By Jacob Montgomery (Texas)


I love Disney’s adaptation of Sleeping Beauty for numerous reasons. The animation is stunning, its atmosphere is majestic, and it has a fantastic climax. But the best thing in it was the antagonist, the evil Maleficent, one of the greatest villains ever put on the big screen, period. So when I was told Disney was making a film about the evil fairy, I was intrigued, but also skeptical. A good film about Maleficent would be possible, but difficult to pull off.

At its core, Maleficent is a film that goes into the backstory of why Maleficent became evil and chose to curse Aurora, and then her journey as she starts to care for her and how she comes to regret placing the curse. I won’t say the specifics behind it, because those are spoilers given how the film is being marketed as the untold mystery of Maleficent’s past.

Immediately upon hearing the plot synopsis, similarities to Wicked should be obvious. Maybe that’s why Maleficent is pale in this version; they didn’t want more comparisons than there already were. Though as the film goes on, it starts to feel less and less like Wicked and more and more like Frozen. Disney seems to have made it a priority to completely subvert everything that made them famous in the first place. They attempted to do it in order to prevent them from becoming stale and predictable, but the problem with subverting expectations too much is that soon that alone becomes expected. You need more variety in order to keep surprising the audience, or subvert the audience expectations differently. Instead the film borrows elements from Frozen and Once Upon a Time and because of that, the film is surprisingly predictable.

I’m also not fond of what they did with Maleficent’s character. Instead of having her be a villain, she’s actually more of an anti-hero. In theory that could work, but not with the direction they took. Instead of Maleficent being the mysterious, cold and disproportionately vindictive fairy she was in the original film, here she’s reduced to a heartbroken, rash, righteously vindictive fairy. The problem with explaining everything about her motives is that it takes away the mystery and intrigue of what made the character interesting to begin with. The only way going into her backstory could work, is if they give her one with complex emotional depth or murky morality on both sides. But instead they simplify it into making her a victim, who decides to get her retribution on the person who wronged her. Actually, as far as I can remember, this Maleficent only does one wrong thing in the entire film, the actual curse itself.

Though Maleficent’s characterization leaves something to be desired, I will give credit where credit is due. Angelina Jolie is perfect as the titular character. She does the best she can with the given material, and she really works with it. She has a strong screen presence that does make you believe that she is larger than life. Jolie’s performance did in some ways make the character come to life in live action form. It’s also a credit to the makeup artists for flawlessly transforming her into the wicked—oh, sorry—dark fairy.

However one fantastic performance and impressive technical achievements do not a good movie make. Though there are some changes and additions that I did like, overall I feel like this film didn’t give the Sleeping Beauty mythology the proper treatment it deserved. The film, rather than being more morally complex, decided to take the easy way out by offering a simplistic and unsatisfying view of good and evil.

And those problems are not at all helped by the film’s inconsistent tone. At times the film feels like something out of Game of Thrones, but then at other times there are broad slapstick scenes, as if the filmmakers realized “Oh yeah, there’s going to be kids in the audience. Better not bore them.” And no, I did not want to see Maleficent troll the 3 fairies, by making it rain in their cottage.

Though not a bad film by any stretch, I wouldn’t say it’s a good film either. Maybe if you’re not a fan of the original Sleeping Beauty, then I suppose it’s fine. It’s certainly watchable, at times it is very imaginative, and Jolie does almost make the film worth watching. But there are too many bugs in it for me to find the film more than mediocre.

Rating: 5/10

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