DISNEY BRINGS ITS 1959 ANIMATED CLASSIC SLEEPING BEAUTY TO LIFE ON THE BIG SCREEN IN A CHARMING TALE OF BETRAYAL AND REDEMPTION, BUT ONE THAT FALLS SHORT AS A BIG SCREEN MOVIE
DIRECTOR: Robert Stromberg
STARRING: Angelina Jolie, Sharlto Copley, Elle Fanning, Sam Riley
RUNNING TIME: 1 Hr, 37 Min
The entire kingdom rejoices at the birth of the princess Aurora and the celebrations draw dignitaries and nobles from across all the known lands, including three fairies who represent the enchanted folk of the realm. Unfortunately the party is crashed by one most welcome visitor as the evil Maleficent, the most powerful fairy in the world, arrives to curse the child, dooming her to fall into a death like sleep on her sixteenth birthday, a slumber that can only be ended by true love’s kiss. The king does everything in his power to protect her, entrusting her to the three good fairies until the day after her sixteenth birthday and destroying everything that could trigger the curse. Unfortunately, Princes Aurora can’t escape and falls into an eternal sleep, only to be rescued by Prince Charming, who wakes the damsel in distress with a kiss, slays Maleficent and marries the sixteen year old for good measure (who does he think he is, that creepy old guy from Duck Dynasty?). And that’s the story of Maleficent. Or it was, in 1959’s animated Sleeping Beauty, the story that inspired Disney’s new live action Maleficent, starring and produced by Angelina Jolie. Maleficent tells the story of the villainous fairy and how she became the mistress of evil who cursed the royal child, but Disney wisely updated the story, tossing out the time worn and obsolete idea that all women are villains, victims or damsels in distress who need rescuing that has dominated the House of the Mouse’s storytelling for most of its history. Unfortunately, Maleficent doesn’t find strong enough legs to stand on it’s own as a big screen adaptation.
Disney found plenty of success in 2010’s billion dollar blockbuster Alice in Wonderland, a sequel to Lewis Carroll’s classic (that Disney also adapted to an animated feature in 1951) and Universal Studios made a bucket of cash in 2012 with Snow White and the Huntsman (the two movies shared the same producer and have both been green lit for sequels). So you really can’t fault the folks at Disney for trying again with one of their most popular and cherished properties in Sleeping Beauty. Maleficent retells the tale (originally adopted from the much darker Grimm’s Fairy Tale) from the time Maleficent is a girl who meets and subsequently befriends a young boy from the hostile human kingdom next door, to her rise as her land’s chief guardian and the first line of defense from the invading human armies. But following a brutal betrayal she abandons all hope before taking her revenge by cursing the princess to fall into an eternal slumber (that can only be ended by true love’s kiss) by her sixteenth birthday. But the innocent young princess, full of wonder and unconditional happiness, slowly begins to thaw the dark fairy queen’s heart and the two form an unlikely friendship, not only the beneath the shadow of Maleficent’s unbreakable curse, but also beneath the growing greed and instability of Aurora’s father, King Stefan.
Angelina Jolie was the perfect choice to play Maleficent and by the time the end credits roll you can’t imagine anyone else owning the role the way she did. Jolie devours the part, whether it’s during Maleficent’s numerous moments of resolute strength, her occasional moments of doubt and fragility or when she’s being deliciously wicked. Elle Fanning more then fills the role of the sixteen year old princess Aurora with sugar and saccharine (actually a little too much) and Sam Riley is efficient as Malefient’s occasionally comical sidekick Diaval. But the truth is everyone pales next to Jolie, who truly captures the core of Maleficent.
Maleficent isn’t a bad movie, but it isn’t a memorable one either. It felt more like a really good made-for-TV movie and seemed to be lacking the big screen feel. It not only failed to reach for any epic feel, it didn’t even seem like it was trying. But despite its flaws, I enjoyed Maleficent enough to justify the price of admission. Every year I find a gem or two that I really like but that fail to find purchase with movie going audiences at large. Last year it was the animated Epic, a few years ago it was Super 8 and it looks like Maleficent, a nice, harmless little flick that will probably be lost among the shuffle of big, bright summer blockbusters, will be this year’s addition to that list. I have to admit that what I found the most refreshing about Maleficent was that the female characters weren’t mere set pieces or plot devices to motivate the mandatory male hero into action. Disney seems to be moving more and more in this direction (Tangled, Brave, Frozen) and hopefully other studios will follow suit. With luck, Maleficent’s most likely humble box office return won’t endanger the movement to allow strong female characters to stretch their legs in roles with actual range and not be relegated to mere victims who need protection or rescuing.