Maleficent

Maleficent photo starrating-3stars.jpgMaleficent is a re-imaging of the awesome baddie from Disney’s 1959 animated classic Sleeping Beauty. That film was adapted from fairy tales by Charles Perrault and The Brothers Grimm. In this new version the narrative is told from a different point of view. The evil sorceress is actually just misunderstood. She is merely a bold fairy in charge of guarding the enchanted forest in the Moors. When the very boy with whom she shared a meaningful friendship/love as a young girl, grows up to betray her, she seeks revenge.

Alice in Wonderland, Oz The Great and Powerful – Disney has a fondness for these live action fantasies based on written works. And why not?  They’ve been a cash cow for the company. Unfortunately, despite their ability to slay at the box office, the productions simply haven’t been very good. Weak story, poor pacing, dreary characters and an over reliance on CGI have made these episodes rather depressing. Now the talented production designer of those movies has made his feature directing debut. Robert Stromberg has in fact won two Oscars for Art Direction (Avatar, Alice in Wonderland) Regrettably Maleficent is plagued by some of the same troubles that have tainted the studio’s previous forays into this genre. Stromberg is clearly preoccupied with the visual language to the detriment of plot.

The movie Maleficent has some serious issues. The most glaring being the extensive use of CGI that seemingly infects every scene. Computer graphics are used indiscriminately just to make the grass greener, the sky bluer and La Jolie‘s skin more radiant. Even the actors have been manipulated. Three bumbling flower pixies (Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton and Juno Temple) raise the baby Aurora in the woods until she is 16. The actresses’ faces have been shrunken down to minute size and they are freakish. From the coterie of cutesy critters that overpopulate the forest to the supporting cast, nothing in this picture looks organic. Yet Maleficent ultimately manages to rise above those problems.

The saga develops around a character with a specific point. Screenwriter Linda Woolverton promotes a clear understandable story and the script adheres to a definite dramatic arc. A couple memorable scenes demonstrates this beautifully. The horrific moment in which Maleficent makes a startling discovery is a shocking violation. The act suggests a real world analogy that only an adult would grasp. The original cartoon began with the royal christening of the princess. That scene occurs later in this chronicle but it’s possibly the most iconic spectacle here. It is a brilliant manifestation of the power that Maleficent wields as a sorceress and Angelina Jolie holds as an actress. The new king (and queen) must contend with the curse placed upon their daughter Aurora. The plot steals an innovative twist from Disney’s own Frozen which in turn drew generous inspiration from Broadway’s Wicked. There isn’t much particularly original or fresh in this tale. However, what it does have is Angelina Jolie in a pitch perfect part that raises the entertainment value significantly.

Angelina Jolie is Maleficent, a Disney cartoon villain beautifully brought to real life. Her portrait is a self consciously affected, visually immaculate rendering of the evil fairy. Her sophisticated execution has an artful physicality to it. She is obviously enjoying the role with an exhilarated air that is contagious. Whether it be with an arched brow or a curl of the lips, her scenery chewing performance commands your attention with her stylized manner. She possesses the ability to captivate an audience even when virtually everything else around her is a disappointment. Chief among these problems is the preponderance of CGI that clutters the screen to no benefit. Although she’s ably supported by members of her fellow cast. Elle Fanning is sweetly captivating as Princess Aurora and Sam Riley is emotionally affecting as Diaval, a raven that becomes the witch’s loyal human servant. The less said about Sharlto Copley as King Stefan and his increasingly inscrutable character, the better. None of it matters. In the end, this is Jolie’s movie. It begs the question, can a performance be so transcendent that it can save an entire film? With Maleficent, the answer is, yes, yes it can.

05-30-14

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32 Responses to “Maleficent”

  1. You’re spot on. It is all about Jolie!

  2. Great review, been hearing excellent things about Jolie.

  3. I’ve missed Jolie. She takes a lot of criticism, but she is one of the most talented female actresses out there. I hope this is the start of her comeback.

  4. Yeah I kind of figured this would be fantastic for Angelina Jolie. Wasn’t hoping for such a letdown though.

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  5. amen! “The movie Maleficent has some serious issues. The most glaring being the extensive use of CGI that seemingly infects every scene.”

  6. Excellent review, but a movie I may or may not see. I can take or leave Miss Jolie, although I do appreciate from these reviews that she has turned in strong work here. That is definitely going to persuade me more than anything to go see it.

  7. Great review. So it steals from Frozen eh? I might check it out if only for Jolie’s cheekbones 🙂

    • The way the Sleeping Beauty legend has been re-imagined is lifted right from a twist in Frozen so it doesn’t seem particularly original. Still, Jolie makes it all work.

  8. “She possesses the ability to captivate an audience even when virtually everything else around her is a disappointment. Chief among these problems is the preponderance of CGI that clutters the screen to no benefit.”

    BINGO! We are in complete agreement with this one. Great review!

  9. Plenty of visuals, but barely a story. That’s what it hurt the most. Good review Mark.

  10. Nobody could have played this role better than Angelina Jolie. She was the movie. Everytime she was on screen, I had a smile on my face. When she wasn’t on screen, I found myself missing her. lol. The rest of the movie was ok, and yes, the CGI was ridiculous. Overall, I really enjoyed it. Because of Angelina, I gives this movie 3 1/2 stars.

    • If I may paraphrase Homer Simpson: Whenever [Maleficent’s] not on screen, all the other characters should be asking “Where’s [Maleficent]”?

  11. Great review. I now want to see it again just to relive that awesome christening scene. Jolie was pitch-perfect in it.

  12. Great review man! “Maleficent” is indeed Jolie’s movie and I only enjoyed the movie due to her amazing performance. An amazing performance that is the only thing that shines in the entire movie.

    • Not counting the Kung Fu Panda movies, this is her biggest hit since Wanted. Jolie hasn’t actually been seen in a film since The Tourist in 2010. It’s good to have her back!

  13. Once more, we agree. 🙂

    Though I think Jolie comes close to saving this one, but can’t quite succeed. The rest simply isn’t up to her speed.

    • I read your review. I liked this quite a bit more than your evaluation. I am recommending it.

      • In the end I think you believe Jolie’s performance is enough to overcome the ample flaws, whereas I think it is good enough to make the flick watchable but not good. It isn’t really a disagreement, I don’t think, as much as it is a difference in valuation of the perceived merits and demerits.

        Which is why I said we agree. 🙂

  14. Well said Mark. Visually Maleficent is a feast to behold, however I concur that it goes overboard with its use of CGI. The story definitely takes a backseat, but you’re right that the narrative follows a solid arch and presents some emotionally affecting moments (like her horrifying discovery). Jolie provides an excellent performance that for me was the perfect balance of seriousness and camp. You can tell that she’s having fun in the role. She definitely boosts the picture and so does Sam Riley as her sidekick. I would like to see him in more movies.

    • Before Maleficent came out, I predicted it would become a hit, but I underestimated its potential. For this summer’s box office it was just behind Transformers and X-Men. Wow.

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