NOT EXACTLY ONCE UPON A DREAM
(One of my old reviews from my previous movie blog)
Over the last several years, a resurgence of fairy tales stories has caught the stardust eyes of Hollywood with studios reimaging these classic tales into feature films. 2010’s Alice in Wonderland was the first, presenting a sequel to the original Lewis Carroll classic. This was then followed by a darker tone of Snow White in 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, the adventurous spin on Jack and the Beanstalk in 2013’s Jack the Giant Slayer, and the magical prequel to Frank L. Baum’s tale in 2013’s Oz: the Great and Powerful. Now, in 2014, Disney continues this fairy tale revival trend with their untold story of Sleeping Beauty titled Maleficent. Does this new twist on a classic deliver a glance from viewers or is it a far cry from once upon a dream?
Set in a faraway land, the kingdom of man and its neighboring forest kingdom of fairies have struggled to coexist peacefully. The faerie Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), acting as protector to her realm and to the creatures who dwell within, soars into battle against any humans who dare to invade her land. However, after defeating King Henry (Kenneth Graham) and his royal army, Maleficent suffers a betrayal by her childhood human friend and former lover Stefan (Sharlto Copley), who’s seizes an opportunity to succeed as King when Henry dies. This betrayal turns Maleficent’s heart to stone and hell-bent on revenge. Maleficent finally confronts Stefan as his daughter’s christening celebration, placing a wicked curse upon the young princess Aurora. Fearing Maleficent’s curse, Stefan sends Aurora away, entrusting three good-willed pixels to secretly care for the young princess until the curse lapses. Unbeknownst to the trio, Maleficent watches as Aurora grows from a child into a young woman (Played by Elle Fanning) and eventually befriends kind-hearted human; forcing Maleficent to reassess her ambitions for vengeance and the ramifications of Aurora’s curse.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As fairy tales go, Sleeping Beauty is a well-known children’s story that has seeing various adaptations throughout the years. Of course, the most famous presentation of this tale dates back to 1959 with Disney’s 16th animated feature Sleeping Beauty. This feature, celebrating its 55th anniversary this year, has stood the test of time and is still regaled at its iconic achievements, so it comes as no surprise that Disney decided to return the legend of Sleeping Beauty with an untold tale that’s told from eyes of the story’s main villain, Maleficent.
The hype for Disney’s Maleficent was indeed palpable and the marketing team did extensive work to promote the film, but the end result is a movie that’s not quite sure of itself with a hodgepodge of ideas and in its unbalanced theatrical tone. The movie has a sort of “Wicked” style of approach to the source material, portraying Maleficent as someone who is not “The Mistress of All Evil”, but who is simple misunderstood as her true intentions transform the infamous villain from antagonist to protagonist. It’s an admirable approach, invoking a cautionary tale of love, greed, and power, and while it speaks a profound message to modern audiences, it comes off as a little contrite and slightly manufactured. Its narrative (Again pulling from laurels of Sleeping Beauty) seems too disjointed, feeling less naturally cohesive and trying too hard to get its point across by reworking the classic tale. In addition to this, Maleficent is deeply and thematically at odds with itself with its overall tone. The movie constantly jumps from being morally lighthearted and kid friendly to deviously dark and more adult oriented. It as if the film has a case of mistaken identity, switching between the two and trying appease the younger viewers, while, at the same time, trying to entice adults. Its missteps can be forgiven here and there, but, as a whole, Maleficent is poorly executed and an unbalance narrative and tone that seems utterly confused from the get go.
Maleficent’s saving grace is, of course, is the talented Angelina Jolie as Maleficent herself. Theatrical, the part is such a juicy role to play as Jolie produces a captivating performance, adding just the right touches of comedy, sadness, villainy, and heartfelt moments to her character. Even her striking looks with lend weight to this titular villain. Truly, Maleficent was the perfect role for Angelina Jolie to play or rather born to play, in my opinion.
However, as far as casting goes, it would seem that the filmmakers built the movie around Jolie, leaving much of the rest of the cast to the wayside and underdeveloped. This can be seeing in the character of Aurora. True, the baby and toddler forms of Aurora are impossible not to adore, but the sixteen year old Aurora, played by Elle Fanning, is flat. Fanning has proven she can act, but does get the chance to, reducing the character, who’s suppose to be the main focal point in Sleeping Beauty, to a mere catalyst; propelling events in the narrative forward. In the end, you feel more attached and taken to the character of Maleficent than you do with Aurora. Then there are the three pixels, which bestow their gifts to Aurora at birth and are later charged with raising the princess. Though, it’s conveyed that they are presented for comic relief, appealing to younger audience members, the result is something that comes across as silly to the point of being ridiculous and almost grating, acting like the female counterparts to the bumbling “The Three Stooges”. Sharlto Copley does a somewhat good job as the movie’s antagonist Stefan, proving the actor can project villainy and avarice on-screen. And finally, Sam Riley does a solid job as Maleficent’s shape-shifting minion Diaval.
In his directorial debut, Robert Stromberg, who has an illustrious visual effects career, puts a lot of emphasis on the movie’s CGI, which he does very well. It may not be at the forefront of visual effects like James Cameron’s Avatar, but the creatures designs, vast landscapes, and a heightened palpate of colors are promptly utilized to their best effect for the movie. Although the movie is a different take on Sleeping Beauty, Stromberg’s Maleficent nods back to the original tale and the Disney’s animated classic; Maleficent’s grandiose entrance and lines at Aurora’s christen celebration, the finger prick curse of Aurora, a prince, a dragon, “True Loves” kiss, and a up-to-date version of “Once Upon A Dream” performed by the talented Lana Del Rey.
Maleficent is a perplexing movie, one that gives its lead actress to shine incredibly with a role that’s strikingly memorable and iconic, but ultimately, outside of Jolie’s performance, fails to work on multiple levels. Personally, I was gleefully hyped to see this movie, but, after seeing final product, feel slightly disappointed. Perhaps the fault lies in the film’s inability to express its narrative correctly, seeking a darker tale to tell, but in such way that it adds lightheartedness at points with a de facto “Happily Ever After” tacked on at the end. With adding one-dimensional characters and ambiguous thematic tones, this modern twist to Sleeping Beauty is ultimately a missed opportunity. Maybe Disney can learn from the mistakes it took in Maleficent in preparations for their next leap into the fairy tale foray for 2015’s live-action adaptation of Cinderella.