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MALEFICENT (review)

Produced by Joe Roth
Screenplay by Linda Woolverton
Based on La Belle au bois dormant by Charles Perrault,
Little Briar Rose by The Brothers Grimm
Directed by Robert Stromberg
Starring Angelina Jolie, Sharlto Copley, 
Elle Fanning, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, 
Juno Temple, Lesley Manville

Let me begin this review by saying that Sleeping Beauty is one of my favorite Disney animated films of all time.

A classic story of romance, chivalry and evil.

Pure unadulterated evil.

The character of Maleficent, a construct of the Disney machine, she doesn’t even appear in the original tale La Belle au bois dormant by Charles Perrault or in the Brothers Grimm story Little Briar Rose.

She was created to be the most evil bad guy that ever badded guys, ever. She has no remorse. She has no sympathy. She is vengeful and doesn’t need any other explanation to her character. And that is really cool, especially coming from “the House of the Mouse”.

Maleficent was a totally badass sorceress that gets pissed that she is not invited to the celebration of the new princess’s birth and thus curses her to die. That is until now. Jolie, who also was Executive Producer on the film, and by all means actually should have been perfect for the role just chews the scenery while staring and saying terrible dialogue. To her credit she doesn’t have anything to work with.

Disney, through the machinations of writer Linda Woolverton; and first-time director and former visual effects designer, Robert Stromberg have decided to systematically declaw, defang, and basically neuter Maleficent into a voyeuristic, wishy-washy, battered once-powerful queen of the fairies.

Her evil is totally justified then the film makers rob it from her in a most disappointing way.

WHAT FOLLOWS WILL BE WROGHT WITH SPOILERS SO VENTURE FURTHER AT YOUR OWN RISK!

As for the overall story; it is a mess.

It starts off promising with some wonderfully imaginative story telling of the fairy lands and Maleficent, as a child full of wonder and curiosity. The Evil queen we all know and love doesn’t even show up, if you can say she does at all, until later in the film.

After her betrayal at the hands of the soon to be king, Stefan, she turns her beautiful lands into a dark foreboding place. And plots her revenge against her once lover now enemy.

Maleficent then hears of the birth of the the Princess and decides to go and see for herself.

Here we join, what should basically be, the Sleeping Beauty story as we know it except Woolverton has decided that she can tell the tale way better than The Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault put together. She has taken it upon herself to rewrite this story and cash in on some of that fat Wicked, Mirror Mirror, Confessions of an Ugly Step-Sister, and Frozen monies.

Maleficent is not the only character at the mercy of the revisionist pen of Woolverton. The three good fairies, formally known as Flora, Fauna and Merriwether are now going to be called Knotgrass, Flittle, and Thistletwit.

Why? Because she can.

They are also not so color coded as before, a small gripe, but forgivable. They however are even more bumbling and ill equipped to take care of themselves let alone a child from baby to teenager.

Another painful and new interpretation is King Stefan.

No longer the loving king who’s sole purpose is to keep his daughter safe from an evil curse, now he is a power hungry servant who, through dubious means, steals Maleficent’s powerful wings to win the former king’s crown. He is written to be just an awful power hungry man who couldn’t give a tinkers cuss for his daughter. Yes, he goes through the motions of a father who is desperate to keep his daughter safe, but in reality he is a man obsessed with destroying a woman he once loved and betrayed. Not even skilled actor, Sharlto Copley can salvage this script and it’s take on the once kindly King.

I will take a moment to talk about a few things that do work.

Some of the humor really works. Sparsely scattered throughout the film, it does seem like these parts of dialogue and action were written by another, more talented writer.

Elle Fanning as Aurora is perfectly adequate. Pretty, sweet, and innocent she is the perfect antithesis to Maleficent.

The stand out performance of this film is from Sam Riley (who played Ian Curtis, former lead singer of Joy Division in the Anton Corbjin’s biopic film Control) as Maleficent raven and sometimes manservant, Diaval. Here is a perfect example of how adding to and changing a story can work.

Sweet and subservient he becomes Maleficent’s “wings” to keep watch over Aurora as she comes of age and eyes on the king as he slips deeper and deeper into obsessive madness. However, as he watches over Aurora, slowly but surely he begins to love her like a sister. He becomes a protective big brother. He is also my choice for whom loves true kiss should have come from, if you are going to completely change the story and NOT make it Prince Phillip in the end. But more of that later.

Back to the story at hand.

What we have here, in its purest form, is a mishandled re-telling of a classic.

For the most part, I could let this slide. What I am most upset about and why this film is an utter failure, in my mind, is that it truly misses some really great chances to turn the fable on its ear. There are a lot half-assed poorly executed attempts. Having Stefan and Maleficent be young lovers is one. Even having Maleficent be a betrayed woman, who literally has a piece of herself stolen, and turns evil as a result, is another.

This film trades in inspired storytelling for the hot, new trope in Hollywood; No it isn’t Prince Phillip’s kiss that revives Aurora, it is Maleficent’s.

WHAT?!

After watching Aurora grow up and getting to know Maleficent as her secret Fairy Godmother, she learns to love Aurora and it is Maleficent’s true love, for a Princess that she cursed out of spite for her father, that awakens Aurora. Here is where the film makers really missed out in really nailing the whole “what is love?” idea going around; by NOT having it be Diaval’s love and affection for Aurora that breaks the curse.

I get it. They are trying to show that an villain can become the hero.

Great.

However, by making Maleficent a good innocent fairy in the beginning, then having her turn evil when betrayed by her most trusted companion, then sort of not evil, and then the champion who defeats the bad king in the end not only do you say, “What?” But even worse you start to say, “who cares?”

In the end it doesn’t even matter that Maleficent doesn’t turn into a dragon while calling out, “Now, shall you deal with ME, O Prince – and all the powers of HELL!”, or actually curse the Princess to death on her sixteenth birthday even though they set up the three fairy godmothers to try and reverse it.

Maleficent’s story is told in such a saccharine, banal way I couldn’t stop shaking my head and groaning from the awful.

In the end it is a typical story of two kids from different sides of the tracks becoming best friends then growing apart as adults.

Unfortunately, the scenes are so cookie cutter and predicable that by the time Stefan betrays Maleficent you are yelling at the screen, “Come on! You couldn’t see that coming?!” and at the end when it basically becomes a weird Underworld rip off, right down to her leather body suit, and she kills him I was like “FINALLY!”.

She was totally justified in her evil and you don’t want her to be “good.”

You all have defeated your own purpose. Good job.

If it wasn’t for the beautiful costume designs, fantastical creature designs and gorgeous setting this movie would literally have nothing going for it. However, it’s like the designers saw Fantastia, Avatar, and How to Train Your Dragon, and borrowed freely from them.

Save your money, watch the original, Sleeping Beauty and save yourself the pain and heartache this film is sure to deliver to you on severed wings.

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