Maleficent Poster

Director: Robert Stromberg
Writers: Linda Woolverton (written by), Charles Perrault (based from the story “La Belle au Bois Dormant” by), Jacob Grimm (based from the story “Little Briar Rose” by), Wilhelm Grimm (based from the story “Little Briar Rose” by), Erdman Penner (based from the motion picture “Sleeping Beauty”, story adaptation by), Joe Rinaldi (based from the motion picture “Sleeping Beauty”, screenplay by), Winston Hibler (based from the motion picture “Sleeping Beauty”, screenplay by), Bill Peet (based from the motion picture “Sleeping Beauty”, screenplay by), Ted Sears (based from the motion picture “Sleeping Beauty”, screenplay by), Ralph Wright (based from the motion picture “Sleeping Beauty”, screenplay by), Milt Banta (based from the motion picture “Sleeping Beauty”, screenplay by)
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley
Release Date: May 30, 2014
Runtime: 1 hrs. 37 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG

This is not your mother’s fairy tale. Maleficent is Disney’s attempt to go live action with the story they first showed in 1959’s animated classic Sleeping Beauty, itself an adaptation of Charles Perrault’s La Belle au Bois Dormant, which, one step further, was an adaptation of the tale as collected by the Brothers Grimm – which means it was an adaptation of a story transmitted orally. You’d think that an adaptation of an adaptation of an adaptation of an adaptation (just take a look at all those writing credits above!) might get a little diluted; but, with a message that drastically moves away from the typical Disney paradigm, and a powerful performance from Angelina Jolie, there is nothing diluted about it.

<<Spoiler Alert: There will be minor spoilers regarding thematic elements of Maleficent – bear this in mind before clicking through.>>

A few months ago, I reviewed Disney’s animated retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “Ice Queen” short story, Frozen (which, upon several further viewings, I feel that I may have been a little harsh with in giving it a “B” grade). The main complaint I had about that movie was that it took a story of female empowerment (the Andersen original, written against his usual type), and diluted it with a variety of male supporting characters, turning it more toward the Disney Princess formula. Here, in Maleficent, Disney hits those notes just right.

Telling a tale from multiple perspectives is always an interesting narrative device, whether it be Rashomon (1950) or Crash (2004) or even an episode of The X-Files (S05E12 “Bad Blood”). Here, we get a retelling not in a single movie, but across two, separated by six and a half decades. Sleeping Beauty told the story of the beautiful young Princess Aurora, cursed to a young death (mitigated to a death-like sleep by one of the good fairies), who can only be saved by true love. Maleficent is the evil witch who curses the baby princess, and later is the direct cause of her sleep, working the spinning wheel where the young girl will find her.

In Maleficent, we see the story from the antagonist’s position, and while it would be obvious to point out that this changes the story, it isn’t just the perspective that is changed. Instead, we learn about Maleficent’s motivations, a humanizing move that gives viewers a greater understanding of why she hates the humans, and especially the King, so much. In so doing, however, there are drastic changes made to the canonical story, making this less a re-telling, and more an entirely new tale. Some of the changes work very well – the new treatment of Maleficent’s ever-present pet raven, for example – while others don’t work quite so well (the scenes where Aurora is pricked, the dragon at the climax, and even the scene of the original curse at Aurora’s christening are significantly changed, making this a different story).

Still, this is a strong movie with a powerful message of female empowerment. I lay much of this at Angelina Jolie’s feet; apparently, when Disney execs tried to utilize her famous beauty to help sell the movie, she insisted that they stay true to the appearance of Maleficent from the original movie. Angelina Jolie, in the title role, is powerful. She elicits sympathy, compassion, and occasionally fear from the audience. Her make-up is magnificently well done, as is the costume and set design. There is a lot of CGI in this movie, but it never overpowers the acting. In addition to Jolie, the three good fairies – Knotgrass [Imelda Staunton], Thistelwhit [Juno Temple], and Flittle [Lesley Manville] – are a pleasure to watch, adding a touch of humor to an otherwise at times dark movie; King Stefan [South African actor Sharlto Copley] plays a man haunted by his daughter’s curse, driven by it to the edge of madness; and Elle Fanning’s Aurora is ridiculously bright and positive (true to character), an improvement on her earlier work in We Bought A Zoo (2011).

The movie is rated PG, and does have some dark and violent scenes that may be difficult for young children to handle. That said, I took my four-year old son to see it, and he loved it. At the end of the movie, his words were, “That was a really good movie. I really liked it.” I’m pretty much in accord with his viewpoint. This is perhaps not as good a movie overall as Frozen, but its message is less diluted; both are well worth a watch.

Steve’s Grade: B+
A wonderful role for Angelina Jolie to return to acting with after her three-year hiatus due to health and family issues, and a part which she could really sink her teeth into. A beautiful piece of cinematography with strong acting, and a movie that turns the typical Disney Princess tropes on their head.

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  1. Lisa Lo Paro says:

    This is a fantastic review! I was entranced and blown away by the movie and developed newfound respect for Jolie! So great to read my opinions echoed in this post.

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