By Samuel Rahaman
Maleficent, the self-proclaimed mistress of all evil, is by far one of the most loved and iconic Disney villains of all time. Appearing in the charming animated classic Sleeping Beauty (1959), her signature devil-like horns, the long, billowing, black cloak, and her magical staff, all helped to create a spine-tingling image that has struck fear into the hearts of many for decades. Though despite being one of the most popular Disney villains, it’s always been clear that what Maleficent lacked the most was a motive. Could it really have been the anger at not receiving an invitation to a christening that led her to curse the sweet, innocent, Aurora; doing everything in her power to ensure the curse was enacted? Surely, the audience have asked, there was more to it than that? That’s what the film Maleficent attempts to explore, by retelling the beloved fairy-tale from the perspective of the antagonist; giving her side of the story, and offering explanations to the long standing enigma’s with the character – with a few twists along the way.
Linda Woolverton’s screenplay presents Maleficent as a beloved, orphaned fairy from the moors, protecting her land and people from the humans who try to enter it. An act of betrayal from her childhood friend and lover, Stefan, turns Maleficent’s pure heart to stone, and she subsequently curses his child Aurora who, as well all know, will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel when she turns 16, and fall into a sleep like death.
Whilst Maleficent is by no means a bad film, it’s not really a great one either. The best word to describe this film is: confused. Not that the plot is confusing to follow, on the contrary it’s quite a simple story overall, but confused in what type of film it wants to be and the tone that it wishes to present, which proves to be one of the films biggest shortcomings. We’re originally presented with a colourful, vibrant world full to the brim with the usual Disney fluff, but then suddenly you’re flung into darker places as the film begins exploring themes such as betrayal, revenge, loss of innocence and awakening sexuality, and then almost immediately it jumps back to scenes that are light, fluffy and kid friendly; whilst the visuals are impressive, the constant jumping between the light and darkness is very conflicting and detracts from the enjoyment of the film.
It’s clear that the screenplay is what’s at fault here, which is surprising considering that Woolverton penned classics such as The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast, but the story is predictable and the writing is, quite frankly, a mess. The opening scenes are rushed and feel a bit breathless, so much so that it’s hard to become immersed in the story that’s trying to be told. The twists, because of this, feel tacked on, and there’s no time to slow down and take in the consequences – it’s all very slapdash. The narration utilised within the film is also very unnecessary. We don’t need to be told what’s happening during a scene, we don’t need to be told what Maleficent is feeling; we can see it for ourselves, Jolie’s performance, the music, the cinematography is all we need to feel the emotions of the scene and understand what is happening – show us, do not tell us.
It picks up pace during the climax of the film, packing an epic battle sequence in Stefan’s castle, with a fire breathing dragon. But again what lets these scenes down are the writing, and the predictability of the plot. The final twist, whilst a great subversion of a well-known fairy tale trope, is something we’ve already seen before. It’s hard to explain why without spoiling anything, but you’re sure to know what I mean when you see it for yourself.
It’s not all negative though, and by far the highlight of the film is Angelina Jolie’s magnificent portrayal of the fairy Maleficent; she alone is what makes the film worth watching. Jolie clearly relishes playing the role and perfectly exudes the class, elegance, and the menace that defines the character, as well as offering a sympathetic portrayal as well, in which she nails the intense anguish after suffering a horrible betrayal from someone she loved and thought she could trust. Jolie commands every scene that she’s in, but where she really shines is her almost word-for-word rendition of the famous scene in which Maleficent curses baby Aurora. It’s a chilling and mesmerising performance that is sure to delight the fans of the animated film. The rest of the cast are similarly brilliant, including the marvellous Elle Fanning who plays the Princess: Aurora. She has wonderful chemistry with Jolie, and manages to add a whole new dimension to the character, whilst also retaining Aurora’s sweetness and charm.
Overall Maleficent is not a bad film; it’s decidedly average and quite a disappointing affair – which is frustrating because it had so much more potential. Whilst it’s packed with stunning visuals and comedic moments that are sure to delight the children, and a show stealing performance from the outstanding Angelina Jolie, the film ultimately falls flat on its face due to the patchy writing. The story is quite predictable and although the twists attempt to push the boundaries, due to this being a Disney film and targeted at children, it means they’re not able to be pushed further, and thus it creates a conflicting tone, which damages the enjoyment of the film. It’s safe to say that Maleficent has a lot of style, just not much substance.