Disney's "Maleficent"..L to R: Diaval (Sam Riley) and… (Frank Connor )
“I’m not a bad girl, I’m just drawn that way.” – Jessica Rabbit
The nature of fairy tales and how they are told is a central theme in Disney’s MALEFICENT, starring Angelina Jolie (Tomb Raider, Mr. & Mrs. Smith), Elle Fanning (Wonderland, We Bought A Zoo) and Sharlto Copley (District 9). Taking a page out of the “Wicked” playbook, the movie tells us the story of "Sleeping Beauty" from the point of view of the villain, asserting that she really wasn’t evil but…well… misunderstood.
When the movie opens, we meet young Maleficent, a powerful faerie who is kind, cheerful and the mystic equivalent of a tree hugger, which in this case means trees that not only enjoy hugs but also walk and talk. We learn that her mystic realm is at odds with the mortal one, and before you can say “gentrification”, we see the two at war with Malificent leading her army of magical fighting trees against the armies of men, led by the craggy old King who wants to pillage the faerie realm.
The thematic imagery gets slathered like butter on pancakes at this point, where we see how man’s greed and fear of “magic” (i.e. nature) is exemplified through different acts of cruelty and indifference in the film.
The movie wants you to at least empathize with Maleficent, if not sympathize. Which is why at the very beginning we meet the boy who befriends Maleficent in her youth and teaches her a hard lesson about love.
If you ask me, the lesson is one that won’t surprise anyone who’s had their heart broken in high school; which makes me believe that the teen/tween market is who Disney had in mind when producing this film.
And with Jolie playing Maleficent as a kick-ass character who can not only cast a spell but also throw down on the battlefield, fans of Katniss Everdeen should find her very appealing too.
MALEFICENT is as heavy on melodrama as it is on CGI, but thanks to Angelina Jolie’s performance, the movie works.
Once the characters are established, the movie progresses at a pretty efficient pace. And while it gets a bit heavy-handed in showing how we can demonize those we do not understand, the way screenwriter Linda Woolverton (The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast) plays with the idea of “true love” made for a clever – and effective – plot twist.
FYI, if you spend too much time trying to reconcile MALEFICENT with SLEEPING BEAUTY, the Disney nerd nit-picker in you will get annoyed, at least until you get to the end of the film where the narrator is revealed.
Again, stories can change dramatically depending on who tells it, especially when it comes to determining who the “bad guy” or “evil witch” is.
MALEFICENT gets a GEEK FACTOR RATING of 3 MAGIC SPELLS (out of 4).
MALEFICENT (RATED PG)
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Sharlto Copley, Elle Fanning, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville
Directed by: Robert Stromberg
Screenplay by: Linda Woolverton