Once upon a time, Disney created an animated feature film of the classic story Sleeping Beauty. A classic in its own right, the film has been beloved by millions since its release in 1959. In addition to the beautiful animation, Tchaikovsky’s music, and endearing characters, this film gave birth to arguable the best Disney villain of all-time, Maleficent. Sophisticated, beautiful in her own way, powerful, charming and just pure evil for evil’s sake made her the ultimate Disney villain. With this in mind, I can’t begin to fathom why they decided to completely destroy her image with the new film Maleficent.
In Disney’s Maleficent, the puzzling decision was made to take every plot point that occurs in Sleeping Beauty and do the complete opposite. Unlike the stage musical Wicked where the events of the Wizard of Oz still happen as you learn the backstory of the Wicked Witch of the West, Maleficent completely rewrites the whole Disney Sleeping Beauty story that bore her character. The only part of the story that stays the same is that it was obvious by the aging of King Stefan (Sharlto Copley) that he and his queen that they had been childless for some time and Maleficent has some dialogue at Aurora’s christening that is the same. That’s it! The rest of the story is a complete redo of the events of Sleeping Beauty that obliterates everything I knew or felt about the characters including the evilness that made me so fascinated with Maleficent.
I can’t fault Angelina Jolie. She is perfectly cast, but the story doesn’t hold up to the character she plays. She has the look and the right amount of sophistication and charm that makes her so deliciously foul, but the ploy by the scriptwriter to make her so sympathetic to the point where she is no longer the villain of the story pulls the character out from under her.
Kudos also go to Isobelle Molloy for her performance as the young Maleficent. She is so likeable in the beginning of the film that you can’t understand how such a lovely young fairy could turn into the expected villain, which turns out never really materializes, or why she was given a name that means evil or harm; harmfully malicious.
The rest of the cast from Copley’s evil King Stefan (yes, evil!) to Elle Fanning’s irritating performance as Aurora to the kid who looks like he belongs in a boy band, Brenton Thwaites, as Prince Phillip are poor choices for their roles. Sam Riley has the interesting addition of the role of Diaval, Maleficent’s raven (known as Diablo in Sleeping Beauty) whom she transforms into a human as well as other creatures, to do her bidding. He also tries to advise her, but with little reception.
The three good fairies of the story have gone from the sometimes misguided, but loveable and powerful ladies to the just plain dumb and rather useless Flittle (Lesley Manville), Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton) and Thistletwit (Juno Temple).
The scenery and the special effects are beautiful done CGI. The world of man and the moors where Maleficent lives at times are reminiscent of Snow White and the Huntsman and Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately pretty scenery does not make up for storytelling.
Maybe if I knew nothing about Maleficent the character and had never seen Sleeping Beauty, I could have liked this movie, but I doubt very few people will sit down to watch this film not thinking that Maleficent is a villain and must have a very interesting story of how she got that way. The joke is on all of us who go in expecting that story!
If you want to see Maleficent as the “Mistress of All Evil” stay home and watch Sleeping Beauty because by the time you finish watching ‘Maleficent’ she will have lost all credibility as the greatest Disney villain.