Lately, one of the biggest trends in Hollywood is recreating classic and cult films for the new generation. And why not? While many films have stood the test of time, others seem rather dated and could use an update. And while other recent remakes, reboots, and re-imaginings have completely missed the mark (Red Dawn, Conan the Barbarian), others have managed to improve upon the originals (Total Recall, Rise of the Planet of the Apes).
Maleficent, while not truly improving upon the original, is certainly a step in the right direction. The tale of Sleeping Beauty is a timeless one, and Disney's version is still a favorite among animation fans for generations. But retelling the classic tale from the perspective of Disney's greatest villain? While the film has its noticeable flaws, Maleficent is a dark classic in the making, and could set a new precedent for Disney films.
Once the most powerful fairy in the land, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) finds herself without her wings, embittered by the betrayal of King Stefan (District 9's Sharlto Copely), and wants nothing more than to live a life of solitude. That is, until Stefan announces the birth of his daughter Aurora. Crashing the celebration, Maleficent bestows a curse upon the baby that will doom her to a sleep-like death after pricking her finger on a spindle on her sixteenth birthday. When King Stefan becomes consumed with the curse and how to stop it, little Aurora is sent away to live with three fairies (Imelda Staunton, Leslie Manville, and Juno Temple) until the day after Aurora's sixteenth birthday. There, Maleficent watches Aurora grow into a beautiful young woman (played by Elle Fanning), who believes Maleficent is her fairy godmother.
Visual effects expert Robert Stromberg makes his directorial debut here, and it is a stellar debut. The dark dramatic landscapes and special effects are amazing to watch, especially in 3D, giving Maleficent the macabre tone it deserves. Add in writer Linda Woolverton's (Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland) amazingly taut, emotional screenplay, along with stellar performances from Jolie, Copley, and Fanning, and you have the recipe for an instant classic.
So, with all this, why doesn't Maleficent get a higher score? Regardless of its dark nature, it is still a Disney film, and it would be silly to compare it to other dark fantasies of this ilk. But even giving it some leeway, Maleficent is not without flaws. There are whole sequences, particularly revolving around the three “good” fairies, that feel they only served to give the characters something to do, and, worse yet, the characters are horridly annoying. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but it seems like these scenes replaced other sequences that furthered the plot far better, all in the name of ensuring the film doesn't go completely dark. And while I applaud Disney for allowing a film to be this dark, adding goofy scenes to lighten things up like this feels like a cop out.
However, let's face the facts. Maleficent is a family film, and, as much as it would be great to see Disney return to the days of The Black Cauldron, it does seem like it may be too much to ask. After all, it's not much of a family film if half the family is scared out of their wits. And, even though it feels like a cop out, it doesn't detract from Maleficent being a whimsical, beautiful film, and one that truly shouldn't be missed.
FINAL VERDICT: Maleficent, while copping out on the darkness, still manages to stun and amaze. The beauty of the film comes from its expertly crafted visuals, emotional script, and brilliant twist on the classic tale, and proves that Disney can still maintain its hold on family entertainment. Yes, the film can be annoying at times, but it's not quite a deal-breaker either.