Disney’s latest installment, Maleficent, is a live-action retelling of the 1959 classic, Sleeping Beauty, but this time around the protagonist is not the beautiful Princess Aurora; it’s the villainous Queen Maleficent who cursed her. This visually stunning 3D film follows the story of a fairy named Maleficent who grew up in The Moors, a land where magical creatures could live together in harmony, protected from the nearby human kingdom. But, when Maleficent is betrayed by her one true love – a man from the human world – she becomes so wrought with loss and revenge that she crowns herself the sole ruler of The Moors and vows to even the score between her and her lost love, the newly crowned King and father of Princess Aurora.
I won’t go into much more detail about the plot because, despite being a reworking of the classic, there are actually some major discrepancies between the stories of Maleficent and Sleeping Beauty, creating twists that those who enjoyed the original Disney story will not see coming. Whether this excites or annoys audiences remains to be seen, however I was a little disappointed in the dramatic changes and had been hoping for a story that cleverly fit in with the old tale rather than one that altered the plot completely. In saying that, the new twists breathe modern life into the 50-year-old classic and communicates that there are always two sides to every story.
The film design is the biggest plus of Maleficent. While the 3D effect is probably not necessary, the magical creatures residing in The Moors are amazing works of art and so creative that the designers must have had no limitations to what they could dream up. It’s Robert Stromberg’s first time in the director’s chair, but he’s had plenty of experience as production designer on big titles like Avatar and the 2010 remake of Alice in Wonderland, and the influence of those films are clear in Maleficent. Even though a lot of the effects have a computer-generated look, the high-action battle scenes where human and magical forces clash are epic and engaging, and in particular I found Maleficent’s fairy wings to be realistic and incredibly well done. On top of this, costume design is flawless; the horns attached to Angelina Jolie’s head look as if they’ve been there all her life.
While the movie soars in the artistic department, it falls hard in terms of substance. The screenplay is quite banal, lacking both comedy and depth and would be better suited for a children’s movie. However, the dark themes and violent battle scenes make it rather inappropriate for kids, leaving me confused as to who the target audience is meant to be. The film also came off as over-indulgent and the melodramatic one-liners accompanied by an overpowering score were a little cringe-worthy. The performances of the supporting cast were average, and while Jolie struck a fine balance between good and evil, it was nothing to rave about.
All in all, Maleficent is a feast for the eyes, but in a time when Disney is pumping out some fantastic animated movies that resonate with kids and adults alike (think Frozen and Tangled), I question the purpose of live-action fairy tales such as this.
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