Over the past few years, there has been a big trend of reinventing fairy tales with works like Once Upon A Time and Grimm on TV, along with Frozen, getting high praise for how they reinvented fairy tales. Out of this, there has been one project that has been teased for years, a reinvention of Sleeping Beauty focused on Maleficent and now that film has come out. As a reinvention of Sleeping Beauty, it doesn’t work and feels like a complete hodge-podge of all the tropes that have made recent fantasy movies popular.
The plot concerns the reasons for why Maleficent became a villain and put the curse on Princess Aurora, going back to the time when she was the protector of the magical realm from humanity and when her wings were cut off. along with the relationship that develops between Aurora and Maleficent as the years go by. The main problem with the plot of the film is that the way in which it attempts to make the audience sympathise with Maleficent doesn’t work. Part of this is that Maleficent is the wrong villain to give a sympathetic background to, with a big reason why Maleficent works as a villain in Sleeping Beauty being that she has no motivation and by giving her motivation, a lot of the reason why she’s a good villain falls flat. It also doesn’t help that the characterisation of Maleficent switches back and forth throughout the film with some parts painting Maleficent as a villain and others painting her as misunderstood, often in the same scene, with this being seen in the curse she places on Aurora, changing it from death to eternal sleep, which also removes the gift of the third fairy from the film. On top of that, her motivation for becoming evil feels a bit rushed with the reason she becomes evil being that she was hurt by someone she loved, which feels a bit suspect, along with the pretty blatant metaphor for rape being really misjudged. Now the main backstory for the film, that there is a conflict between humanity and the magical world over the greed of humanity feels like it is ripped straight from Hellboy 2: The Golden Army and from there the reminders of other films come thick and fast. From the overall tone of something like Lord of the Rings to there being quite a few moments that feel reminiscent of Frozen (although I’m sure it’s a coincidence) mainly the overall twisting of the true love’s kiss angle. Plus, with the conflict between humans and the magical world, it doesn’t make much sense that the 3 fairies would be allowed to be at the christening of Aurora in the first place. There is also the inconsistency of when Maleficent comes into power as the magical kingdom is turned into a desolate waste but when Maleficent and Aurora go there, the only thing that feels different between how it was before and after Maleficent took over is that it looks darker. All of this means that the world of Maleficent doesn’t really make much sense.
If there is one thing that prevents the film from being terrible though it’s Angelina Jolie as Maleficent. She is excellent as the character, with a lot of the evil in the character coming through Jolie, with the highlight of this being when Maleficent crashes the christening party, along with the sympathy for the character being provided more by Jolie than the script. The make-up for Maleficent is excellent as well, showing a brilliant re-interpretation of the character whilst keeping true to the original. If there is any reason why the film works then it is Jolie. Elle Fanning meanwhile does a good performance but is stuck playing one of the stupidest characters in the film, mainly though her not noticing what is going on with Maleficent until she is told and going back to the castle instead of staying in the forest when she finds out. For that matter, why wasn’t she told about all the stuff with Maleficent and the spinning wheel prophecy in order to convince her to stay where it was safe. Sam Riley meanwhile doesn’t get much to do but does good work with what he has. The other performances meanwhile are pretty bad. Sharlto Copley gives one of the most generic, one-note villain performances in recent years whilst Brendon Thwaites is one of the blandest love interests of the year as Prince Phillip. With the fairies meanwhile, whilst Imelda Staunton is good in her role, Leslie Manville and Juno Temple are incredibly annoying throughout the film.
The technical aspects of the film are a bit hit and miss. On a positive sense, the overall production design is brilliant, the music really fits the tone of the film and the costumes and make-up used for Maleficent are excellent. The design of a lot of the magical creatures is also really good but they are very reminiscent of Guillermo Del Toro, actually, a lot of the production elements feel similar to Del Toro, which makes me feel like Disney wanted Del Toro to direct the film but he said no. There are a few issues with the technical side though, mainly in terms of the visual effects. In many cases, the effects look unfinished and feel really out of place. This is best seen with the effects used for the fairies which look horrific. I understand that they wanted to have the faces of Staunton, Manville and Temple on the bodies of the fairies but the way that it is done puts these characters directly into the uncanny valley, not helping matters being that the way the voices are edited makes the characters annoying to listen to, especially what is done to Temple’s voice which makes her sound like a character from Alvin and the Chipmunks.
Overall, Maleficent is a pretty bad film. The production design is pretty good, Angelina Jolie is excellent as Maleficent and I get what they were trying to do with the character but it just doesn’t work. With any other Disney villain it could have worked but with Maleficent it doesn’t and this, aided by the one-note villains and the fairies being incredibly annoying, means that the film doesn’t work. If you want to see a really clever re-imagining of the Disney fairy tales, just watch Frozen again.
My Rating: 1.5/5