Review: Maleficent (2014)

Maleficent
Directed by: Robert Stromberg
Based on: Disney's Sleeping Beauty
Genre: Fantasy / Adventure
Released: 30 May 2014 (US) 28 May 2014 (UK) by Walt Disney Pictures
Running time: 97 mins (1 hr, 37 mins)
Rated: PG
Viewed at: Cinema
Rating: ★★★

A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman, Maleficent has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land's fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal - an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces a battle with the invading king's successor and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Maleficent realizes that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom - and perhaps to Maleficent's true happiness as well.
Disney's 1959 film Sleeping Beauty is one of my ultimate favourite Disney films, and Maleficent is my favourite Disney villain ever (sorry, Clayton), so it's no surprise that I had added Maleficent to my watchlist as soon as it was announced. Before seeing the film, I had heard nothing but glowing praise from many people I'd talked to, so combining that with my love for the original film made me expectations pretty high. And unfortunately, I left the cinema feeling just a little disappointed.

My biggest problem with this film is the story. I realise that this is based on Sleeping Beauty, which in turn is an adaptation of two versions of the story merged together, but "re-imagining" does not by any means necessary mean throwing your source material out of the window. Maleficent shows that the eponymous fairy was once the protector of the Moors, a kingdom inhabited by magical beings, and befriended King Stefan as a child, who later betrayed and mutilated her so that he could ascend to the throne. Once Aurora (who hasn't been given the alias of Briar Rose by the three good fairies for some reason) is born and she isn't invited to the christening, Maleficent places the famous curse (that has been changed a bit) on the baby princess, only to later realise that she cares for her.While I liked the beginning of the film and seeing how Maleficent came to be a villain, it went downhill at the christening scene which just totally screwed things up for me. After this point I had no idea of what was going on and it just didn't feel like any version of the original fairy tale and more like one that Disney had written themselves. I could sit and list every single thing that I thought wasn't true to the original story, but we would all be here forever and I feel like it's time to move on from that. I usually don't mind changes in stories when they are adapted for the screen, but it makes more sense to stick to your source material than to use the bare bones of it and make your own story from it. I honestly felt like this film acts like Sleeping Beauty never happened, and that is definitely where the film let me down.

I think the film is definitely saved by its fantastic cast, especially Angelina Jolie. In her first appearance in the film, her Maleficent feels very different to the character in the original film, but as the film progresses she becomes more like the Maleficent that we're all familiar with, and she played the role perfectly. She was snarky and sly and everything that Maleficent is, but she wasn't anywhere near as wicked or, dare I say, malevolent (teehee) as the original interpretation. This comes with the way that the story has been re-imagined, as she becomes more compassionate towards Aurora and watches over her for her whole life herself, rather than staying in her castle (that she doesn't have) and sending her bird servant to spy on the princess and the fairies for her. This is a huge departure from the original character, and even the trope of the wicked fairy godmother, and while Angelina performed it incredibly well, I think I prefer Maleficent as a villain, rather than a misunderstood hero. I think I have to say that even though I liked the performances, I didn't necessarily always like the characters, if that makes sense. For example, while I liked Sharlto Copley's performance as King Stefan, I didn't exactly like how the character had become the villain of the story, when in the original film he was a kinder character, although not being a major character. I like how he's been fleshed out so much more, but not necessarily as an evil character. Also, what happened to Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather?

While Maleficent's cinematography and special effects are beautiful, I think that sometimes it went a little overboard. There is a lot of green screen and CGI used, especially in scenes that take place in the Moors, and at times the film gets so dark that it made my eyes actually hurt. And it didn't help that I was wearing 3D glasses too. Yes, I went to see a film in 3D this time! And I actually like the way that the 3D was done. It wasn't totally in-your-face type 3D, which was one of the reasons why I never used to like it (the other reason was that it strains my eyes), but more subtle. In fact, sometimes it was so subtle that I didn't realise that parts of the scene were in 3D in the first place. As for the CGI, there are times where there is so much of it that the human actors look a bit out of place, but that's to be expected from a film that features so many magical creatures and sometimes I was too focused on trying to stop my eyes from straining to notice. Seriously, this film gets too dark at times and if it hurt my eyes I can't imagine how bad it would be for people who need glasses.

Moving on the film's music, we're treated to a beautiful score that is incredibly haunting. For a family film, Maleficent has a particularly epic score that really amped up the more exciting or emotional sequences, such as the large scale battles and even scenes that show just how powerful Maleficent is. However, I think the real standout part of the film's music is Lana Del Rey's cover of Once Upon a Dream that plays over the credits. I'd heard the song ages before the film was released and, holy crap, it's just so good. It's really chilling compared to the original Mary Costa version, which suits Maleficent just perfectly. Being able to hear it properly in the cinema was just amazing, I was covered from goosebumps from hearing it.

Although it is a beautifully made film, with stunning visuals and great acting, I think I prefer Disney's original Sleeping Beauty to Maleficent. The story was turned on its head so much that it just didn't feel anything like the original fairy tale and I wasn't too big of a fan of the role reversal of Maleficent and King Stefan, or the fact that this film gets so dark that I ended up squinting to see what was happening on screen. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go hide because I'm not used to being the black sheep.

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