By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
The only reason to see Disney’s Maleficent is for Angelina Jolie. She has the fire to play the faerie queen in all her glory. There’s a regal quality in her performance, and a spark of remorse for what she did: to curse Sleeping Beauty. But in what transpires, the character she plays demonstrates what faerie-kind can be like when forced to deal with humanity. They are nothing like the types created by William Shakespeare, although a few of them do come close.
Maleficent’s role model may well be Morgan Le Fay from the time of King Arthur. Annoy her, and she will send the Green Giant after you! But in this film, clip her wings, and you will invoke her wrath until the end times come. Maleficent is a vision of beauty, a Queen for all Faerie-kind that lives in her realm, and her freedom and mood is tied into the wings that she wears. They can be as soft as down and as majestic as an eagle’s. Most fae-folk have wings like that of a butterfly or an insect; they symbolize more than just freedom. They reflect the essence of an individual’s soul. When they are fair, an angel’s essence can be as gentle as the wind. When they are black and folded like that of a bat, thoughts about what Dracula is comes to mind.
In this film’s case, the tale looks in the mirror darkly about Maleficent’s transformation. Those viewers familiar with the original story, Sleeping Beauty, will not find a retelling of that tale. Instead, it’s an old folk story told anew. Anyone coming into this film with expectations of it following Disney’s seminal film may well get confused. Is it a companion piece to the animated classic? Thankfully it is not. Just like the original, the two products do expand the significance of how important Maleficent is to the tale.
What people will see is a fantasy story that owes a great debt to Jim Henson’s Dark Crystal. Even the creature designs look familiar, and for the astute, they may find this movie borrows some of its design from Harry Potter. With Dobby-like elves mulling about Maleficent’s realm, just what this part of the film offers is a look into what life in the Otherworld must be like. It’s all about fun, freedom, and games. But when a young Stefan (played by Jackson Bews and Michael Higgins) steals her heart, she does not become the cold wicked Witch of the West just yet. When his aspirations to become king of the human realm, the East, overcomes his devotion, just where this film goes is almost like that of Lord of the Rings.
But the effects are not nearly as a good as in what WETA can produce. The tree-folk in this film seem second class to the true Ents that protect Mordor, and the tale cannot decide if it should shift its point of view from that of Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) or the mad King (Sharlto Copley) to give a complete picture of what is going on. The war is really between Maleficent and Stefan. The shift in the blame is to be applauded. Mankind’s unwillingness to live peacefully with neighbouring nations have often been a good deus ex machina for many a film. In this case, how it flows gets interrupted when the movie has to ultimately remind its viewers that it’s based on Sleeping Beauty. The build-up is good, but is there any satisfaction in the end? The twists this movie makes are excellent, and viewers are left guessing just how will this movie finish. But as for whether or not this film is a game-changer in the line of Disney-made fun films much like how Lilo & Stitch can tame a savage beast, sadly no.
At least writer Linda Woolverton got the right idea going. Sadly director Robert Strom may not have understood the connotations that Woolverton wanted to make. He really needed a graduate level crash course in Celtic Legends and Fairytales before taking on this film. If he did, he might have layered this film with a better emphasis in what Maleficent truly represented from folklore than to follow the filmmakers bible to making another Disney Princess movie.
3 Stars out of 5