- on Friday, 30 May 2014 16:58
- by Frank Wilkins
It should come as no surprise to learn that Maleficent is directed by first-timer Robert Stromberg who comes from the production design side of filmmaking, having plied his craft – and won Oscars – on such visually stunning epics as Avatar and Alice in Wonderland. After all, Maleficent is certainly a visual spectacle on par with those films (although it even has problems in that regard which we’ll discuss below) and Stromberg shows us why he’s such a highly sought-after artist in the business.
But he’s clearly more interested in snappy visuals and breathtaking CGI design than he is in good storytelling. This is never more evident than in the way he crams nearly every frame with eye-popping, whiz-bang gimmickry that often looks like a muddy cartoon, yet omits most of the Disney magic we’ve come to love.
Angelina Jolie stars as the titular figure, one of our favorite yet most feared characters in Disney’s gallery of infamy. And this is one point that Stromberg seems to have overlooked: that Maleficent is to be feared. Though she initially cackles and gazes with a sinister menace that often approaches a bit much to bear for the youngest in the audience, the effect is later overcompensated for when Stromberg pulls back on the reigns with several sequences that might make her easier to like, but that also make her far less interesting. She’s a much better character as the female personification of evil we always knew, rather than as the doting Godmother of an innocent princess as we’re now shown.
In this modern reinvention, we learn of Meleficent’s selfish betrayal by a boy named Stefan (who will eventually become king of the nearby kingdom) that turns her sweet little fairy heart into one of pure hardened stone. Driven by revenge and her unrelenting desire to protect the moors over which she presides, Maleficent places a curse on the king’s newborn infant, Aurora, that will cause her to fall into an endless sleep upon her 16th birthday.
To protect his princess daughter from Maleficent’s evil curse, King Stefan entrusts the young girl’s (played by Elle Fanning as a young teen) care to a trio of winged pixies who are to watch over her for the next 16 years plus one day. As Aurora grows, she becomes entangled in the seething drama that breaks out between the forest kingdom which she has grown to love, and the human kingdom that holds her legacy.
As Maleficent, Jolie gives it her evil best. But as is the case with most every other character in the film, her’s is so thinly drawn and uninterestingly realized, it’s difficult to invest too much in her backstory. And that’s too bad, because this is a tale of what made Maleficent the evil witch she is. Visually though, she’s stunning with great spiraling horns, ruby-red lips, perfectly symmetrical, body-length wings, and sharpened cheekbones that would make Audrey Hepburn envious.
But what’s missing is a thematic tone from Linda Woolverton’s script that isn’t muddled, that doesn’t come and go at random, and that holds apparent from the first frame to the last. The three pixies feel wildly out of place and seem to get inspiration from The Three Stooges as their bumbling shenanigans kill what little momentum the story is able to muster. There’s a fantastic fire-breathing dragon born from Maleficent’s shape-shifting sidekick Diaval (played to perfection by Sam Riley), but these sequences all-too-often clash with frenetic shots in the moors overloaded with disfigured toads, flittering fairies, and other, random CGI characters. It’s all just a frustrating mess with no visual cohesion and little storytelling consistency.
Disney certainly took a big risk turning over such a monumental tentpole to a directorial greenhorn. Though a great opportunity for Stromberg to show he’s capable of stepping up from behind the scenes and into the director’s chair, he’s completely over his head with Maleficent. His lack of focus and artistic cohesion deals a deathly blow and keeps the film from becoming the live-action reinvention of the classic Disney fairytale we all wanted.
MPAA Rating: PG for sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images.
Runtime: 97 mins
Director: Robert Stromberg
Cast: Linda Woolverton
Genre: Action | Adventure | Family
Tagline: Don't believe the fairy tale
Memorable Movie Quote: "I call on those who live in the shadows. Fight with me now!"
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Release Date: May 30, 2014
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No Details available
Synopsis: "Maleficent," the untold story of Disney's most iconic villain from the 1959 classic "Sleeping Beauty," reveals the events that hardened Maleficent's heart and drove her to curse the baby, Aurora.
No details available.