At first I expected a prequel of sorts, leading up to the events of Sleeping Beauty and I was wrong. Instead, Maleficent is a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty tale. Why would it need retelling, you ask? Well...
There is no complicated way to put this so let's just get it out right here at the beginning of the review. The people at Disney decided to rewrite history. It is that simple. Taking one of the classic "Damsel in distress needs Prince Charming" tales, and reweaving it in something a lot more contemporary (narrative-wise, don't expect cars and guns!) and, perhaps, proper. Cinema had been a "sign of its times" on many occasions in the past. Films reflected society and its beliefs as the heroes and villains changed through the years (we touched on that briefly in the article section and character-writing pieces). Maleficent is one such film.
Understandably, people expect this to be a spoiler-free review and I have to see that through, however difficult. You see, I cannot talk about the film and its character without delving into what actually happens since, well, that's what changed! That is what happened in the rewriting of this tale. It was rewritten, literally! Therefore forget about the events of Sleeping Beauty, this is an entirely different beast on its own.
I cannot find fault with Robert Stromberg (the director) or his photography crew. They present a vibrant and colourful world with a heavy dose of CGI. CG which is at times hit-or-miss to be honest. In one frame you have trouble suspending your disbelief seeing rubber-like creatures fighting something that looks like men yet at other times you will have trouble believing your eyes, seeing Maleficent herself spreading her wings (wings??) amidst the clouds before a glorious sun.
Immediately the symbolism is staring you right in the eyes while kicking you in the face and yelling at the top of its lungs. A female form with horns AND feather wings. Both angel and demon in the same breath, good AND evil. Something that is reflected in the very story itself. But no more on that...
What of the one that bears those wings? Angelina Jolie was correctly cast as Maleficent however she is not always hitting her marks. Some of her lines and mannerisms stroked me (get your minds out of the gutter!) the wrong way. There were deliveries from her that were spot-on whereas at other times she seemed to be posing and waiting for a photo-op instead of "living the moment", which is the lifeblood of acting (and no, the CGI is not to blame here)! It is as if the editors were left without any better takes for their final cut and I wouldn't be surprised if that was the truth. But, again, Jolie is generally good as THIS Maleficent.
The rest of the cast didn't really blow me away and that includes Sharlto Copley. I get the feeling that if that man isn't given a complex and richly written character to work with then he cannot deliver with the gravity he did in District 9. His King Stefan is quite the cardboard cut-out, but I guess that works in this story.
On the music front, James Newton Howard nailed it! The grandest of performances a film composer can deliver is one where he gives the viewer the character of the film in musical form. This is exactly what happens here. From cheerful and adventurous to ominous and dark the music carries much of the film all the way to the climax where the four adjectives I mentioned (and many more!) blend together and ring out simultaneously to glorious effect.
I must admit that I have seen better Disney films (both animated and "real") but that does not shoot down Maleficent. As a story it does something VERY brave. It grabs a hold of the old fairytale tropes and transforms them into something new. Something different. One can say that the people who were to "blame" (Disney) for 'Princes Charming and Damsels in distress' that many young generations grew up believing that they deserved and expected in their real lives, put pen to paper and decided to sketch fairytale history anew. A REAL wind of change and for that I salute them.
- Frixos Masouras 2014
Maleficent and all its rights belong to Walt Disney Pictures and Studio