Score: 4 out of 10
Because every movie these days needs to be a sequel, prequel, remake, reboot, or reimagining, Disney has given us Maleficent, a dark new take on their 1959 Sleeping Beauty animated adventure. The story focuses on the main villain from the iconic film, and purports to tell the unheard backstory that turned her into the vengeful character we all remember.
The film begins with Maleficent, played by Angelina Jolie, as a kindhearted young fairy who spends her time carelessly frolicing with cartoon forest creatures like the characters in every other Disney movie. She falls in love with a boy hailing from the neighboring human kingdom, but eventually, he betrays her in order to become the new King. Maleficent does what every free-spirited intelligent woman does when her heart is broken by a man, she completely loses her mind and goes crazy. I find this plot point and several others like it to be very sexist, and I was surprised to learn that the film was actually written by a woman.
After she’s gone into full psychobitch mode, Maleficent curses the King’s newborn daughter Aurora to prick her finger and fall into eternal sleep on her sixteenth birthday. This is where the film falls apart. After cursing the girl, Maleficent immediately has a change of heart and begins to watch over and protect her like a fairy godmother, even saving her life at times. She becomes a completely different character than what we remember from the original, and it’s painfully obvious that the filmmakers didn’t know what they wanted to do. Did they want her to be a cold-hearted villain, or a sympathetic victim? They try to do both, but it ends up making her motivations seem unclear, as if she can’t make up her mind about what she wants. Jolie’s performance is good, but she deserves a better script.
The story feels rushed. At a mere 97 minutes, they squeeze in most of Sleeping Beauty plus the new backstory, so things are forced to move along at an uncomfortably fast pace. It seems as though significant portions were trimmed down in editing because the story relies on constant narration to get from one point to the next (think the theatrical cut of Blade Runner). I wouldn’t be surprised if the ending was also tweaked because it’s a note-for-note a rip off of Disney’s own Frozen, which was released just six months ago. The trope-subverting climax in that film felt earned, but this time around it feels tacked on and completely out of place.
There’s some very cool design work on the fantasy creatures and environments. This is no doubt the influence of the film’s first-time director Robert Stromberg, who won Oscars for his art design on James Cameron’s Avatar and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. The problem visually is that the film was shot in 2D and converted to fake 3D, and it looks terrible. Some 3D conversions look okay, but this one is bad. There are shots where characters look like cardboard cutouts standing in front of a cartoon world, and the night sequences look muddy. If your kids drag you to this film, make sure you see it in 2D.
-Review written by Blake Siefken, follow me on Twitter!