There is a growing trend in Hollywood to update the classic fairy tales and give them fresh and darker take on them. Recently we have had “Snow White and the Huntsman”, “Red Riding Hood”, “Jack the Gaint Slayer” among a few others. I’ve actually been a fan of and supporter of this trend. There is such potential with these types of stories. However, none of these movies have delivered on this potential. Next fairy tale to get its modern update is “Sleeping Beauty”, well actually the villain does. “Maleficent” gets the “Wicked” treatment, where the story is told from her point of view and how she became the villain. Once again the trailers looked good and solid and thought at the very least it could provide some decent entertainment. But sadly once again the film fails to live up to its potential. This is a movie that is beautiful to look at and is anchored by a terrific performance by Angelia Jolie but it can’t make up for a poor script that doesn’t know what it wants to be, with poor acting and a frustrating finale.
“Maleficent” tells the story of “Maleficent”. Whom was once a wonderful and strong fairy but this is the story of her downfall. How she became the villain we all know from Disney’s classic “Sleeping Beauty”.
Let me start of by saying this movie has not a single clue of what it wants to be. The movie is called “Maleficent” and is suppose to be about how she became a villain. Much akin to the Broadway play “Wicked” did for the Wicked Witch in “Wizard of Oz”. But after 15 min, it’s not longer content with that. Instead it prefers to become a “Sleeping Beauty” retelling. Showing “Maleficent” only watching as young sleeping beauty grows up. The movie then becomes an uninteresting as we watch some of the staples of the old classic comes about, the prince, the fairy godparents, and so on and so forth but nothing is really done with them. The prince is a pointless addition, the fairy godparents are suppose to be these funny side characters and instead come off annoying. The crow doesn’t serve much purpose as a plot device at all. It’s a shift that doesn’t work, even with keeping Maleficent perspective it no longer feels like her movie. The film drags on once this shift happens.
For a while nothing interesting is happening on screen. “Maleficent” spies on Sleeping Beauty, here named Aurora, and that goes on for a while when you realize exactly then where the rest of the film is headed in predictable fashion. I mentioned before the movie drags and it becomes uninteresting. There are things going on screen however never once did I feel invested in it what is happening. There was a cold disconnect between what is happening in the movie and what I was feeling emotionally. There was no bridge to bring you into the film.
So the movie begins as “Maleficent” origin story then moves towards an “Sleeping Beauty” retelling then the finale happens. Not only does the finale make the introduction of the prince redundant and holy unnecessary but it tries to be some sort of female empowerment. It fails at it while feeling forced, and a tacked on.
(Spoiler Alert Beginning)
So you remember Disney’s “Frozen” last year? Remember how it was a story of two sisters that drifted apart but still had this burning love for one another because of the childhood they shared together? Then when it appeared that one of the sisters died and the only thing that could save her was true love, there was a twist. Unlike most fairy tales or Disney films, the true love was not that of a prince or some other handsome man but the love of the sisters because of the bond they share. They finally were reconnected. It all fit with the nature of the story. It wasn’t that Anna didn’t love Kristoff . It just wasn’t a story of their love.
Now flash forward to “Maleficent.” Maleficent is shown being backstab by the new king and abandons her to have a child with the new queen. Maleficent’s wings are taken by the king and out of an act of vengeance she casts a curse on the new child. So over the years she watches the child grow after being sent away by the king who get progressively crazier and over the top. Maleficent spends one day with her and over the course of that one day all of a sudden cares deeply about her and wants to revert the curse. Then a prince comes into the picture that does nothing. Then when Sleeping Beauty becomes, well, sleeping beauty and only true loves kiss can break the spell. They try the prince first, nope that didn’t work. Oh wait, Maleficent loves this young girl (for no good reason) and so her kiss will break the spell. Awesome! Now let’s turn against the evil king and fight him.
There is no build up, no legitimate story reason to have this kind of finale. Just sort of thrown in their because it worked in “Frozen”. Except that made clear from the very start from the start because it was the story of the two sisters. In this, it’s a story of Maleficent’s origin, no wait, Sleeping Beauty, no wait I mean it’s about Maleficent! No wait let’s throw a prince in there but wait on what if at the end we reveal that the prince isn’t true love but it was Maleficent all along. Everyone loves it in “Frozen” it’ll work for us too! Except it doesn’t.
It’s not that I’m trying to knock female empowerment because there is absolutely nothing wrong with that under the right circumstances. If anything the original “Sleeping Beauty” was already progressive with female empowerment even if the prince had to save the girl. He couldn’t have done it without the help of strong female characters. But in this in this it just feels chucked in there without rhyme or reason. It’s already a story with a strong central female character (that American films are in lack of. Why not just focus solely on that? Show Maleficent as a good natured person for more than 15 minutes then show her downfall and her rise to power. You don’t need the “Frozen” ending. It felt fresh in that movie, in this it just, again, feels tacked on.
There is no denying that Angelina Jolie absolutely crushes it in the role of Maleficent. She can be sweet and kind while also becoming enraged and scary. When she becomes the Maleficent that we all know and fear, it’s a pitch perfect performance. Under a better overall movie, this could have become the new Wicked Witch of the West for our generation. Jolie encompasses everything you need, to play a classic Disney character and villain.
The visuals are also certainly grand and beautiful to look at. Director Robert Stomberg is clearly talented at bringing terrific special effects and action sequences to life. Yet inept at directing a strong story with good performances outside of Angelina Jolie. The performance from Elle Fanning is good but not memorable. Sharlto Copley is the weakest part of the acting. Normally quite a good actor with some strong performances in films such as “District 9”. Here though he is just so over the top and chewing the scenery. He neither scary nor intimidating but instead increasingly annoying.
This is still yet another disappointing modern update on a classic fairy. A trend that has gotten a lot of traction and output but I still have yet to see anything of any quality come from it. For now I continue to be a strong supporter of the trend. Hopefully more talented filmmakers and screenwriters get behind it and produce something good. Yet if even Bryan Singer couldn’t make something even solid, then I’m not sure if someone else will, hopefully I’m wrong.