Oh, my my my. When I pictured myself sitting down at my desk, sipping some tea as I reflectively pondered the words to describe the summer’s “hottest new tale”, I certainly did not expect that I would be writing words of disappointment.
But that’s what I have to do. First off, if you haven’t seen the movie yet, don’t read on. I will be going into the movies plot – if you can call the disconnected segments of scenes a plot – and wanted to offer a heads up.
Let me start with some positives. The visual aspects of Maleficent is absolutely stunning. Sleeping Beauty’s castle is nestled atop a strong mountain so to stand out above the kingdom. The Moors, home of the Fairy Maleficent and otherworldly creatures such as pixies and, what appeared to be, living trees and trolls, although I don’t recall them being labeled anything, is absolutely gorgeous. It’s almost like Pandora in Avatar, a truly new and fascinating place that feels magical.
Another positive would be the ever-fabulous Angeline Jolie, who plays the title role. She looks and acted the role very well, and even did a stellar accent in my opinion. I am a huge fan of Jolie’s, and have seen nearly all of her films. This one, though, ranks far down the bottom of the list. It wasn’t her acting, really she was the only one in the movie that you care for, but the role of Maleficent was meant to be so complex, that the other characters were virtually nonexistent and therefore the movie was literally about her. Only her.
One last positive before I get into why I believe this movie was a failure. The preliminary plot had the potential to be unique and, the movie did succeed in giving Maleficent new life and a new story line. For those of us who grew up knowing Maleficent as the villain, it was entertaining, albeit moderately at best, to consider a different side of the dark fairy.
Unfortunately, the anticipation of an alternate story line and hope that Princess Aurora would gain more substance in this retelling, surely disappointed. Let’s start with the plot.
Maleficent is a kind fairy who lives in The Moors. She has wings, like any fairy, and proudly flies over her home, enjoying the freedom that one would expect flying would give. She is protective over her home and all the various creatures that live there, and soon enough is appointed to be the protector of The Moors. Enter speed bump number one: Stefan.
Stefan is a human boy who meets Maleficent, and the two become unlikely friends. Unlikely because in this world, humans are greedy and destructive and not to be trusted. Well, that much is similar to our world, I suppose.
Maleficent and Stefan soon fall in love. It’s around this time that a weakness is revealed. While Maleficent is powerful and protects the magical world, if she is touched with iron, she will be injured. It’s deadly to fairies. Of course, Stefan is aware of this, and I believe at the moment this is revealed, we are not supposed to connect the dots. Hm.
Now, while the first 30 minutes of this plot’s build-up are rather cohesive, from the moment the Stefan learns that iron harms fairies, the plot quickly unravels and disconnects. Stefan grows up and in an effort to become the next king, betrays Maleficent and cuts off her beloved wings.
This act is what turns Maleficent into a vengeful force. The whole time I was watching the movie and seeing Maleficent cast spells and use magic, I kept thinking, “Why doesn’t she just make herself new wings?” Well, there was a reason. You just don’t know about it until the last fifteen minutes. At the end, iron is inevitably used by the guards to try and bring down Maleficent. It’s then we discover that her wings have been locked in an iron chest. I wish they had shown that in the beginning.
But, once Maleficent’s curse on Princess Aurora is cast, you might as well leave the theater, because after that you are forced to watch about an hours worth of nonsensical scenes that do nothing to ignite any feelings of excitement, tension, victory, etc… It’s almost as if you are watching mock up scenes for a story board. As if the director, producer, and creative minds have a presentation to show how they would like the story to unfold. It’s an overview of the story, completely lacking any scene endings or transitions that keep you hanging. None of the scenes hit the mark to keep the momentum, instead they just flow lifelessly into each other like a dazed and confused reel of images.
And that’s just the plot. I haven’t even begun to explain the issues with the characters!
In the original Sleeping Beauty movie, the best part, for me, were the three little fairies who dedicate years to keeping Aurora safe from the evil Maleficent. They were funny, charming, and each had their own quirks that were identifiable and created a trio of odd, but memorable characters. They had a relationship with Aurora, who adored them and truly you could tell that they all cared about each other.
In this film, however, such was not the case.
First of all, the three guardians are not fairies, they are pixies, and I don’t remember if it was this way in the original, but they did it in this movie so to create a distinction between Maleficent the fairy, which appears to be the leading race, to the problematic pixies.
Not only are the pixies disenchanting visually, but their inherent quirkiness does not translate well due to lack of character development and screen time, so they come off as annoying and sort of useless – and not in a funny way. The twist in this film is that the pixies are inept in caring for Aurora, and that it is Maleficent who always stays close by and secretly keeps the young princess from getting hurt or fatally injured while the three pixies are off fighting with one another. It’s a sweet sentiment to see Maleficent care for the girl she cursed, but because the focus remains fully on Maleficent, the pixies follies are never developed into anything solid and so they remain useless and, in the end, forgettable.
There is only one scene where Aurora and the pixies are shown conversing together, and it is when Aurora is telling her “Aunts” that she is moving out. This happens the day before her 16th birthday. This whole scene was terrible. Because the four are never interacting until this moment, Aurora’s declaration about leaving made me just shrug and think, “Okay, why are you telling these strangers?” The pixies, whose job was to keep Aurora in the cabin until one day after her birthday, (so, two more days at this point), do little to nothing to stop her from moving out. They just sort of sighed as Aurora went into the world to join Maleficent. What?!?!
At this point in the movie, Aurora has labeled Maleficent as her “Fairy Godmother”, and the two have become very close. Maleficent wonders if Aurora, who loves The Moors and seems kindhearted, could bring the world of humans and magical creatures together. In a fleeting moment, Maleficent recognizes the potential and tries to lift the curse. She can’t of course. And once Aurora finds out that Maleficent had cursed her, she gets upset (barely, though) and runs off. It’s a dud of a scene.
Next useless character is Prince Phillip.
You know, the love of Princess Aurora’s life, the one who saves her from an eternal sleep. Yeah. He has about five minutes of screen time, and those are five of the most unbearable minutes of the movie. He’s all together useless and there is absolutely no spark between him and Aurora. I don’t even know why they put him in the movie.
Maleficent also has a sidekick, a bird she turned into a crow/human and uses as a spy in honor of the original Maleficent’s crow sidekick. He did get a nice little back story too, which I appreciated. I never caught his name, though. He brought little to the film, since he wasn’t really funny (although he tried a couple of times to make observational jokes regarding Maleficent), he wasn’t really heroic, and if he had died at the end, I probably wouldn’t have cared.
You know who did die at the end though? King Stefan, aka Aurora’s dad. You know who killed him? Maleficent. You know who didn’t care? Aurora. Yeah, Aurora just figured that since she loved the walking-tree-men and other non-descriptive creatures so much, that after her father was killed (oh by the way, her mom dies too but no one cares, not even Stefan), it made sense to skip off to The Moors with the fairy who murdered him. Oh, right, it’s because of that true love thing…
Yes, in an attempt to be “different”, Prince Useless Phillip plants what he thinks is true loves kiss onto Aurora, who has been in an eternal sleep for all of three minutes. It doesn’t work (surprise!), but guess what does. A tender kiss on the forehead from… Maleficent. So, the love of a “soul mate” wasn’t powerful enough, but the love of a surrogate mother, I’m using that term loosely, of course, did the trick. Hey guess what, that twist was already used, and much more powerfully I might add, just a couple of movies ago. Yeah, remember…..
FROZEN? When the act of true love was a sister protecting another sister, and not the kiss from some man?
I’m all about modernizing classics and breaking away from the mold, but to copy the same formula? Come on.
The most disappointing character was, in my opinion, Aurora herself. Her childlike smile seemed more absentminded than charming, and she critically lacked any gumption that her Princess predecessors all contain. There was no characteristic of this princess to hang your hat on. I didn’t care about her at all.
There is so much more that I can say, but this review is getting far too long. One funny observation I made was that in this film, Aurora’s mother remains nameless. Is this a tribute to the unnamed, un-credited Queen from the original Sleeping Beauty? As a diehard Disney fan, I will say this: The images are stunning and it was a success by way of creating a new “world”. But if you’re looking for substance, a good plot, I would suggest you watch something else.
Have you seen the movie? Leave me your thoughts!