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Maleficent: A New Kind of Wicked
Last summer’s box office was record-breaking, partly due to the wealth of children’s films released. Summer 2014 has far fewer choices for children, but one of them should be Maleficent. It is immensely satisfying to see Disney breaking the preexisting construct of princess films and the roles women hold. It could be argued that the studio began its progressive push with the 1991 film Beauty and the Beast. Since then, heroines have been more intelligent and less reliant on a man. However, it wasn’t until 2013 with Disney’s monstrous hit Frozen that the idea of a damsel in distress was blown to smithereens. I am happy to say Maleficent keeps with this new modern path.
Hopefully most of you are familiar with the story of Sleeping Beauty. For those who are not, it’s quite simple. First, I must start by explaining that Disney did not invent the story. Although it is “Disney’s Sleeping Beauty” that only means that it is their version. Many people are under the impression that Disney invents its animated tales, but that is just not the case. Lion King is Hamlet, The Little Mermaid is inspired by a Hans Christian Anderson story of the same title, and even Frozen is adapted from Anderson’s story “The Snow Queen”. Sleeping Beauty is a Brothers Grimm tale far darker than the animated classic.
In the animated classic, the story begins with Princess Aurora's birth and the evil witch, Maleficent, casting a curse on the baby. She proclaims that on Aurora’s 16th birthday, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. Here starts our first difference from Maleficent. In the 2014 film, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) is not so vicious. By this point, we are already on her side. Of course, taking her anger out on a baby is a bit psycho, but you feel for her. After some begging, she does not declare that the baby will die, but will fall into a death-like sleep. Sort of better, I guess? In the animated version, Princess Aurora is brought to the forest and brought up as a peasant by her three fairy mothers (much cuter as cartoons). Maleficent does not know the whereabouts of the girl. It is not until the three fairies use their long concealed magic that Maleficent's crow companion discovers the cottage in the woods. Here comes our second difference. In Maleficent, our title character is, in fact, around for Aurora’s (Elle Fanning) entire childhood. Aurora even meets Maleficent. A third major difference comes later, but you will just have discover it for yourself.
While watching Maleficent, I discovered a new found love for Angelina Jolie. When she is on screen, she is the only person who matters. She dominates every scene. I definitely think that’s partly due to the fact that she stands there a lot just being the most beautiful woman in the world. At times, it almost seemed like a movie made just so we could envy how freaking gorgeous she is. However, I do not wish to diminish her acting by primarily focusing on superficiality. How unDisney of me. Jolie is a master of her craft. The scene in which she curses baby Aurora is haunting and easily her best scene of the film. She’s terrifying, but not in a powerful way. It is the soft dominance I’ve seen before in performances by the incomparable Christoph Waltz. Maleficent does not need to be thundering to exert her power; her mere presence is enough to draw all eyes on her. Kudos to casting director, Lucy Bevan.
Angelina Jolie may be perfection in this role, but the film overall is not. The only aspect of the film I cannot completely appreciate is the cheesy animation. I understand that the moors are a place filled with magical creatures, but they are a tad too whimsical for my taste. With such a dark and semi-serious story, these creepy toad people hopping around forced me to the limits of my suspension of disbelief. Even the three fairies that raise Aurora are the stuff of nightmares. In the 2012 live action Snow White and the Huntsman, there comes a point at which Snow enters a forest and all manner of magical creatures greet her. This was the only point in the film I thought to be truly out of place, and it seems as though Maleficent's creators embraced this section more than they should have. All the animation was not terrible, though. The strongest VFX seems to be when Maleficent’s servant turns back and forth into a bird, and at one point, a dragon. Other than this one issue, all other aspects seem appropriate and entertaining for a children’s film.
Disney is well known for inserting certain themes into their films; this is no exception. I believe that the film successfully points out how silly previous princess films have been where the couple falls in love after meeting once for five minutes. Even Elsa in Frozen says, “You can’t marry a man you just met!” Real love comes from knowing someone to his/her core and loving him/her, faults and all. Prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaites) in Maleficent knows Aurora for five minutes, whereas Maleficent knows her for 16 years. Whose love is truer?
The other major theme in the film is a common Disney. Do not let lust for fame and fortune make you forget the truly important aspects of life. This subject is the main reason behind Maleficent’s fall into darkness, but not for the reasons you may think. I think the film handles this theme well. I have never liked the idea that love is the only important aspect of life, and that one should forget about ambition. Maleficent proves that a balance between family and power can be the recipe for a happy life.
With a limited array of children’s films this summer, Maleficent is a terrific choice for the family. Angelina Jolie’s performance is lovely and haunting. Its important underlying messages are executed quite well. It’s refreshing to see how progressive the films that reach children are becoming. Maleficent is most definitely the new Wicked.
Opened in the US: May 30, 2014
Run Time 1:38
- Maleficent (2014) - Fandango
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- Maleficent (2014) - IMDb
Directed by Robert Stromberg. With Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Imelda Staunton. A vindictive fairy is driven to curse an infant princess only to realize the child may be the only one who can restore peace.