“Maleficent” Review: Faeries and Spindles

Watching Maleficent (2014) was like watching a birds-of-paradise flower bloom backwards. I suppose this isn’t surprising given director Robert Stromberg‘s (The Golden Compass, Pan’s Labyrinth) known background in visual effects (he’s supervised a TON of stuff you probably watched and loved).

Concept art
See? Twinges of Pan’s Labyrinth.

Well, Maleficent overflowed with gorgeous background and color. Lighting designed to offset pale skin and red lips, SFX effects to glitter and dazzle, CGI green fire (that wasn’t wildfire) for classic intimidation — all of it were nice touches to an infamous Disney villain’s backstory.

Writer Linda Woolverton (screenplay for The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Alice in Wonderland) et. al. may have switched perspectives to tell this tale, but overall, although the beginning held much promise and intrigue, I felt it lacked a more satisfying end.

Warning: Vague-ish spoilers below. 

Um, why are you following me, little human? …Weirdo.

Angelina Jolie (Mr. & Mrs. Smith, The Changeling, Wanted) portrayed a much more vulnerable — though still verbally scathing — character than the animated one of 1959. Yes, they introduced her as a stout-hearted (and winged!) faerie who fell in love, but her eventual descent into “evil” did not feel sufficient to me. I mean, she suffered betrayal, hatred, and disfigurement. Yet this newer version finds regret and redemption through the very child she cursed.

Perhaps I just liked the original Maleficent better–how she laughed maniacally, how she taunted Prince Philip, and directed her goblin-pig (?) henchmen. She was truly malevolent; this version was more a spurned (and overpowered) woman. Of course, I guess the whole point of 2014’s Maleficent’s unique angle would be moot.

Watching last year’s remake makes you forget the original one did things like this. Ooo, Prince Philip, you ded.

It was just the ending that bothered me. (Isn’t it almost always that way?) I understood that they were saying a mother’s unconditional love is the truest love out there. Got that. I also liked their re-affirmation (following Frozen) that one cannot magically find “true love” after just meeting someone in the woods. Yep. Support.

But do ya gotta make the parallel between the theme and Jolie’s own life so blatant? Adoptive mother’s love and all that. Oh well. Still a pretty good movie. Very family-friendly. Honestly, the above ramblings were my only sticking points with it.

Snow. But not Snow White. Or Frozen.

Elle Fanning (Super 8) played Aurora with a much younger feel than the original animated Sleeping Beauty. Foremost was her voice (anyone else think Mary Costa‘s voice sounded like a woman a decade older?); Fanning actually sounded like a fifteen-year-old. Plus, the amount of smiling her cherubic cheeks offered softened the viewer’s heart. I’m unsure whether I liked Fanning better as a stoic or joyful character, but I’m willing to watch more of her.

King Stefan’s role, newly filled-out with *gasp* background and non-humorous significance, was commanded by a bearded Sharlto Copley (District 9, Elysium, The A-Team).

Almost didn’t recognize him!

If Maleficent was re-envisioned as the wronged protagonist, then King Stefan was the one re-sculpted as the faulty and selfish antagonist. I actually liked him that way–someone I could really hate comfortably. True, not everything he did made a lot of sense (why would  a paranoid king send his only daughter away into the woods closer to his enemy’s land, for instance), but . . . oh well.

Something about Copley and metal and fire just works.

Supporting actor Sam Riley (Control)  gave intriguing life to Maleficent’s faithful crow Diaval, who gets transfigured into a human, a wolf, and a dragon all within the film’s 97 minute run time. The story would have easily functioned without him, but even the original Maleficent needed a competent minion. Plus, the cast desperately needed another male character.

Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake, Harry Potter — the hated, but perfectly portrayed Dolores Umbridge) leads the trio of bumbling faeries who attempt to raise the future Sleeping Beauty in their woodland cottage. They were . . . strange characters, with strange heads.

Tiny faerie sized.
Big folk sized. (All I see is Umbridge.)

RatingC – Definitely a visual eye-candy type of movie crafted for the big screen as well as for PG audiences. An interesting, darker take on the villain’s point-of-view with a neo-Disney ending full of love. However, beware, one can be distracted easily by how those horns stayed on Jolie’s head.
ASV Villainy Rating: E – Evil Genius – Not much thought required! Just think of the 1959 Maleficent. She was pretty badass. Got slain by a sword to the heart but if you mix in a little of 2014 Maleficent, who’s smarter and more powerful, yea, the kingdom next door better not be yours.  


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