Saturday, June 7, 2014

Sarah & Andrew Are Divided on Disney's New "Sleeping Beauty" Retelling: Our Review of "Maleficent" (2014)

Directed By: Robert Stromberg 

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Imelda Staunton

Rating: PG for sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images

Run Time: 1 hour, 37 minutes

Synopsis: A re-imagining of the classic Sleepy Beauty tale from the perspective of Maleficent (Jolie). After her wings stolen by the man she thought was her true love, Stefan (Copley), so he could become king, Maleficent puts a familiar curse on the king's newborn daughter, Aurora (Fanning). After realizing she overreacted, Maleficent spends the next 16 years watching over the girl in hopes that the curse will run out.


Sarah: The other night we checked out this past weekend's new Disney release, Maleficent. This is one that I had been looking forward to and, I'm just going to let you all know this now, I'm going to be a little biased. Angelina Jolie is my lady crush. I tend to love her in every thing she makes, so going in, I had pretty much already decided how I felt about this movie. Not objective, I know, but I have to be honest with you, dear readers. 

But I know that you, Andrew, thought a little bit differently about this one. What did you think of Maleficent?

Andrew: Let me start off by saying that I didn't dislike it, but I didn't love it either, and here's why. There were many, many things about this film that bugged me in a way that I just couldn't shake, even after a night of sleeping on it.

First and foremost, I don't like that this film took one of Disney's most iconic, evil villains and basically said, "She's not really a villain! You should feel sorry for her because she lost her wings and was betrayed but the boy she loved!" What this does is essentially takes all the evil out of her. 

Sometimes it's just best to let a villain stay a villain and not explain why that came to be. It's one of the reasons Hannibal Rising came THIS close to ruining Hannibal Lecter and why all the films in the Halloween series after #3 almost ruined the character of Michael Myers. They tried giving a reason for their evil instead of the far better reason, "They just are." And that's how I felt about Maleficent. So that was the big one for me. But not the only reason this film bugged me.

S: Ok, I will agree with you on that. Maleficent is one of the original Disney villains, and she's a bad one. She and Snow White's lovely stepmother give evil bitches a whole new meaning. And yeah, this movie pretty much erases all of that. 

But, I went in to this movie not looking at it as a "this is why" movie, but more of a "this could be why." That may seem a little confusing, so let me put it like this; I do not like the original Disney's Sleeping Beauty. I find Aurora to be a lackluster princess, and she was once again in this new version. BUT! This time, we saw things from the villain's perspective and I really liked that. It actually made the story of Sleeping Beauty bearable to me. 

A: I can certainly see why Disney went this route, as the movie itself stars a strong female star and the overlying themes are about atoning for your mistakes and a "true love" angle that is…

S: …a little different than Prince Charming creepily kissing your lifeless form. We saw this same kind of message in last year's Frozen and here it was again. That true love is the love that can be shared on many levels; sisters, friends and, yes, the occasional Prince Charming. This time we saw it between friends, almost a mother/daughter relationship. I'm wondering if this is going to be a Disney theme? 

A: It appears to be one right now, and that's fine because it's a good message for kids to learn. So I had no problem with that.

But let me bring up the second thing that really, truly bothered me about this movie. A key part of the plot is that Maleficent is actually a fairy and was born with these mighty wings that, in an effort to win the kingdom's throne, are cut off by Stefan (Sharlto Copley) - the man Maleficent had fallen in love with when they both were children. 

Sounds harsh, but the execution is even harsher. Stefan basically knocks Maleficent out with a potion (roofies here, essentially) and then cuts off her wings while she's unconscious (instead of killing her, but still). Then Maleficent wakes up to find her beautiful wings have been taken and she's understandably devastated.

I cannot be the only person in that theatre who watched that scene and saw it as a crystal clear metaphor of Maleficent getting raped, can I? Tell me that didn't cross your mind.

S: Ok…I can honestly say that this did not cross my mind. Again, pretty blind to most of the flaws. And you make a very valid point. There's even a close-up of the potion dripping on the ground. Ok, yeah, it's pretty rapey. But are kids going to catch that? Absolutely not! 

I think that can be our next point. They've been trying to bring back these Disney fairy tales in the live-action world, and are continuing to do so. Last year's Snow White and the Huntsman was a dark look at the classic Snow White. It wasn't great but man that Charlize Theron can play bad. It wasn't exactly kid friendly, so I think that is more of what they were trying to go for this time. 

While it obviously has some extremely dark undertones (just like EVERY fairy tale), I think this one was way more accessible to kids. There were silly scenes that made the kids laugh and I think that was so important. 

So while we mention it, I have to throw in that this movie was true to Disney form and sported a princess with mental problems. This time we saw a little Stockholm Syndrome and definitely some social stunting. Let's be honest, this girl has the mental capacity of a 10 year old. It's quite sad and a little more than weird. 

A: Yeah, I don't know if I'm a fan of these live-action fairy tale retellings. Snow White and the Huntsman was just okay, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters doesn't even really count to me because they did avery different spin on it, and Maleficent was also just okay to me. Makes me not very interested in the Cinderella movie Disney has coming out next year, I'll tell you that.

But your point is fair - I'd assume most to all kids won't pick up on the "rape" vibe that I picked up on. They'll just find it a bit of a scary scene in general, as the little girl that sat in front of us did when she audibly gasped at the sight of Stefan's knife.

I think this movie will be just fine for most kids even with some of the darker aspects it entails. Like you said, there are plenty of bright and happy moments, there's slapstick humor with the fairy godmother's (which I'll touch on in a second) and Aurora herself seems to be having a fine time living her life as she knows it - as Stockholm Syndrome as it seemed. It wasn't as bad as Belle in Beauty and the Beast and I think that's more because this was the only life she ever knew until she turned 16.

S: And here's where I would like to touch on our second leading lady, Aurora, played by Elle Fanning (Super 8). Yes, she may be the younger sister of Dakota Fanning, but the acting apple fell faaaaaar away from that tree. I don't know why they insist of hiring this young lady for movies. She's awkward and incredibly painful to watch. She was…not good. Thank God she wasn't in the movie that much. 

The overall acting in this movie wasn't great but I think I have to throw this out and say that I preferred this version much better than the original Sleeping Beauty. It was a stunning movie with the scenery and the imagery of the two different worlds being very creative. And those costumes! Maleficent looked the part and the little added organic details were so delicate and perfect. 

A: Touching on your points, I don't think Elle Fanning did very well here but I've liked her work before, especially in Super 8. I'm willing to bet that part of her performance was because this film was directed by a first-time director, Robert Stromberg, who was the production designer for AvatarAlice in Wonderland and Oz the Great and Powerful -  as well as the visual effects supervisor for many films and TV shows. So he clearly nailed the great look aspect of this film, but the all of the acting except for Angelina left something to be desired.

This brings me to my last point, which is that the cast in this film is utterly wasted outside of Jolie. Fanning isn't given a ton to do except be a happy girl, Sharlto Copley just plays a generic crazy guy, Brenton Thwaites's Prince Phillip is literally tossed to the side at one point, Sam Riley's Diaval (Maleficent's raven/human sidekick) is maybe the only one besides Jolie who's given anything to do with, and the fairy godmothers.....oh the fairy godmothers.

Imelda Staunton (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) and Juno Temple (The Dark Knight Rises) were the only two I recognized - Lesley Manville being the third - and they're all completely wasted here as comedic relief. And dumb comedic relief at that. These three actresses basically just bicker with one another and essentially forget that they're supposed to be raising a baby girl and protecting her until she's 16 years old. They're SO ineffective at their jobs that Maleficent takes over as Aurora's de facto fairy godmother and is the only thing keeping her alive from things like starving to death and falling off a cliff. I know it's all played out for laughs, but it's just another reason I didn't like this film. They basically said, "Yeah, that movie/story you love so much? Didn't happen."

I mean, Maleficent isn't even green and she doesn't even have her coolest trick which is turning into a freaking dragon!

S: That's why I liked it better than you I think! I didn't love that old fairy tale! So this was a pretty blank slate for me. The re-imagining of the story was kind of fun and I have to say that's about all I expected out of it.

So let's wrap it up. I think that Jolie was the perfect person to play Maleficent. She just has that look and was able to pull it off perfectly. But the rest? Maybe a little rough. While I really enjoyed the new look at a classic, the acting was pretty rough. More wasted, really. Which is quite a shame. 

A: Jolie was certainly the best choice for this role. She looked amazing, and it doesn't hurt that she's just strikingly beautiful in the first place, but those cheekbones they put on her just added a little bit of exoticness. It looked good except for some rough CGI early on where I couldn't help but know this was all shot on a green screen location. It served its purpose I suppose, and I'm clearly not the target audience for it.

So what's your final verdict on Maleficent?

S: We may have not been the target audience for this movie but I had fun watching it. And, I mean, c'mon…Angelina Jolie kinda rocks.

FINAL VERDICT: A good one to take the kids to on a weekend matinee!

(Individual Scores - S: 3/5  A: 2.5/5)

Photo Courtesy: IMBd

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