You only need one glance at Maleficent to hypothesize what type of audience it is most sure to attract, and perhaps this is a good thing if these are the people the filmmakers intentionally targeted. It resembles a film that, much like Tim Burton‘s uninspired take on Alice in Wonderland, is going to be forgiven for being little more than nonsensically dark Disney fan fiction on the grounds that it at the least “looks cool”. Having seen it, I’m still certain that the Alice apologists are gonna eat it up like hen feed, but is there more to this one than being another entry in the inexplicable fad of live-action Disney fan fics?
Well, no. Not exactly. Aside from the grandiose performance from Angelina Jolie, and surprising co-star Sharlto Copley, scarcely is there anything in Maleficent worth applauding and cheering for. The visuals, I think, I’ll give only an awkward clap as I smile and go “Oh, more of this? Great.”
The plot is basically a darker and edgier version of Sleeping Beauty, but only in the sense that the imagery is more Gothic and that it’s live action. Angelina Jolie plays Maleficent, the powerful fairy that felt neglected and disrespected when the king of Far Far Away (or something), played here by Copley, held a party to celebrate the birth of his daughter, princess Aurora, without inviting Maleficent to it. Vengefully, Maleficent puts a curse on the child that will make her fall into an eternal sleep once she pricks her finger on her 16th birthday; a sleep she can only awake from if she receives a true love’s kiss. Sounds simple and familiar enough, yes? Well, in true Fanfiction.net fashion, this movie accordingly makes sure to tell us that which we “didn’t know” about the evil fairy. Do tell.
We see Aurora grow up and take on the appearance of Elle Fanning. When she encounters the dark fairy years later, she is kind enough to tell Aurora her story and also finds out something about her that might eventually lead to peace in the land of Far Far Away (I guess). Either way, some of the details the filmmakers add to this character’s backstory is that she used to have wings that were taken from her by King Sharlto Copley and various other things that teach us the valuable lesson that perhaps Maleficent – one of the most gloriously cold-blooded villains in cinema history – isn’t evil, but misunderstood and mistreated. Aww.
In the supporting roles we see Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville as the three good fairies, all of whom I found sort of scary, and Brenton Thwaites as the conventionally attractive prince that Aurora obligatorily falls in love with. Thwaites was also featured in this year’s Oculus and has several more films planned for 2014. Looks like we have the next teenage girl heartthrob on our hands, folks. And yes, he does have a shirtless scene in case some of you are still doubting this.
Even if the original Sleeping Beauty did contain some action elements and thus adapting it into an action Fantasy film makes a bigger amount of sense than giving that same treatment to Alice in Wonderland, I wouldn’t say this is one of the better examples. I gave Snow White and The Huntsman a positive review when it first came out but as its appeal gradually started to wear off on me, so too did the appeal of the live-action Disney remake trend in general. Even so, Snow White still gets a free pass for at least not being a direct fan fic of the Walt Disney Snow White, and I’m not sure if Tim Burton’s Alice tecnincally qualifies as a direct one either.
With Maleficent, there’s no question about it. This is clearly the Maleficent we all remember from the animated Disney movie from 1950, and now we’re supposed to watch her inhabit a world that looks like another of Hollywood’s generic Fantasy settings with spiky trees, dark clouds of smoke, weird wood creatures, stuff that glows blue and a troubling amount of Corvus birds everywhere. I suppose that’s another problem with these films; the fact that they more and more start to look the same. This isn’t so much a problem with the Goth-ified fairy tale bandwagon itself so much as it is a problem with modern Fantasy films in general. They have fallen in love with a world I no longer have much interest in and it’s no remedy that Angelina Jolie’s costume looks like something you could buy at Buttericks in Stockholm.
In terms of being likely to attract an audience, though, Maleficent is probably no failure. Again, some people view style as a tastier ingredient than substance, especially when the style is as “dark and cool” as that of this movie, and Maleficent is sure to have a bookmarked page in their “movie recipe” books. Me, I’m ordering takeout.