Screened Out – Maleficent

By : Stephen Miller
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Angelina Jolie, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley, Elle Fanning

So many people are looking forward to this flick. I can see why. Maleficent is my and several others’ favorite Disney villain. In the original 1697 Perrault version, the Grimm fairy tale, and the 1959 Disney’s cartoon, Maleficent wasn’t invited to a christening, so she cursed the baby to die. Talk about hardcore! This Maleficent seeks to completely rewrite that original (possibly trite and certainly vindictive) tale with a more feminist, apologist history. Maleficent (Jolie) is a dark fairy queen who watches over The Moors, a magical land of elves and other whimsical creatures attuned to nature. The Moors are right next door to a human kingdom ruled by successively greedy kings. This causes the two lands to always be at war.

Sharlto Copley - of District 9 - portrays King Stefan.

Sharlto Copley – of District 9 – portrays King Stefan.

When Maleficent befriends a human (Copley), she pays for it in the worst betrayal imaginable. Not only does he lie to her about his love for her, he also basically disfigures her in a scene metaphorically akin to rape. This transforms the fairy into a creature of righteous fury, so much so that, when Copley becomes king, Maleficent curses his baby daughter. Then, the vengeful enchantress lurks in the shadows, watching the princess grow up, waiting for the day her retribution will be enacted. The visuals and casting are impressive. Many scenes are breathtaking – the battles, the magical world of The Moors. Also, Jolie ably portrays the conjurer’s power and exotic allure. Without this specific casting and art direction, Maleficent would have completely fizzled. The film is directed by first-timer Robert Stromberg. He’s had a long history in the visual department of films like Pan’s Labyrinth and Life of Pi. In that respect, his skill here really shines. However, the whole endeavor just doesn’t feel clever enough. Other, more successful revisionist fairy tales – like Wicked – completely maintain the integrity of the original story while adding more to the backstory. Unfortunately, so much here is changed that Maleficent loses her punch, the very evil that originally made her so engrossing and scary. There are also serious plot holes. With all her magic, the sorceress seems unable to do things for herself that she does quite easily, with a wave of her long fingers, for others. Mistakes take years to fix that could’ve been fixed much earlier.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

Quite possibly, screenwriter Linda Woolverton (The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast) had some talky sessions with Jolie (who also coproduced the film). It seems they discussed how they could explain Maleficent and make her into a metaphor for something besides pure evil. Did it require rewriting almost everything? That’s not to say that Jolie’s portrayal of someone deeply hurt to the point of ugly revenge isn’t often intriguing. (Her struggles even parallel Prospero’s in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.). If I had one wish for the film, though, I’d wish that they could have found a way to explore these themes without completely rewriting everything and stripping the character of her most provocative qualities.

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