Angelina Jolie is wickedly enchanting as “Maleficent”

MaleficentBeing a fan of Disney and Angelina Jolie, I was predisposed to like this big-budget summer venture titled Maleficent.  A reimagining of the 1959 animated classic Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent is told from the point of view of the title character by a mysterious narrator.  A pleasant, but predictable third-act twist continues Disney’s notable feminist fairytale trend (recall last year’s hit Frozen?), leaving audiences with fond memories of Jolie’s performance and of this tale as a stunning and imaginative summer-worthy effort.

Maleficent 2Visually, Maleficent is wondrous – I love the look of the mystical kingdom (The Moors), all of the creatures (this movie boast one of the best dragons I’ve seen to date!) and magic.  Despite the MPAA citing “frightening images” as the reason for a PG rating, I welcomed the intense fantasy battle sequences and creatures that continuously made me feel like I was watching a Guillermo Del Toro fairytale (ex. Pan’s Labyrinth) – leaving me extremely happy.  I found myself particularly fond of the wispy special effects used to accompany Maleficent’s various enchantments (anything wicked – like the curse on Aurora – is lit in vibrant hues of green, whereas anything bright or gentle flows in a combination of shimmering gold and glowing yellow), and the special effects like this served this production very well.

What’s more is that Jolie’s makeup and costume design (by Anna B. Sheppard) only add to the allure of the fantasy and aura surrounding this classical villain – and there’s of course, Jolie’s performance.  Boosted by Sheppard’s striking costume and a host of prosthetic makeup, Jolie has a commanding screen presence.  She’s enchanting and embodies the villainess perfectly by displaying unparalleled physical, emotional, and vocal skill.  She thrives most in subtle moments where eye contact and facial expressions are essential.  There’s a way she operates in this role that seems natural, yet calculating and ultimately beautiful.  There is a motive behind every move – and then of course, there’s the evil laughter  (I love the moment during Aurora’s christening when her straight face is overcome by a devious smile and her dark laugh!), and she nails it.

Jolie’s level of performance stands out – and perhaps this is where an “off” feeling may become evident to some viewers.  Stefan (Sharlto Copley), Maleficent’s adversary, is miscast throughout the entire movie.  None of the actors playing Stefan during any stage (childhood, adolescence, adulthood) feel right opposite the actresses playing Maleficent, there just seems to be an overall lack of chemistry. This made me thankful for the limited Maleficent-Stefan interactions, but made me wonder if the roles were simply type-cast.  There are far more interesting interactions to be had, partially between Maleficent and Aurora (Elle Fanning), but mostly between Maleficent and Diaval (Sam Riley).

Maleficent and Diaval

Sam Riley, “Diaval,” will be an underrated part of this movie – only because he may become lost in the shuffle amidst the three nutty fairies and host of kings, guards and princes wandering about.  Riley makes an intriguing accomplice, and is the only cast member that truly feels right when paired with Jolie.  Then again, his character is the second most developed.  We are provided with clear motives for his actions and learn just enough about his character and his compassion to care.  At least that’s how it’s written – and therein lies Maleficent‘s greatest downfall.

Maleficent is the most solid character of all, then again, this is her story, so she should be, but why should I care about anyone else involved (I should!)?  The rest of the characters, save for Diaval, fail to be anything other than accessories splattered into the story for the sake of Maleficent having someone to interact with.  This is a problem plaguing most of Disney’s recent live-action adaptations including that womanizing mess known as Oz, the Great and Powerful (2013) and the mediocre Alice in Wonderland (2010), which were both vehicles for James Franco and Johnny Depp, respectively (despite having other capable cast members).  Maleficent’s problems aren’t nearly as bad – in fact, you could probably overlook them if the casting was right, but even proper casting couldn’t make up for a middling story.

Overall, Jolie’s performance and the gorgeous special effects make Maleficent a worthwhile endeavor – it’s just a little frustrating when a performance like Jolie’s is surrounded by mediocrity.  The movie could have done without the first and last ten minutes and it would have improved.  The idea and basic foundation is right, it’s just a shame the overall execution of the story and its characters couldn’t be totally the same.

Grade:  B+

Note [may contain spoilers]:

I’m curious to know, based on the last two Disney fairytales (Frozen and now Maleficent) if Disney’s feminist themes and twists are preparing us for a lesbian princess. It’s an interesting thought – one I’d be interested to explore in the comments section below! What do you think about Disney re-defining how they present “true love?”