I don’t have a problem with Disney revisiting classics as long as they do the original justice. Their live-action Alice in Wonderland remake, helmed by the imaginative Tim Burton, told the same classic story in a different way so that it had some mystery as to how it would end – and it was fun! Their completely original prequel to The Wizard of Oz, Oz the Great and Powerful, playfully and faithfully toyed with the already-established and -beloved world of Oz. It, too, was a lot of fun. But Maleficent goes in the other direction. It takes the Sleepy Beauty story as you know it and rubs it in the mud. And let me make this absolutely clear – Maleficent is not at all fun. And if it’s no fun for me – a 33-year-old kid who loves Disney movies – then it’s not going to be any fun for your kids. It’ll be the opposite. Boring.
Considering how much Disney put into Alice and Oz, I don’t understand why they didn’t do the same with estimated $200 million summer tentpole Maleficent. Rarely-good screenwriter Linda Woolverton (The Lion King and Alice in Wonderland are her only two good titles in a sea of dud credits) was brought in to write the screenplay. Never-before-directed visual effects supervisor Robert Stromberg was brought in to direct. And it seems like the only reason this movie was created was to try relaunching Angelina Jolie’s dormant career. As-is, she’s the only thing that the movie has going for it – but the brainless script that surrounds her and the bad CG on her face stops her from being able to make any headway.
As you can tell from the title, Maleficent tells the story of Sleeping Beauty through the villainous female’s point of view, which is wildly different and not at all like Disney classic animated motion picture. The first 30 extremely slow, CG-filled minutes are pure set-up. What makes it feel so slow is that it takes half an hour to tell a backstory that I can sum up in two quick sentences: An overgrown fairy named Maleficent lived in a peaceful land of wonder and magic. She fell in love with a human boy from an evil kingdom who, many years later, betrayed her by cutting off her wings just so he could have a shot at the throne. That’s it. I just saved you half and hour. Had those 30 minutes established character or tone, then it would be acceptable – but it does neither. The characters are flatter than a board – and bored is what you’ll be – and the tone is consistently inconsistent.
After the long intro, we finally get to where Sleepy Beauty kicks off – Aurora’s birth. As exemplified in Super 8 and We Bought A Zoo, Elle Fanning is a brilliant young actress, but she’s given so little to do as Aurora that her potential is wasted. And once she’s introduced, Maleficent starts taking liberties with the classic fairytale just for the sake of adding twists and attempting to keep it fresh. Alice in Wonderland turned some things on their heads, but still kept in harmony with the original tale; whereas Maleficent completely changes everything, smearing the image of the animated classic along the way. The boldest liberties that it takes are, one, making Maleficent a sympathetic and misunderstood sort of hero, and two, ending the movie with a voice-over that says something like, “This is how the tale of Maleficent and Aurora really happened. And if anyone tells you otherwise, they’re wrong.” Umm, exuse me – but that sounds like you’re cutting down Sleeping Beauty, which is your own movie, the movie that you just re-made. I don’t know which exec at Disney green-lit this screenplay and allowed this cut of the movie to hit theaters, but he/she deserves an unimportant role at the studio. Between the inconsistent tone – which bounces around from mostly dark to randomly childish and lighthearted – the terrible script and the blatant lack of respect for the source material (Sleeping Beauty), it’s simply unacceptable. This movie never should have made it this far.
I’m no purest and I love a good re-imagining or re-telling, but Maleficent is simply bad. It holds the quality of a no-name direct-to-DVD knock-off title that you might find exclusively in Redbox – only with standard expensive special effects. It does absolutely nothing worthwhile. Not only will kids be bored by it, but the mostly dark tone is probably too much for them. I genuinely recommend this movie solely to those who unabashedly love everything that Disney puts out, especially their forgettable and unwatchable direct-to-home video releases. For those with taste, I recommend staying home and throwing in your Sleeping Beauty Blu-ray. You won’t want to tarnish the image, memory and nostalgia of the original.
(Photo credit: Buena Vista)