. Furthermore, the hopelessly inept pixies serving solely as comic relief, Maleficent’s thoroughly ignored magical limitations (steel is to fairies as garlic is to vampires… but only when convenient), and the casting of 16 year-old Fanning in a part that should have been played by an older, more classically beautiful woman, distance this adaptation from the Burtonesque direction it should have gone toward.
In a particularly nonsensical scene, Maleficent levitates a squadron of soldiers up into the sky and tosses them about to disarm them of shields and swords – yet she can’t use her immeasurable powers to lift herself from the ground. Similarly, instead of transforming Diaval into a gargantuan bird for speedy transit, he’s morphed into a horse that can’t quite reach its destination in time. There are still cinematic moments, but with the unfortunate use of a major twist from last year’s “Frozen” and the predictably comparable ideas taken from “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West,” “Oz the Great and Powerful,” and “Mirror Mirror,” “Maleficent” lacks the focus and vision to stand above the rest.
- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)