Disney in name only
How shockingly mediocre is Disney’s new Sleeping Beauty backstory-revisionist film “Maleficent”? If the word Disney weren’t plastered all over the marketing for the film, you’d never think the revered company would be responsible for such an awkwardly executed, superficially written film.
While it might be tempting to blame “Maleficent’s” many deficiencies entirely on star Angelina Jolie’s relentless posing, that would be an oversimplification. No Jolie can’t carry this film, but there is plenty of blame to go around.
The story idea has merit. Specifically, to explore the untold story of the curse placed on Sleeping Beauty. The film begins with a pure-hearted flying fairy who will suffer the life-altering betrayal of a trusted human friend. Seeking to exact revenge and to protect her fairy kingdom, she casts an evil spell on the newly-crowned King’s firstborn child, Aurora. (She’s portrayed as a child by Vivienne Jolie-Pitt—she has her father’s eyes—and then as a teen by Elle Fanning.) In just one of many plot-related head scratchers, the King (an uneven Sharlto Copley) sends the baby to an isolated cottage far away to be watched over by three tiny, bumbling fairies.
As Aurora grows, Maleficent grows fond of the child and essentially de-fangs the supposed anti-heroine and sets up the anti-climactic sequence of events where only true love’s kiss can save the 16-year-old princess. For a movie nearly devoid of wit, Maleficent’s sidekick Diaval (Sam Riley), the part-time human, part-time raven is sadly and sorely underused. This can actually be said of nearly all of the secondary characters, including a handsome Prince, a Queen and bunches of fairyland creatures that look like imitations of pixies from countless other fantasy films.
The normally reliable and uplifting Disney messages seem muddled here too, lost in a blurred vision of characters that lack motivation for their actions, a lack of clarity about what is at stake for those characters, and a simple understanding of just who has earned the right to live happily ever after.
To be fair, the film’s most important moment, the kiss, rings true. But that fact only affirms what might have been with a fully fleshed out script. In the hands of “Pixar” for example, there would have been more danger, more heart and certainly more laughter.
But “Maleficent,” while not a terrible film, feels more like just another vanity project for its star than the groundbreaking, inspiring deconstruction of a beloved tale. Disney is capable of much better.
Rated PG for sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images.