Review by Gordon Justesen
Angelina Jolie, Sharlto Copley, Elle Fanning, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Juno
Temple, Lesley Manville
Director: Robert Stromberg
Audio: DTS HD 7.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Features: See Review
Length: 97 Minutes
Release Date: November 4, 2014
“Maleficent, please don’t do this. I’m begging you.”
“I like you begging. Do it again.”
Disney’s reworking of the story we’ve come to know as Sleeping Beauty has resulted in the biggest case of a mixed bag I’ve come across in some time. There’s quite a lot to be marveled by in Maleficent, from the casting choices to the visual effects to the flat out remarkable look of the film. Yet, at the same time, I kept wondering to myself, “is there much of a point to it all?”
The focus this time around, of course, is centered around the villain of the piece, the titular witch fairy brought to stunning life by Angelina Jolie. The story begins in her younger years, when she herself fell in love with a boy named Stefan. As they grow into adults, Stefan not only breaks her heart but manages to cut off her wings while she’s asleep.
This serves as a motive for Maleficent to get revenge on the now King Stefan (Sharlto Copley) by placing the well known curse on his newly born daughter, Aurora. As a means to protect her, Stefan sends her to stay at a cottage with three tiny pixies named Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), Thistlewit (Juno Temple) and Flittle (Lesley Manville). But as it turns out, Maleficent knows where she is and keeps a close watch over her, in spite of her so called “hate” for her.
As you can probably tell by now, the twist of this take on the classic story is to make one of the most feared villains in Disney animated history into an unexpected heroine. As years go by, and Aurora grows into a teen (as portrayed by Elle Fanning), Maleficent comes to regret her decision of placing the curse on her. But by this point, it can’t be undone, and her only hope is that Aurora comes across that of true love.
This is one visual marvel of a movie if there ever was one, especially by Disney standards. They spent a reported $200 million to bring this story to vivid life, and every penny does indeed show up on screen. And in terms of casting, there is simply no other actress alive who could match the look and effectiveness that Ms. Jolie has brought to the part, as this is a role the alluring actress was simply born to play.
But in spite of the movie’s visual delight, there are a few shortcomings too many. The first of which is the rushed pacing of the movie, which runs a surprisingly fast 97 minutes. It manages to overlook various specifics, such as why Maleficent, despite having lost her wings, is still able to make other things (including people) fly. A tale like this could have been much longer, and as a result could have fixed such loose ends. The mere fact that the script was penned by one of the writers of both Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King makes this even more mind boggling.
Another flaw is the ultra poor development of the villainous King Stefan, who starts out as the victim begging mercy from Maleficent. But, because she has a change of heart, and because the script says so, he must become the enemy and suffer a demise by the movie’s end. Again, if the film were longer and their complicated relationship was allowed to be better fleshed out, it would have resulted more effectively.
It also doesn’t help that Sharlto Copley, an actor I’ve enjoyed tremendously ever since he’s breakout role in District 9, chooses to ham up his role for no specific reason other than to remind us that he is, in fact, now the villain. And this criticism comes from someone who really enjoyed is outlandishly sinister bad guy performance in Elysium.
Though it was a mega success at the box office, and audiences seemed to have really enjoyed it, I really don’t get the appeal in reworking a classic story (and one that those wanting to see this movie know so very well) especially when the primary goal is to take a chilling presence like Maleficent and say to everyone watching that she was really a sweetheart all this time. Next thing you know, we’ll be getting a new take on Snow White that will have the Queen/Witch turn out to be saintly woman, or a Little Mermaid where Ursula becomes Ariel’s sworn protector of the sea. Maleficent is a harmless enterprise that will definitely delight younger audiences, but is so worthy of adding up to more than it does.
I’ve already mentioned how visually engaging the movie is, and it is made even more so by this fantastic Blu-ray handling by Disney. From the opening frame, every inch of this production design is rendered beautifully by an HD presentation that will knock your socks off! Color appearance is nothing short of stunning (especially the scene where Maleficent places the curse on the baby) and the overall detail is superb and splendid be it light or dark sequences. Without question, one of the best looking Blu-ray releases of this year!
Equally stunning is the striking 7.1 DTS HD mix, which succeeds strongly in executing the remarkable level of sound quality associated with a fantasy movie. Everything is in the highest possible aural form, from music playback to the accompanying of the many effects sequences. And the balancing of those areas and dialogue delivery is as flawless as can be!
Included on this Disney Blu-ray release are a number of brief featurettes, including “Aurora: Becoming a Beauty”, which features actress Elle Fanning revealing her love for the classic story, “From Fairy Tale to Feature Film”, focusing on the re-imagining of the story for a new audience, “Building an Epic Battle”, which explores how the various battle scenes were accomplished, “Classic Couture”, which delves into the character’s signature costume features, and “Maleficent Revealed”, where the movie’s effects work is explored. Rounding out the extras are Deleted Scenes.
This Combo Pack release also comes with a DVD copy, as well as a streaming Digital HD edition.
Maleficent scores highly on the strength of the visuals and Angelina Jolie’s tremendous embodiment of the role, but such a distinctively bold reworking of a classic tale merits a much more fleshed out story and not the rushed job that was done here. I give points for trying, though.