If you’ve not seen, heard or been tagged in a comment about Maleficent by now, you must have been hiding under a rock all year…or cursed into a very deep enchanted sleep.
The Disney studios however, have successfully awoken into a new decade of animated and live action fairy tales; the latter including spin offs, prequels or rather completely obliterating the original story altogether for the sake of thrilling a new generation of cinema goers.
Indeed, Disney profited from over a billion dollars at the box office with their live action Alice in Wonderland, which, one very prompt Youtube critic stated should have been called ‘Grown Up Alice returns to Underland’. And then came Oz the Great and Powerful last year – in this they created a thickly perfumed saturated world of bubbling creatures and…urgh, the CGI!!
Which brings me to Maleficent…from the trailers it looks and feels like these last two films right? That’s because it’s directed by Oscar winning Production designer of Alice and Avatar Robert Stromberg.
On its own, Maleficent is a wickedly good treat and fair enough, the CGI elements actually feel completely integrated into the world of the fantasyland.
Maleficent is based on the wonderfully artistic 1959 Walt Disney animation, Sleeping Beauty. The villain of this film is one of the, if not THE most iconic Disney villain of all time. So it was only a matter of time she would have her own film, complete with backstory.
And boy does she get her own backstory. Linda Woolverton wrote the screenplay, a name most Disney fans know; she penned the Best Picture nominated Beauty and the Beast (1991) and Alice in Wonderland (2010). She, along with Angelina Jolie, have created a Maleficent somewhat unattached from the animated version, enough to still keep her ‘the mistress of all evil’ whilst having an alternative version of herself. It’s like a parallel world where everything completely goes in the other direction.
This film is not a prequel. It’s not even a mid-quel. It’s a completely different take on the fairy tale. Apart from all the iconic elements of the first film – the curse at the Christening, the 3 good fairies, Aurora meeting Prince Phillip…
Look at the brief synopsis for the film: ‘A vengeful fairy is driven to curse an infant princess, only to discover that the child may be the one person who can restore peace to their troubled land.’ That doesn’t sound anything like the original.
Differences to the older version are what kept me from fully investing in this film. First of all…the 3 good fairies are completely unlikeable in my opinion. Flora, Fauna and Merryweather, the true heroes of Sleeping Beauty have been rendered into CGI pixies with annoyingly high-pitched voices and most of the time are portrayed as incompetent dunderheads over raising a child. Although it does depicts over time how difficult it would have been for them to raise a baby without magic. And that gets me to Aurora (Elle Fanning). For goodness sake, they don’t even call her Briar Rose! Wasn’t the point of hiding in the woods, pretending to be peasants was so that the baby princes wouldn’t be found? And they go ahead and keep calling her Aurora? Stupid. At times like this I felt the screenplay could have used a few re-writes.
Meanwhile, Maleficent watches over the child growing up, saving her from falling off cliffs and starvation, unbeknownst to the fairy godmothers, and over time grows fond of the child.
Not only that but Aurora and Maleficent makes contact and have a relationship for many weeks, or months, before the fateful day. I won’t give anything else away spoiler wise, but be warned, this movie is not at all following the plot of the original. And maybe that’s ok. Maybe it’s good to branch out into the world of fairy tales and discover the ‘what if that happened…’ or ‘maybe if they were just understood…’ but to me it was quite poorly handled. But the difference I loved most of all was the development of Aurora and her father, King Stefan (Shalto Copley) though again I believe his character in this is completely off the radar. In Sleeping Beauty…Aurora only gets about 20 minutes of screen time and most of that is sleeping. She is really only active in one little scene where she confides in her animal friends about finding true love and then meets a random guy in the woods and falls in love with him in about 3 minutes.
But I’m getting off topic; I appreciated the relationship between Stefan and Maleficent. Her cause for the curse in this film could have been believable in the animated tale. Instead of just being evil for evil’s sake (I mean, not receiving an invitation to a Royal Christening wouldn’t throw me into wicked witch mode.)
Whilst the film has its flaws in genre amnesia (I still don’t know who the intended target audience was supposed to be) I couldn’t help but sink into the beautiful world the filmmakers had brought to life. The colours were striking, the music was epic – composed by James Newton Howard of other Disney flicks, and the acting by Jolie and even Fanning were enough to convince me of their relationship. And I really enjoyed the character of Diaval the crow (Sam Riley) that Maleficent turns human to be her ‘wings’ as they were stolen from her. That’s really cool. The film explains it all – why she has the staff, the crow, and no wings, that I could appreciate the links to its ancestry!
The new worlds and the pacing were acceptable and Maleficent really puts down the mark of Disney live action fairy tales in its place.
PS Watch this space, for Disney is on to something here. Their next outing in live action fantasy is with their remake of Cinderella starring Lily James (Downton Abbey) and directed by Kenneth Branagh opening 2015.