I have to say, I found it rather strange to be going to see this film with my wife and NOT my daughters, but my kids have found the very image of Angelina Jolie as Maleficent to be fear inducing and the idea of spending the next few nights convincing her that the dark is not their enemy was not something I wanted to entertain, so my wife and I got sitters and went out on a Disney date night.
I feel like I could honestly write two very different reviews for this film based on my personal reaction to the material and my reaction to the film from the vantage point of a parent, but I’ll do my best to combine them in a way that makes sense. I guess the easiest way to do that is to get my parental quibbles out of the way first. ‘Maleficent’, for me, feels very much like an adult film. The themes presented here are very dark, very mature, and the creepy aspects involved are turned WAY up. The first (and I mean the VERY first) thing I said to my wife upon leaving the theater was “I can’t understand how anyone could bring their kids to see this” and I stand by that. No, I’m not judging you if you do bring your kids to see it (even Jolie stated that she made this film for her kids) but for me, I just couldn’t do it. My children are too sensitive, too young for this.
I found it telling that out theater last night was filled with couples, young and old…but NO children.
Yes, ‘Maleficent’ pushes the boundaries of a PG rating rather strongly. In my eyes, it should have been PG-13, and while this may sound like nitpicking (since ratings are really subjective and grounds for serious debate), as a parent I do feel sensitive about these things. This isn’t to say that ‘Maleficent’ doesn’t carry aspects that are full of beauty and even touching, and the central theme is one that I think is healthy for children to learn, but there is a chill that runs thought most of the film that I don’t think is entirely kid-friendly.
Call me a prude and a restrictive parent all you want, but have kids first!
All that being said, I personally really enjoyed ‘Maleficent’. From a more mature vantage point (where you can put the pieces together and not be swayed by the demeanor) this film truly tells a stunning and warming story. The comparisons to Disney’s last major success, ‘Frozen’, are appropriate in many ways, but ‘Maleficent’ is in no way a copycat.
Retelling the beloved fairytale, ‘Maleficent’ dares to tell us what really happened to Sleeping Beauty. I don’t know if having never seen Disney’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ was an asset for me here, or maybe a detractor, but overall I found myself under ‘Maleficent’s spell.
We start with a tale of two worlds in conflict. One kingdom, overrun by a ruthless king, is in dire straits and envious of the other kingdom, one run by no mere being but peaceful and in unity. In that peaceful world lives a young orphan fairy named Maleficent. She meets a young peasant boy from the neighboring kingdom and over the years forms a bond and friendship and even a romance with the boy, until his own ambition catches up with him and he betrays her for the throne. Stealing her wings and declaring her dead, this young boy, now a man, is handed the throne upon the king’s passing. Maleficent, tasting the depths of betrayal, vows revenge and utilizes her powers to curse the new king’s newborn daughter, Aurora, condemning her to eternal sleep upon her sixteenth birthday.
There is a catch though. You see, Maleficent is not without a heart, and she winds up surveying the caretaking of the young princess, albeit from a distance, her whole childhood and forms a love for her, so strong that she wishes to reverse her curse.
But she can’t.
At the heart of ‘Maleficent’ lies the story of a woman’s strength to rise above in a world dominated by men afraid of her strength and bent on dominating her. I know that sounds awfully heavy and even preachy for a Disney movie, but the way it is handled is rather effective. Maleficent is a gentle and noble fairy that is loathed by men who are afraid of her power and become consumed with containing it. When the man she trusts grasps that he has the ability to use her for his own personal gain, he jumps at the chance and hardens his own heart to the folly of his ways. It’s a tragic, yet poignant tale, and I was wholly impressed with how well Disney handled this. What is even more fascinating was the way that her scorn, her pain, her suffering is melted by the goodness of her own heart. Even her final confrontation with her persecutor shows that her quest for vengeance only goes so far.
All of these aspects are brought magically to life by Angelina Jolie’s commanding portrayal of Maleficent. It feels strange to say this, but this may actually be Jolie’s finest performance to date. When first seeing Jolie in the film, I was instantly drawn to how striking she was visually, but as the film progresses I was blown away by the depth of character she created. Her simple line readings are spot on. The way she caresses her words, coaxing out the devilish charm, was uncanny. Her reactions, her flippant dismissal of conversations; all of them feel so rooted in this woman. But it is obviously her big scenes that show the full range within this character, and she handles them marvelously. From the moment she notices she has no wings (such naivety, such gutted emotions) to her tearful apology while standing over Aurora’s bed (I nearly cried), Jolie fleshes out this woman’s core brilliantly.
The rest of the cast, sadly, is a mixed bag. Fanning, who is one of the best actresses of her generation, has nothing to do but laugh and sleep. Copley is pretty awful here and his voice is horribly distracting. I was most disappointed though, in the three fairies, Knotgrass, Flittle and Thistletwit. They just felt so out of place within the structure of the film and kind of felt like an afterthought; like misused comic relief. Sadly, they weren’t funny and I cringed almost every time they were on the screen.
The film is beautiful to look at, and the score by James Newton Howard was exquisite.
At the end of the day, I was very impressed with this, mostly for Jolie’s magnificent turn and the way that the central themes were handled. I wish that the rest of the cast had a wider range and that the atmosphere wasn’t so dark, more for the little ones, but as a film for myself, I was pleasantly surprised.
I give the film a B. Oscar may bite here, but I'm not certain. The visual effects could happen, and the Production Design (and Costumes) stand a chance as well, but sadly the most deserving nomination won't happen, and that is for Angelina Jolie. She was astonishing here and would richly deserve a nomination, but I have a feeling her best bet is for the star-fucking Globes to place this film (wrongfully) in Comedy/Musical so that they can give Jolie a nod, 'Tourist' style.