Her Side of the Story

The 1959 animated version of Sleeping Beauty is one of Disney’s most successful and memorable hits.  Their new live-action version, however, opens with a narration that essentially just tells you to disregard that entire movie.  It’s misleading, the narration tells us, and then we are whisked back in time and introduced into the younger version of that film’s menacing villain, who will be the protagonist in Maleficent.  Now, we will get to see her side of the story; for better or worse.

We are told that the world in which this fairy tale takes place is populated by two rivaling factions: the humans and the fairies, or “fair-folk.”  The young Maleficent that we are introduced to is a happy-go-lucky kind of fairy who is loved and respected by all her kind.  When she is informed that a human thief has invaded their land, she goes to investigate.  The thief is a boy named Stefan and the two soon becomes best friends with Maleficent quickly falling in love with him.  Although Stefan promises Maleficent true love, he eventually betrays her for the sake of his own selfish ambition.  This betrayal sends Maleficent into a downhill spiral, leading her to become the evil character that we know from the animated film.

Angelina Jolie as MalificentStefan’s betrayal of Maleficent has led him to be named the new king of the land and the entire human race rejoices when it is announced that he and the Queen are having a daughter.  Upon hearing the news, Maleficent crashes the party and curses the young princess to fall into a deep sleep-like death when she pricks her finger on a spinning wheel on her 16th birthday.  In hopes of saving her life, three fairies who are loyal to the king take young Aurora to a cottage in the woods, where she will live out her days until after her 16th birthday.  Unfortunately, the fairies aren’t too good at hiding and Maleficent soon becomes the dark shadow that watches over Aurora’s every move.

Telling the story of Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of the villain is an intriguing concept, but unfortunately, that is just about the only intriguing thing about this dull, bland, and unnecessary film.  First and foremost, do audiences really want to see Maleficent as anything other than the menacing sorceress who can turn herself into a fire-breathing dragon that we all grew up being terrorized by in the animated film?  For that matter, it is not even Maleficent who turns into the dragon in this version, but another character entirely.

Perhaps the makers of this film should have learned a lesson from the Star Wars prequels, which revealed that Darth Vader was really just the grown up version of a whiny, petulant teenager who liked to throw temper tantrums when he did not get what he wanted.  It’s still an image that most Star Wars fans are trying to forget.

The change in character for Maleficent is very abrupt.  After being betrayed once—granted, it is a devastating and brutal betrayal—she immediately picks up a stick and turns it into her magic staff, dresses in her costume from the animated version, and builds herself a throne of thorns where she will sit and plot her revenge.  Then, after young Aurora blossoms into a teenager, Maleficent goes to visit her and… becomes her fairy godmother?  Wait, which animated Disney movie are we remaking?

The basic conceit of the movie is not its only problem.  Even though I personally did not like the direction they took the character, Maleficent is the only interesting character in the film and she is played well by Angelina Jolie.  Elle Fanning is not really given much to do besides look pretty as Aurora, while the three fairies assigned to protect Aurora from Maleficent are so annoying that we are relieved when they suddenly disappear for the entire mid-section of the movie while Aurora runs around with Maleficent, the very person they were supposed to keep her away from.

The movie also does not look very good, but that might just be a symptom of the horribly blurry 3D effects.  Not only are the effects blurry, but the characters feel separated from the world they inhabit in many cases, rather than being a part of that world.  That’s pretty much the opposite of what movies are going for when they decide to film in 3D.  As such, if you are planning to see Maleficent, I strongly recommend you see it in 2D.

It is a shame that this movie does not work, because the idea itself is intriguing.  Perhaps Disney will do better with its upcoming live-action remake of Cinderella.

Maleficent is rated PG for “sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images.”  There are some action scenes that might be too scary for younger viewers, but otherwise this is a clean film consistent with most of Disney’s family films.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Maleficent.