Maleficent is directed by Robert Stromberg and it is the live-action re-imagining of the 1959 animated classic Sleeping Beauty. This movie focuses on the antagonist of that movie, Maleficent, an evil fairy who curses a baby to a sleep-like death once she pricks her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel. This movie stars Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley and Sam Riley.
Back in 2014 the only live-action Disney remakes were Alice in Wonderland (2010), those two 101 Dalmation movies and that Jungle Book remake from the 90’s which no one remembers. The idea of a live-action retelling of a more known Disney classic like Sleeping Beauty was exciting. That along with the promise that this is the dark truth behind that story we all knew were the reasons why this movie garnered so much interest. I remember being very excited for this movie, each trailer sold me more and more. I watched the original 1959 animated movie to prepare and it’s safe to safe that watching the animated version gave me some high expectations and after watching Maleficent I remember being very pleased. Since then I watched it three more times, one of them being yesterday to write this review.
Maleficent’s ideas to reinvent the story are intriguing and have a ton of potential however due to the movie’s incredibly uneven pace, short runtime and complete reliance on the audience to just accept whatever the movie throws at them, those ideas never reach their full potential. That being said, I compliment the movie for what it tries to do with the source material. The movie’s imagination also takes the spotlight as the movie presents some gorgeous and truly magical world-building with The Moors. While I love the Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, she is evil just for the sake of being evil. That doesn’t translate well into live-action unless there is some proper backstory and character building which this movie does offer. We do get to see Maleficent’s backstory and she does have a motivation, I just wished it wasn’t wrapped up in the first twenty minutes of the movie.
Despite all of it’s flaws, Maleficent still manages to be an easy, enjoyable and entertaining watch. It’s short, wastes no time, and there really isn’t a dull moment. It’s a very re-watchable movie. Part of the reason for that is the visual magic this movie brings with it. The visual effects in this movie are stunning, there is some great world-building and imagination with fantastical creatures and places. The battle of The Moors and The Kingdom at the beginning and the final fiery showdown featuring a dragon, fire, iron men and magic give some much needed stakes and add the epic blockbuster action you’d come to expect from these movies. Besides the visual effects, the enchanting cinematography is also a major factor for why this movie looks so beautiful, the wide shots are filled with colour, life and most importantly magic. Another major plus for this movie is the epic score by James Newton Howard. My favourite tracks are “The Christening”, “Path for Destruction” and the “Maleficent Suite”.
Angelina Jolie is wonderful as Maleficent. She brought so much to both the movie and titular character. She added layers to a villain which arguably had none and served an emotional arc which ended in a satisfying way. She brought the wickedness, energy and charisma to the movie and without her this role and movie would have never been this good. I can’t imagine anyone else in this role now, she truly made it her own. Elle Fanning as Aurora was as good as possible considering Aurora never really had that big of a character. She brings the innocence and child-like wonder which plays well with the audience as she is in a way their eyes in this mystical place. I do feel that Sharlto Copley was a bit over the top and I do feel that his motivation and character building was pretty weak. Sam Riley was fine as Diaval, I like the idea of turning him into a human but at times he actually felt like Olaf in Frozen, pointing out the obvious and making “funny” remarks, (Olaf is actually funny though).
As for flaws, as I mentioned earlier, the movie’s pacing is all over the place. As a whole it’s a rather fast-paced movie but it starts with featuring, love, betrayal, death, curses and a big battle in just the first twenty minutes and then it feels like the movie slows down because not much exciting stuff happens in the second act. Other than that, while I do love the fact that this is a re-imagining, there are two scenes straight from the original, The Christening and The Curse coming into effect. While I absolutely love The Christening scene, in fact it’s the best scene ironically, the scene with Aurora and The Spinning Wheel was anti-climactic and poorly done, which is a huge shame considering how haunting the original scene was. Another thing this movie did wrong was the entire Prince Phillip character. Take him out of the movie and literally nothing changes. He felt so forced and so unnecessary, I don’t know why they bothered putting him in.
Overall Maleficent is already a step above most Disney live-action remakes for actually reinventing the story and being it’s own thing. It’s a feast for the eyes and ears thanks to some truly gorgeous visual effects and an epic musical score. While the movie has it’s fair share of problems, (there are many), the magnificent performances from Jolie and the dynamic between Maleficent and Aurora is what ultimately saves the movie.