Friday, May 30, 2014

Maleficent Review: Angelina Jolie as Maleficent is Magnificent

Coming on the heels of the recent wildly successful Disney blockbuster Frozen, Maleficent will unfortunately be unfavorably compared with the former. Sure, Maleficent is hardly perfect, and while the movie does show visible scars from its many rewrites and reshoots, it is nevertheless a charming retelling of the classic Sleeping Beauty story, one that gives a three-dimensional characterization to the most fascinating character in the 1959 Disney version, the self-proclaimed mistress of evil herself, Maleficent.

The storytelling is uneven, and the first act is so poorly constructed that it has to rely on the crutches of a narrator to prop up the story. However, once the story toddles through its clumsy first act, the movie soars on the magnificent portrayal of Maleficent by the always mesmerizing Angelina Jolie. Sure, the movie gives a rather weak reason for why Maleficent decided to curse Princess Aurora to die on her 16th birthday, and Angelina Jolie is made to do one too many gazing from the shadows in order to watch events unfold, but otherwise she truly shines and is the heart and soul of the movie, without which the whole movie would simply have collapsed on itself.

Sharlto Copley is somewhat miscast as King Stefan, and Elle Fanning, though a very talented actress (just watch her in Super 8 and you'll agree with me), looks and feels slightly demented here as a happy-go-lucky Aurora who cannot stop grinning like a maniac for no particular reason (I blame the fairy that gave her the gift of never feeling blue). Brendan Thwaites's Prince Philip feels more like a glorified cameo and his appearance seems more like an afterthought. The only vaguely interesting supporting character is Sam Riley's Diaval, who serves as Maleficent's raven shapeshifter and confidant.

As directed by first-time director Robert Stromberg, who was the visual designer for Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland and Sam Raimi's Oz The Great and Powerful, the visuals and settings are lovely to look at and serve as a enchanting backdrop for Maleficent to have her story told.

While today we consider Disney's 1959 Sleeping Beauty a classic, it is interesting to remember that when it was first released, the movie was such a critical and commercial disappointment that Disney subsequently abandoned making princess movies for the next few decades. Maleficent has received mixed reviews from critics, but I hope it does well commercially so as to encourage more retellings that would provide a more modern perspective of fairy tales, where the princesses are not just happy to sing and wait for their princes to bring them their happily ever afters, and where villains become full flesh-and-blood characters rather than just plot points to help prod these fairy tales along.

Highly enjoyable and highly recommended.

3 and a half stars out of five stars for me. =D

Incidentally, I feel that the story of Sleeping Beauty is one of the fairy tale most ripe for retelling. If you be so interested, check out my short retelling of Sleeping Beauty here at: The Real Sleeping Beauty where Sleeping Beauty has to contend not with spinning wheels but the economic repercussions of spinning wheels being banned in her country.

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