Picoreview: Maleficent

Picoreview: Maleficent: a worthy re-telling of (specifically Disney’s) Sleeping Beauty, and one that caused me to leave the theatre thinking “Victors write the histories.”

It’s not perfect. There’s a voiceover that I think would have been better done as in-story storytelling instead, but to have done that successfully I think the movie would have needed a PG13/12A rating rather than the PG it got. And–this is something I will almost never say–I thought it *should* have been a PG13 movie.

That was never going to happen, though, because adults aren’t the target audience, even if they’re going to go to it in droves. Given that it’s a movie made for kids…I think they did a pretty damn splendid job. And–the opening scene–no, I’ll put it behind the spoiler cut, because it’s actually beautiful enough I don’t want to spoil it for anyone.

Jolie was *wonderful*. She could have been even more wonderful, but again: target audience, ratings. I’m pretty sure 6-10 year olds will think she’s utterly terrifying. Indeed, apparently while in makeup she scared the bejeezus out of her own 10 year old, and in a scene with 4-year-old Aurora, her own 4 year old daughter ended up playing the part because the other child actors that age wouldn’t go near her, so she’s probably the right amount of scary. :) She also gets some genuinely funny moments, and her wings, oh my lord, her wings are so beautiful.

Elle Fanning, who I like as an actor even more than her older sister Dakota (and I love Dakota), is equally wonderful as Aurora. One of the best moments in the movie is born from her utterly convincing sweetness combined with a totally reasonable, absolutely accurate, and completely mis-read interpretation of Maleficent. It requires Fanning to be note-perfect, and she is. Throughout, she is.

The kid playing Phillip is so totally bland he’s funny. Tweens will no doubt adore him, but I adored him because of one revisionist moment that I’d been quite worried about and which was both written and played very nicely. King Stephen is also *extremely* well acted, I said carefully, not wanting to go into spoilers. :)

But as far as the male roles are concerned, the cake goes to Sam Riley, as Diaval the raven, who hasn’t got much to say but is exceedingly eloquent in his presence. I had ALL KINDS of plans for how the story was going to play out with him, and it didn’t, which is fine, but wow, he was *wonderful*.

I’m looking at what I’m writing here, and it’s pretty glowing. Moreso than I necessarily think the film deserves, because I think it fails to be greater than the sum of its parts. It’s as *good* as the sum of its parts; I just thought it could be greater than them. I’m going to put some further, more spoilery commentary behind the cut, because I want to talk about some of the reasons I think it’s flawed. And about some specific reasons I think it’s wonderful.

Spoilers ahoy!

First, the three fairies: we’re given a faint sense of them thinking Maleficent, who is a Big Fairy, is kind of too big for her britches–“Always in a hurry with those big wings of hers,” is the line, or something like it. But that’s really the *only* indication that we have of any kind of dislike/disapproval of Maleficent from those characters, and I feel strongly that there needs to be a sense of actual fear/anger/hatred/resentment from them. So that weakens the movie hugely for me right there. They’re played almost entirely for comic relief, and it could have been So Much More.

In general, as an adult, I didn’t find Maleficent to be *malevolent* enough. She was in many ways more mischievious than malignant, and all of her actions were toward the end of protecting the fairy kingdom from encroaching humans. That, I liked, but it tied in with the above in that it reduced her threat in ways that I thought could/should have been played up instead.

Another problem was that Maleficient interrupts the christening ceremony before the 3rd fairy grants her wish, as happens in Sleeping Beauty. However, it’s Maleficent in this version who mitigates the curse to “broken by true love’s kiss” (for reasons that make great sense in the film), which would be fine except then the third fairy never grants her wish. I spent the ENTIRE MOVIE waiting for that to come out of the bag, for something to happen with that, and it never did.

Oh! A thing I liked a lot! I always wondered why the hell Sleeping Beauty (in general) stuck her damned finger on the spindle when she knew about the curse, but in this version (I don’t remember the Disney Sleeping Beauty version) it’s clearly a *massive* *compulsion*. It’s not just her drifting aimlessly through the palace, it’s a huge terrible swelling and itching in her finger and this fever-bright-eyed compulsive action, which just made me feel SO MUCH BETTER about it all. :)

The moment I was concerned about with Phillip was of course the True Love’s Kiss moment, because in fact they’ve only met once and ew creepy. But in this version, the fairies have dragged Phillip in and are shrieking, “Kiss her, kiss her!” while the poor kid is (actually literally) saying “She’s beautiful, yes, I’d like to kiss her, but I wouldn’t feel right about it, we’ve only barely met…” The only thing that would have improved the scene is that when he finally does kiss her, I’d have kind of liked to have seen him sort of screwing up his face and showing us an “oh god i think this is probably a bad idea but these little shrieking harpies are going to turn me into a frog or something if I don’t” expression. He didn’t do that, but in general the scene was a lot better handled than I feared it would be.

I admit, I was really kinda hoping Diaval would end up being the True Love, and he wasn’t, but that was okay, because this was still the third Disney(Pixar) movie in a row where true love isn’t about the prince. Brave, Frozen, Maleficent. It makes my heart grow three sizes!

And oh, the opening scene: Disney’s logo is Sleeping Beauty’s castle, of course, and as the years have gone by the background to the castle has gotten more elaborate, with the river and the countryside and the pirate ship and everything, and the opening scene of Maleficent transforms from the logo into the ‘real’ castle, with the ‘real’ landscape which is picture-perfect to the logo-castle-background sweeping along below us, with the river cutting through–and it’s so well done that much later in the movie there’s another shot of the countryside from another angle and I *recognized* the landscape as the country behind the castle. It was so, so beautiful, and I am just in love with them for having done that.