'Maleficent': A sleeper, but a beauty

by Andrew Kingsley | 6/23/14 5:16pm

The 2014 reimagining of the 1959 Disney classic “Sleeping Beauty” begins with a sweeping helicopter shot over the vast kingdoms of the humans and the Moors, beautifully wrought with towering mountains, glittering streams and idyllic pastures.

Throughout the film, the audience is treated to many of these rich, expansive images — Disney flexes its cinematic muscles (and $180 million budget). This isn’t the same hokey, muted fairytale of your childhood.

As a refresher, in the original tale, Maleficent curses Aurora to prick her finger on the spindle of the spinning wheel upon her 16th birthday that causes her to fall into a death-like sleep. Aurora is awakened when Prince Phillip gives her true love’s kiss and they live happily ever after.

But this time, the film focuses on Maleficent, played by Angelina Jolie, not Aurora. The film reveals her transformation from a loving fairy to the vengeful, cloaked sorceress audiences recognize.

The first trailer only showed this foreboding Maleficent, which is misleading. However, the most recent trailer corrects this, showing that Maleficent has a big heart, and when wronged she needed to learn to love again.

The new Maleficent also received a makeover; Jolie is already sumptuous, and Disney spared no effort to make her appear excessively so for this role. Her sculpted cheekbones could cut diamonds, and her questionably tight leather suit is reminiscent of Catwoman.

Beyond just her appearance, Jolie’s command of Maleficent’s limited dialogue provides much needed dramatic spark and credibility to the film. But the film seems unsure of how much it wants to stray from the original, so it gets bogged down in explication and clarification.

The story of Sleeping Beauty is so entrenched in the public domain that the filmmakers here seemed scared of swimming into uncharted waters for fear of confusing audience members. They only make slight alterations, which makes for a patchwork of old and new ideas that can’t hold together.

And this is what often bothers me about todays Hollywood films — they do not challenge us or trust our intelligence. A narrator must interject throughout the film to ensure that every nook and cranny of understanding is amply buttered. When Aurora is finally awakened by true love’s kiss — which is already overdramatized with a romantic score and close-up — Disney bludgeons us, turning to a minor character, who whispers to himself, and the audience, “true love’s kiss.” Thanks, Disney. We didn’t realize.

While this is primarily a movie for children, a filmmaker should not reduce the film to baby food. Remember, we can chew on our own. Pixar recognizes this fact, which allows their films to transcend age groups and appeal to all demographics. Granted, the fable genre proves tricky, as it is historically didactic and juvenile. Modern reworkings like “Snow White and the Huntsman” (2012), however, take liberties to revitalize these cobwebbed tales with more current sensibilities.

At times “Maleficent” achieves this, like when Maleficent curses Aurora but then becomes very motherly and nurturing toward her. She even lets her fall off a cliff, only to have the trees below magically rescue her. Jolie’s character treads the line of both heroine and villain, never completely embodying either. The film succeeds in subverting the clichés of true love and hero/villain binaries that Disney has perpetuated for nearly a century and introducing a more progressive agenda.

But I wanted far less verbalizing of the moral — it was on the screen, and that should be enough for us. Stop the spoon-feeding.

 

Rating: 6.5/10

“Maleficent” is playing daily at the Nugget at 2 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 7 p.m. and 9:15 p.m.