Movie Review: Maleficent
Before I start this review, I will point out that there will be SPOILERS. So, consider this your SPOILER ALERT.
First of all, I find it very difficult if you are involved in any social networking at all to avoid reviews of any films. While I tried to stay away from reviews of Maleficent, I couldn't help to notice that it was not getting the best reviews. So, with that, I just tried to keep my expectations low and my biggest Disney fan eyes open. But, even with that, while I did find the film enjoyable (as in, I wasn't bored), I just had a lot of problems with the film.
Maleficent begins with both Maleficent and the future King Stefan as children who befriend each other. Maleficent, who has wings, is from the Moors where the fairies live and Stefan is from the neighboring kingdom ruled by a greedy king and the two kingdoms are at war with each other. Yet, the two form an "unlikely friendship" that leads to a burgeoning romance. But, as time moves on, the two grow apart as Stefan gets more involved in the business of humans and Maleficent becomes the protector of the Moors as the humans try to encroach on the land of the fair folk. When the king is injured in a battle with Maleficent and the Fair Folk, he asks for somebody to avenge his death. He who does so wins the hand of his daughter and will become the future king. Stefan seizes the opportunity and uses his relationship with Maleficent to trick her. He cuts off her wings and brings them to the king as proof that he has vanquished the protector of the Fair Folk. The king does good on his promise and Stefan becomes King Stefan as Maleficent's heart becomes twisted and declares herself Queen of the Moors.
Later, Maleficent hears news that King Stefan and his Queen are having a baby. And, very similarly to the scene in Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty, the three fairies come to the kingdom to bestow gifts on the child only to be interrupted by Maleficent who places her curse. And, like in the Disney version, Aurora goes to live with the three fairies who have disguised themselves as human while King Stefan orders every spinning wheel destroyed.
And, this is where it takes a giant turn for it turns out that Maleficent, while, at first, hating Aurora with all her heart, becomes the one to really take care of her. The three fairies are too bumbling to take care of her, so she feels she must. But, does it from afar. And, then, one day, Aurora finally meets her and says that she knows that she is her fairy godmother who is always watching over her. Maleficent starts to become attached to Aurora and even genuinely grows to love her. She realizes she made a mistake about the curse. She even tries to remove it, but she put a stipulation on her own spell that it can never be reserved until the end of time. But, Aurora continues to be woefully unaware, enjoying her time with Maleficent and being with the Fair Folk. She tells Maleficent that she plans to live with them in the Moors and is going to tell her "aunties" (the three fairies) of her plan. And, along the way, she meets Phillip from a neighboring kingdom who is looking for King Stefan's kingdom. The two look smitten with each other and Maleficent's raven servant Diaval suggests that Phillip might be the one to provide true love's kiss to break the curse.
Aurora goes to tell the three fairies of her plan to move to leave and they let the cat out of the bag about how she's actually a princess who had a curse put on her and they've been trying to protect her. She puts two and two together and realizes the woman she's been calling godmother all this time was the fairy who cursed her. So, she runs off to the kingdom to see her father. Stefan, instead of being excited to see her, is consumed with his revenge against Maleficent and has Aurora locked up in her room. But, Aurora doesn't want to be locked up and manages to escape, only to find herself succumbing to the curse. She pricks her finger on the spindle of the spinning wheel and falls asleep.
Meanwhile, back in the Moors, Maleficent and Diaval run across Phillip and they race him to the kingdom to hopefully save Aurora's life. They get him in and he discovers Aurora, but when he kisses her, nothing happens. Maleficent, overcome with grief, apologizes to the sleeping Aurora and gives her a kiss on the forehead. And, guess what happens. Yes. Maleficent is the one who provides true love's kiss. Aurora wakes up, but Maleficent is attacked and turn, not herself, but Diaval, into a dragon. Aurora tries to help Maleficent by freeing her wings which Stefan has kept over the years and Maleficent gets her wings back. Maleficent and Stefan then engage in combat and Stefan loses. Big time. But, in the end, everybody except King Stefan lives happily ever after.
Maleficent is not so much a retelling of Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty through the eyes of Maleficent, but a complete retelling of the fairy tale "Sleeping Beauty" and using the names and likeness of the characters in Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty. And, right there was my first problem. I probably wouldn't have had such a problem with the movie if they didn't go to great lengths to use the Disney names for the characters. In fact, when Maleficent comes to place her curse on Aurora, the dialogue is almost lifted directly from the Disney version. The marketing also suggested that this was one of the most beloved Disney classics told from the perspective of Maleficent. But, it really isn't a story told from the perspective of Maleficent, but a complete reworking of the story making Maleficent the hero.
And, I guess, if you want Maleficent to be a hero, then this story is the one for you. But, I just didn't get why. She is one of the most beloved Disney villains of all time. So, when I went to see this movie, I was expecting to see WHY she became that villain. Instead, I saw a story about how this villain was maligned and misunderstood and is ultimately the hero of the day.
I was just having a conversation about Once Upon A Time and how the villains are not all bad. While it would be difficult to compare Once Upon A Time to Maleficent because they're different things, I think it does exemplify that even villains, no matter how good they might try to be, are still villains deep down. Regina still has the insecurities that lead her down the evil path and Rumplestiltskin still has a little bit of the Dark One in him. In Maleficent, she is completely and systematically stripped of her evilness. So, the evil fairy that addressed the royalty, nobility, the gentry and...how quaint...even the rabble (I couldn't resist) with a curse even stronger than the one in the Disney version quickly becomes so softened that I don't even recognize her. And, in the climactic scene in which she is supposed to transform herself into the iconic dragon, she can't even do that. Instead, she transforms Diaval into the dragon. Instead, for some reason, she turns into Catwoman with wings.
And, speaking of beloved characters from the Disney version that were needlessly transformed...the three fairies. They will always be Flora, Fauna and Merryweather to me...not Knotgrass, Thistletwit and Flittle. I'm not quite sure why they decided to change these names, but it seemed senseless, especially since they went to all the trouble of naming the characters after those in Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty. Also, in Disney's version, the three had distinct personalities. They might not have been powerful and a little bumbling, but their love for Aurora is strong. In Maleficent, they are portrayed all as the fairy version of the Three Stooges. Knotgrass is Moe, Thistletwit is Larry and Flittle is Curly. And, they almost seemed to be unaware of Aurora for the most part of the movie. So much so that Maleficent herself has to take a motherly role from the background. And, frankly, I don't want to even discuss the hideous CGI designs of the characters.
What I'm wondering about is why did King Stefan, who's kingdom was at war with the fairies and, it appeared, his first meeting of the good fairies was at their daughter's birth, trust them with the lives of his daughter. In the Disney version, it made sense because they were trusted by the King and Queen. Here, they are pretty much strangers. Did anybody ever raise a child in this kingdom outside of, apparently, Maleficent who would have won the mother of the year in this movie?
Now, let's move to King Stefan. I actually thought the back story was interesting. But, unfortunately, they never really fleshed out why he became so greedy that he would cut off Maleficent's wings and betray her like that. Yes, the narrator TOLD us this, but, without seeing it on screen, it was really hard to fathom why he would do this to somebody he loved like that. I would have liked to have seen some compassion on his side. Even Maleficent, you know, the Mistress of Evil, had compassion for his daughter and, ultimately, what she did. This just made the story even more one sided as if we have to be slapped in the face with who to root for in the film. I, ultimately, thought it would have been more interesting and more believable if they resolved their issues at the end, but, the filmmakers were so hellbent on making Maleficent a saint by the end of the film.
And, Prince Phillip. Let's take, perhaps, Disney's first most fleshed out Prince and flatten him in this movie. Honestly, if he didn't wake Aurora with true love's kiss, there wasn't really a reason to have him in the film at all. I would have rather they done that then to devolve him into this puppet that everybody needs just for his lips.
Another problem I had with this version is that, as Aurora spends more and more time with Maleficent and with the Fair Folk in the Moors, wouldn't she, at one point, have mentioned this to her "aunties" who have been taking care of her? Like, when they are eating a meal, wouldn't she have once mentioned, "Oh, by the way, I met my fairy godmother and she looks like a tall lady dressed in black with horns." Or, "Guess where I spent my day? With a whole bunch of fairies in the Moors." I mean, at one point, wouldn't there have been a red flag raised somewhere? Oh, that's right. No. Because the three fairies were pretty much non-existent in the film. Out of sight, out of mind.
I would also like to say that Angelina Jolie was great as Maleficent. I think she had her down, but, ultimately, was given a script where she had to downplay a lot of the evilness. And, Elle Fanning was quite charming as Aurora. She really did feel like a ray of sunshine. But, again, she wasn't given much to work with.
I think the only think I liked that they added was that they gave a human form to Diaval. If they were going to soften Maleficent up, at least it made sense in making a friend that she could talk to. Sam Riley was quite likable in this role
I know I'm probably being extremely hard on this film, but mainly because my expectations were high, despite my trying to keep them low. Like for many, Maleficent is one of my favorite villains. And, mostly, because I was expecting to see more about how she devolved into evil. I wanted to savor more of the moments like when she delivers the curse because she was scorned by King Stefan. This, to me, was one of the highlights of the movie and was what I had hoped to see more of. But, her sudden change from darkness to light was too fast for me.