Maleficent (2014)

Photo Credit: Maleficent / Walt Disney Studios
Sleeping Beauty (1959) is my all-time favorite animated film from Disney's classics archives, and 2014 welcomed a revival to one of the studio's most beloved villains known as Maleficent. It's not so much that I went into this adaptation expecting a scene-by-scene retelling, but my anticipation was hoping to experience a backstory worthy of Angelina Jolie's portrayal.

As a young girl, Maleficent is a buoyant carefree fairy living in a magical forest outside of a royal kingdom. A feud between fantastical creatures and humans is at play but not enough backstory is given to fully comprehend their rivalry. Befriending a human and commoner Stefan, one day they are acquaintances...blink, and literally, he is abandoning her to become king after ripping off her beloved wings. Darkness in her heart ensues.

So the tale of the sleeping curse is born; Aurora is born to the ignorant, cowardly prince turned king, and in retaliation, Maleficent casts a spell against the infant where the maiden will prick her finger on the needle of spinning wheel, and can only be awoken with true love's first kiss. Moved to the forest by three truly annoying and incompetent fairies, Maleficent essentially becomes Aurora's godmother. Gradually the evil queen's intentions gradients from black and cold to warming love for the young woman she bounded to a curse.

I really liked where Maleficent could've gone. Disney and other studios have been perpetuating a trend where one line of dialogue hints at a past tragedy such as a family death, war, etc. and the audience is meant to understand and emotionally connect right away to wherever the story is going to take us next. Many times this is not a foundation to understand why we should loathe characters because they are facing off against a favorable protagonist. The main problem of the film derives that we see Maleficent befriend a commoner who seems to love her just as she is, and then poof, he is an increasingly rugged king trying to end her life. No one really seems to care about the precious princess except for Maleficent, who isn't so much as evil as wounded by her past. Though Angelina Jolie's performance is entertaining and one I wouldn't mind watching again, a rounder attempt at her backstory is cut so short the conflict her character needed to truly fly isn't strong enough.

Motherly love is what makes the movie powerful. Jolie is truly the heart and soul, as anyone watching her can tell she had fun instilling charming complexity to this iconic villain. Watching her hover over Aurora and cleverly torturing her oblivious selfish godmothers are some of their most touching and rewarding scenes. Jolie's playful wickedness is wonderfully amusing and infectious. Maleficent's warm vigilant nature ends up displaying how love can triumph evil and make a dark heart turn good.

Unfortunately, the film's safe choices contain Jolie's Maleficent from casting her wings. Even if the story surrounds her character's evolution, the rest of the cast isn't given their due to be fully fleshed-out characters and give her enough to play off of. Aurora bounces through life in a dreamy haze, the prince she falls in love is unnecessary, the king is huddled up in his castle fighting a wall of thorns, and Maleficent's lackey emotes enough complexity to be generally interesting but is eventually shuffled into the shadows. When the main conflict against Stefan arises again, it's recognizably an easy conclusion to root for Maleficent because everyone else is disposable weaklings.

There is so much that could've been played with, but the script didn't take full advantage of. Several nice touches left blank from the original version add nice layers to the film's atmosphere and worldbuilding. Maleficent is too obvious a quick try-out for Disney, even if it is an enjoyable experience to at least watch once. It's an easy and breezy take on her history, and I'm sure I'll find myself watching the original and hoping this one had really allowed Maleficent take flight.

Rating: ★★☆
Have you seen Maleficent? What do you think?

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