Maleficent (2014, 1 hr 37 mins)
I, like most, am no stranger to the Disney phenomenon. I have watched a fair share in my lifetime, from the oldies like Bambi and the Apple Dumpling Gang, to newer films like Tron: Legacy, and a few others that I had no idea Disney produced. I know what the deal is with a Disney movie for the most part: a feel good, family adventure for a larger audience, including successfully animating the most beloved fairy tales like Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Fairy tales were my first horror stories, and I wonder if parents know how terrifying they actually are. Disney has managed to sugar coat some of the more morbid aspects of these tales, so it is refreshing to see something darker added to their roster. I was pleasantly surprised by Maleficent, and dazzled by the spectacle of it all, even though the story is a departure from the original fairy tales by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm.
This take on the Sleeping Beauty highlights the back side of the story, focusing on the fairy Maleficent, who wasn’t invited to the christening of the new baby princess born to the king and queen because of her past relationship with the king as a youngster. We all know her as the evil fairy who took revenge on the king by cursing the baby princess for being left out, but this movie gives us Maleficent’s background as a noble protector of here fairy lands The Moors, betrayed and blatantly violated by her ex-lover King Stephan, and a vilified woman of strength.
As a Disney film, I thought it was not their usual fare but surprisingly good. What also surprised to me was how dark and gothic it was. The imagery stayed true to what I have always found to be borderline nightmarish themes in fairy tales, and I thought it was reminiscent of that weird, dreamy gothic classic Legend. Angelina Jolie was really wonderful as the strong, volatile Maleficent. With her gaunt personage, she brought the right amount of cool, rage and humour to a character that has probably made some scary appearances in many childhood nightmares; bringing personality, understanding and dimension to a once-thought evil legend. She is also flat-out stunning. Coming from a makeup artist background, I though movie makeup pro Rick Baker created a simple beauty look on her that captivated me every time she was on-screen. Those ,what I like to call, “anti-smokey” eyes and blood-red lips combined with very simple facial prosthetics made the character. MAC Cosmetics even came out with a micro-collection of makeup for the launch of the movie. Talk about marketing to an unsuspecting but willing target! And those wings! Beautiful and gothic, a dark cocoon that was Maleficent’s glory and strength. You should expect some really elaborate cosplay outfits and Halloween costumes in the next few months, if the devoted haven’t already debuted them!
I enjoyed Sharlto Copley’s portrayal as the crazed king, even though he was overshadowed by the other characters. He has quickly become an unexpected genius at being the bad guy, and has made a great acting career for someone who started out as a producer. And Elle Fanning was a perfect pristine princess Aurora with her glowy, cherubic face and passable English accent. My favourite character, however, was Sam Riley as the raven Diaval. He played Maleficent’s foil well; a handsome supernatural sidekick that didn’t fade into the background.
I had only a couple of issues. The first involved the animated characters of The Moors. The CGI became a bit much for me, especially the altered faces of the pixies (represent!) played by Imelda Staunton, Lesley Mannville and Juno Temple, even though the other fantastical creatures were really beautiful. I much preferred when the fairy lands got dark and dismal. The darker lighting seemed to showcase them better and hide the unreal aspect of the animation. The second was Maleficent’s leather pantsuit under her robes. It took me out of the story and into the present which was not a good thing. All I saw was Angelina Jolie in a leather catsuit. I’m not sure if they were going for a powerful look, but to me it looked incongruous with the medieval fairy tale theme of the film’s costuming.
I would definitely recommend seeing Maleficent for Jolie’s performance, her character design and the overall beauty of the film. I would also recommend seeing it for interesting takes on the fairy tale itself, gleaning elements from the original Disney classic Sleeping Beauty to create a memorable anti-hero, and the haunting rendition of Once Upon a Dream by Lana Del Rey during the end credits. Definitely one for those of us who want to see the misunderstood independent gal in all of us prevail!