Monday, June 2, 2014
Movie Review: "Maleficent" (2014)
"Sleeping Beauty" is one of the classic Disney animated features for a few different reasons. One is the artstyle and how drastically different it was from any other animated film at the time, going for more of a medival tapestry look. But the main reason most people remember the film, including myself, is the villain, Maleficent.
She is everything that makes villainy exciting to watch. She is quiet, subtle, manipulative, but can also be quite boisterous, loud and over the top. She can have her way with either a flick of her wrist or by turning into a fire-breathing dragon. She loves everything she does and takes great pride in her power. This makes her one of best, if not the best, Disney animated villain.
Notice that I said villain. If she were trying to be anything else, Maleficent would not work. In "Sleeping Beauty," her motivation to become a villain is lame: She wasn't invited to a party, so now she's going to make the whole kingdom suffer. But we forgive this motivation because of how effective she is at being the villain.
When you try to take that motivation and develop it further, fleshing her character out, suddenly you take away one of the things that made her character so great in the first place. The ambiguity of what she'll do next and the lengths that she'll go to. We don't know why Maleficent has it out for Sleeping Beauty, just that she'll make sure Aroura will fall into that deep sleep.
This is part of the reason why the new Disney film, "Maleficent," only holds up for so long. The movie works for a while with its detailed world and character development, but over time it loses coherence and gets lost.
A long while ago, there were two kingdoms that lived adjacent to each other, one of greedy men and other of mystical creatures and fairies. The watchful protector of this kingdom is the mighty winged fairy Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), as she guards the kingdom from men who wish to snatch the vast treasures and magical objects.
One day though, the human love of her life returns to Maleficent, only to be betrayed and have her wings stolen. This leads her former love to become king, with Maleficent vowing for revenge. When the king's daughter is born, Malficent shows up uninvited to her festival and casts the famous curse upon the baby, setting off a cascade of events and the king promising to slay Maleficent once and for all.
Angelina Jolie is both menacing and comforting as Maleficent. When she wants to be villainous, she goes all out and often looks gleeful when being the bad guy. Her wide eyes work to full effect here, because when you see the whites of her eyes she looks like a shark about to strike.
Over the course of the film, Maleficent takes a liking to Aroura and her kinder side shines through. This gives the audience a good idea of why the magical creatures came to appreciate Maleficent and why they accept her as their guardian.
When the film is focusing on Jolie, it is at its best. She is able to capture the charm of the original character while still making it feel like her own creation.
It's just too bad that the film spends so much time on other characters who don't add anything. The other fairies, for example, are tasked with protecting Aroura until her sixteenth birthday, and are reduced to petty slapstick that clashes with scenes of Maleficent being maniaical. By the time she does get to that spinning wheel, the fairies storyline is all but forgotten.
This becomes a problem for many characters throughout the film, with subplots being created but ultimately forgotten by the end. The king, for example, starts out as a boy with nothing but a friendship with Maleficent who becomes a greedy king. That friendship is lost by the end of the movie and means pratically nothing. It is never mentioned during the climatic battle, nor do either characters feel remorse for what they are doing.
Other characters, like the prince who saves Aroura and the queen are thrown away as quickly as possible and add nothing to the movie. Much like with "Sleeping Beauty," Aroura and the prince have zero character. They are merely vehicles to move the plot along instead of feeling like people with emotions and desires. The best we get is that Aroura is curious about the world, and that's it.
"Maleficent" has many of the same problems as "Sleeping Beauty" but also introduces several new problems. The story is all over the place, with characters motives and goals wildly changing for no good reason, subplots and characters going unaddressed and many scenes serving no point at all other than to pad out the film. Near the end, Maleficent must traverse a maze of iron, as fairies are weakened by iron. But she gets through it with no problem and this maze is never brought up again.
While Jolie is great as Maleficent, she can only take this film so far. Too much focus on other characters who aren't as interesting drags "Maleficent" down. It starts out well enough with the relationship between the two kingdoms, but by the end the movie has lost its point and forcibly drags from scene to scene.
If you're a fan of "Sleeping Beauty" or the character of Maleficent, or like Angelina Jolie, then give this one a try. But if you go in expecting a medival tale of knights and witches, this probably isn't the film for you.
Final Grade: C-