Maleficent (2014)

This entry is part 14 of 15 in the series Disney Princesses
MaleficentA review by Nalini Haynes
  • Director:  Robert Stromberg
  • Writers:   Linda Woolverton, Charles Perrault (based from the story “La Belle au bois dormant”), the Grimm brothers and more.
  • Stars:  Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley
  • Watch this if you liked: The Tenth Kingdom, Wicked, Bitter Greens (novel)
  • Rating:  4 ½ stars

Although not flawless, Maleficent is an excellent re-imagining of Sleeping Beauty, adding significantly to the original story. Passing the Bechdel Test (a simple gender-bias test) although M-rated, Maleficent is darker than Disney’s usual princess tales.

Although I’ve never been a huge Angelina Jolie fan, she won me over when Maleficent woke up wingless: the range of emotions displayed in that one scene was impressive.

I was rather concerned that the message of the movie was that a woman turns evil after betrayal – Fatal Attraction, anyone? – but Maleficent has at least 5 named women characters to bring balance. As a character, Maleficent develops considerably throughout the movie. She’s engaging, at her most appealing when tormenting good fairies.

Maleficent is developed as a robust character but everyone else is quite two-dimensional in comparison. More contact between characters to show rather than tell us about Maleficent’s new-found villainy and to build tension could have significantly added to the story.

However, there are a range of characters adding heart and comedy. After Maleficent herself I’m hard-pressed to decide on a favorite character when choosing between Diaval, Maleficent’s minion, and the trio of inept good fairies.

Harry Potter fans will recognize the good fairy Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton who was Dolores Umbridge from the Deathly Hallows); she’s a cute comedic caricature before changing into a more recognizable human-sized character.

Early in Maleficent, the human king attacks fairyland, bringing all his troops – cavalry, infantry, shiny armor and weapons – to the fray. A Lord of the Rings-type battle ensues in miniature with good and evil rolls reversed. This is a foreshadowing of a later, more epic battle. And all the fantasy fans cheered.

There were other, more subtle forms of foreshadowing and parallelism used that I appreciated. Maleficent is an excellent tale for students of archetypes, imagery and writing.

Purists will challenge Maleficent’s lack of flight and her acquisition of a staff/walking stick after her wings were cut off as a plot hole. Lack of flight wasn’t necessarily born of lack of power or poor writing, it could have been her reaction to her great loss. I felt lack of flight symbollically grounded Maleficent, giving her both gravitas and a weakness as an expression of grief.

Beautiful scenery and exquisite creatures delight the viewer, the likes of which haven’t been seen – or, at least, not used to such good effect – since Avatar. While Avatar was a retelling of Dances with WolvesMaleficent is more original in its storyline. 3D was used to excellent effect, blending in to enhance not overshadow the story.

Overall, the visual effects were very polished as my seeing-guide-minion assures me.  The IMAX experience was immersive and I’m not just saying that because they gave me free tickets so I could review it. Maleficent is a visual feast, ideal for the big screen and, let’s face it, IMAX is the biggest screen in Melbourne.

Maleficent is good for guys and girls; I heard men and women laugh and ‘awwww’ in all the right places. A movie with drama, comedy, heart and battle scenes, Maleficent has something for everyone. Although not perfect, Maleficent will prove itself to be an enduring classic. Highly recommended.

Kate Forsyth (PhD of Fairytales pending) reviewed Maleficent and discusses the history and meaning of Sleeping Beauty with a list of her favorite novel retellings

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