Once Upon A Time has a lot to answer for. I am totally blaming it for the whole 'let's show another side of the villains' trend that's been afoot in Disney lately. They did it with Frozen and that was pretty terrible. They're doing it in Maleficent and that's - well, if I say what that's like, there won't be a review.
Maleficent is the story of, er, Maleficent, main villain of Disney classic Sleeping Beauty. Told by a mysterious narrator, the film explains how Maleficent was actually wronged and mutilated by Aurora's father, King Stefan, and became a bitter and angry dark queen, before being redeemed by her maternal love for Aurora.
The trailers, featuring Angelina Jolie doing her rendition of a famous scene from the original film, were jumped upon by critics and fans alike as evidence that the film itself would be an amazing feat of cinema. Which is understandable: Angelina Jolie's performance in that trailer, and in the film itself, cannot be praised enough.
I mean that. It cannot be praised enough. Angelina Jolie is an excellent actress who does the rather iconic role all the justice it deserves. She's charismatic, magnetic, controlled and engaging, but ironically she's at her best when she's playing Maleficent as an out-and-out villain. Her best scene is easily the one from the trailer, where Maleficent is at her most overtly villainous.
|The horns look odd without the wrapping.|
The rest of the film is - eh. It can never really decide on a tone, to be honest. It switches, often abruptly, from 'dark meditation on the nature of evil' to 'comedy of errors', and the plot feels stifled by its attempts to fit into the framework provided by the original material. It feels like a very utilitarian film, speeding from Plot Point A to Plot Point B with very little regard to tone or character development.
I mention character development because nobody really grows or changes as a character in this film. The two principle characters who might develop are Stefan and Maleficent, but Stefan goes from 'nice young lad' to 'pure evil' in the space of a scene change, and Maleficent's period of being evil is incredibly brief, unless you define lounging in a tree and saving little girls as 'evil'.
There is another glaring problem with this film, though. Sleeping Beauty was a film about women: Don't let Prince Philip silently hacking things with a sword fool you, Sleeping Beauty is about a power struggle between the good fairies (all women) and Maleficent (another woman), with Aurora, Philip, et all, as pawns in their game. Maleficent is a film about a woman struggling against a man, which somehow feels - less feminist. In Sleeping Beauty, the presence of men is almost immaterial to proceedings. In Maleficent, it is massively important, and the film goes as far as to add men who weren't even in the original story in to round out the sausage quota (hi, Diaval).
I'm also a bit headtilty at the push for 'non-romantic forms of love can qualify for true love's kiss.' I mean, yeah, I get it. It's a good moral, that love doesn't have to be romantic to be strong. But it kind of presents a plotting issue, because familial love is the most common love around. If all these curses can be broken by a parent's love (hey again, Once Upon A Time), then they kind of lose their teeth, because, hey, unless you're an orphan or your parents are awful, you have an instant curse-breaker right there. No need to search. Done. Dusted. Never worry about sleeping curses again.
This isn't so much a problem for this film, as Aurora is separated from her parents for most of her life, and her father is kind of awful, so that conflict is still there, but as a general trend it presents issues.
|Speaking of, Aurora needs to be a shade more snarky.|
But it's pretty. It's got very nice scenery, the CGI is very good, the costume design is nice. A lot of Disney's money has clearly been poured into making this film look gorgeous, and it's paid off. The soundtrack is very good as well, and I'll probably look it up later. But it's style without substance, and that's painfully obvious when you watch the film.
I'm struggling with this review because there's not a lot to say. It's a - film. It's there. If you took the Disney name off it, if there was no connection to Sleeping Beauty, this would be a middling, unremarkable fantasy film that would probably have made good sales and gotten okay reviews but wouldn't really be remembered.
It was a bit of a disappointment, all in all, and I'm glad I didn't see it in the cinema because I would have kicked myself for wasting ten quid (it'd be Jack the Giant Killer all over again). But, hey, Angelina Jolie was good.