Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Maleficent

I have a troubled relationship with Disney, as I generally end up either loving or hating their films. The first film I ever saw in the cinema was Beauty and the Beast. I was 6 years old and my class in school was brought as a treat. Apart from being the first time seeing a film that big, I was amazed by the music, the animation, the voice acting, and pretty much everything about it. My love for all things Disney only grew after that, as I not only enjoyed their following films but also their older classics. My favourite animated Disney films cover the likes of Sleeping Beauty, Aladdin, The Fox and the Hound, Robin Hood, Fantasia, Hercules, The Lion King and, of course, Beauty and the Beast. However, it's no secret that since Tarzan Disney went into a bit of a creative slump. In recent years they've perked back up with their computer animated and live-action films, but they've personally still been a little hit and miss. I like Tangled but despised Frozen, a film that everyone seems to love for some reason. Hate me if you will, but that is one Disney film that deserves none of the recognition it's getting. That said, Disney's latest effort doesn't drum up a strong feeling in me either way. I neither loved or nor hated it.


Directed by Robert Stromberg and out now on DVD and Blu-Ray comes Maleficent, Disney's live-action re-imagining of their 1959 animated film Sleeping Beauty. However, whereas Sleeping Beauty focused on Princess Aurora for the most part, Maleficent -as the named would suggest- places the spotlight on Maleficent, the villain of the Sleeping Beauty tale. The film begins with Maleficent's origin story as a young fairy, complete with wings and those iconic horns. She befriends and ultimately forges a relationship with a young human named Stefan. However, as he grows older Stefan has his sights set on becoming ruler of the human kingdom, which won't happen as long as he's with Maleficent, as the king is at war with the faeries. When the current king says that he who kills Maleficent will be his successor, Stefan plans to drug Maleficent and murder her. Unable to do it he resorts to cutting off her wings, which without them Maleficent becomes tortured, bitter and evil. Years later Maleficent plans to exact her revenge that, much like the tale we all know, involves the kings daughter, Aurora, and the eternal sleep that would make her known as Sleeping Beauty.


First off, Angelina Jolie is absolutely perfect as Maleficent. Seriously, though I had doubts during the first half hour, as soon as she wears the classic outfit, she becomes everything that character was. From her look, how she holds herself and to the iconic voice, she is literally the best part of the film. The same goes for Sharlto Copley as King Stefan who, over the course of the film, is mentally pushed to the brink. From his previous love affair with Maleficent, how he mutilated her body, and now the curse that she placed upon his daughter, Copley plays his own tortured role brilliantly.

Visually the film is great. Directed by the same chap who was the production designer on Avatar, Alice and Wonderland and Oz the Great and Powerful, everything from the costumes, sets and CGI  are absolutely stunning. From large tree-like creatures who are at Maleficent's command, the many colourful creatures of the fairy realm and the general fairytale design of the film, it's like a classic animated Disney film come to life. Though it may be too heavy on the CGI at times, it's hard not to fall in love with the stunning visual feast that Maleficent serves up. However, while it excels in its production design, Maleficent sadly fails when it comes to its titular characters motivations.

Though Jolie embodies Maleficent wonderfully, the films insistence on seeing her as an anti-hero instead of a true villain is a shame. In Sleeping Beauty Maleficent didn't need a reason for what she was doing- she was just pure evil. A lot of her reasons behind being bitter now fits into the “jilted lover” category in this film, and that seriously doesn't do her character justice. It instantly diminishes the heart of who Maleficent should have been, which considering the entire film is focused on her, kind of sours everything else within its 97 minute running time. Also though there is a dragon in this film, Maleficent herself doesn't turn into it, you know, like she did in Sleeping Beauty's climax. No, instead that ability is given to someone else, leading to one of the most iconic Disney moments ever being pawned off to some random crappy shoehorned in character. Maleficent herself is both the best and worst aspect of the film. What Jolie has achieved in portraying her character visually, Disney have all but tarnished that in terms of terrible character motivations and her weak origin story.


Overall Maleficent is a mixed bag. While it doesn't destroy the film entirely, Maleficent's back story  ruins how utterly evil her character should have been. Then again, her back story is only a by-product of the fact that the entire film is focused on her, something that does sound interesting on paper, but ultimately doesn't prove so in the finished film. The film has enough going for it in terms of action, romance, strong performances and visual design to save it from failure, but sadly Maleficent isn't as good as it should have been.

Maleficent diminishes the mystery behind the villain and gets a 3/5.

★★★☆☆

Denis Murphy


Maleficent at CeX


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