MPAA Rating

Life Teen Diamond Rating

Is It Cool?: Excellence in Filmmaking

In case you’ve missed it, there’s a theme happening in the telling of fairytales these days. We see it in popular shows such as television’s Once Upon a Time, Broadway’s Wicked, and now in Disney’s newest live-action picture Maleficent. The theme is “the untold, real story” of how the fairytales came to be and boy is it engaging. Where previously the wicked witches and evil ogres were bad “just because” we now see them as complete characters with full lives and backstories leading them to become evil rather than simply being evil. To take the theme one step further, these revised stories are finally showing that women, even in fairytales, are much more than just beautiful dishwashers who commune with forest creatures.

Fans of the original animated Sleeping Beauty will recall that a perfect king and queen have a perfect baby girl who is cursed out of the blue by the evil Maleficent to prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fall into a death sleep on her sixteenth birthday. As usual in fairytales, only a young and handsome prince will be able to save her by bestowing upon her “true love’s kiss.” Enter Prince Phillip, and one awkward and nonconsensual kiss later (hello, she’s asleep!), they all live happily ever after.

In this new twist of the classic tale, we get a few of the details “left out” by the original. I’ll endeavor to avoid too many spoilers, but suffice it to say Aurora’s father, Stefan, cruelly and selfishly broke Maleficent’s trusting heart when she was young, and so sets into motion the events that lead to the forest of thorns, the curse, and his eventual doom. As a boy, Stefan wanders into the enchanted forest and meets the girl Maleficent. The two become friends and, as it often does when friends grow together, their friendship becomes something more. On her sixteenth birthday, they share a kiss. Stefan tells Maleficent that it is true love’s kiss. Soon, however, his ambitions take him away from her as he works to amass power and prestige in the human world, eventually betraying her horribly in an uncomfortably dark scene which is really nothing more than a thinly disguised metaphor of date rape. Waking alone, violated, and in horrible pain, Maleficent begins her transition. She had been a warrior, a loving protector of her enchanted forest and the creatures who dwelled within. Her very identity has been stolen from her, and now there must be consequences. This is a story of cause and effect, betrayal, and ultimately of redemption. There are many really engaging story points in the film, chief among which are Stefan’s descent into madness and Maleficent’s surprisingly maternal love for the child she once cursed. When love finally breaks through the bitterness surrounding Maleficent’s heart (much like the hedges of thorns she has erected to protect her enchanted forest) she learns a lesson that is all too common in real life: saying you’re sorry can’t always fix it. On the tails of that sad truth, though, comes a larger and more powerful one: true love comes in many forms and nothing on Earth is stronger.

Angelina Jolie is perfectly cast as Maleficent. Her austere beauty and flawless costuming and makeup sell a totally magnetic heroine. Wait, did I just say heroine? Yes, I certainly did. Trust me on this one, you’ll see. Whether it’s a quirked eyebrow and mocking smirk or a single glistening tear, the stark black and white of her makes even the most subtle gesture speak a thousand things as only Angelina Jolie can.  Elle Fanning is cast as Aurora, Sam Riley as Diaval (Maleficent’s shape-shifting-raven sidekick) and Sharlto Copley plays our ignoble King Stefan. With the exception of Jolie, the cast was lackluster at best. I give Elle Fanning points for doing her best with limited screen time, but everyone else was just plain unremarkable. As for the three fairies, they were blatantly annoying. The unvarnished truth of it is that this movie could have been 90% CGI and 10% live-action Angelina Jolie and would not have lost much. This may sound like a dig at the actors, and maybe it is a bit, but mostly it’s a story problem. As a whole, yes, this is Maleficent’s story to tell, but this is a movie and not a novel so it’s problematic to have such cardboard secondary characters on screen. I was surprised at that, by the way, seeing as how Linda Woolverton, a long-time Disney writer with battle tested writing skills, so completely missed the boat on this one.

Speaking of CGI, there is a LOT of digital work happening in this movie. The bonus of that, though, is that it’s totally gorgeous. Think Pan’s Labyrinth both in quality as well as darkness. This makes total sense when you consider that Director Robert Stromberg’s background is in Visual Effects and Production Design (Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End, Hunger Games, Pan’s Labyrinth-oh, that makes sense).  This is his first time in the Director’s Chair.

The story is sweet at times, particularly as we watch Jolie’s use of the nickname “Beastie” turn from derision into maternal endearment. There’s even a laugh out loud moment over the misunderstanding of roles and the name “godmother.” Mostly, though, the story is clumsy and heavy. Also dark.

Did I mention dark? I mean that visually, too. There were many times I found myself squinting at the screen.

Bottom line? Maleficent as a film is a bit like I imagine an octopus playing golf. There’s just too much awkwardness for there to be any clean shots, but boy is it fun to watch.

What’s it Saying?: Message of the Movie

Despite many of the darker themes (which young children are not too likely to pick up on their own), the overall message of the movie is love.

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: Morality in the Movie

Despite many of the darker themes (which young children are not too likely to pick up on their own), the overall message of the movie is love.

There is no nudity, no foul language, very little blood, and only one on-screen death. There is, however, a lot of darkness and some action sequences with fire and loud violent noises that is likely to scare younger moviegoers.

Parents of the tween/teen audience might want to be prepared to talk about some pretty deep stuff after the movie (see the previously mentioned date rape metaphor).

I do have to put in a plug for the ending, though, because I absolutely love how they treated the “true love’s kiss” story point.

That's Right. I Said It: Reviewer Comments

I know I’ve been pretty hard on Maleficent and I stand by all of my issues with the movie. Now, having said that…I really liked it. What?! *GASP, SHRIEK* But you only gave it two stars!  You’re right, but despite the failure of the movie to deliver on SO many levels, I think it’s something interesting and different and will certainly be leading to a lot of great discussions. Isn’t it so much better to teach kids about cause and effect and how our choices lead to consequences than just to tell them that “bad things happen” and “evil exists” and have that be the end of it?

If your kid isn’t at least ten, I don’t know that this is a good call.

I am SO glad I didn’t see this in 3-D. SO GLAD. I mean, my background is in art and design and even still, it’s almost TOO MUCH to look at.

If it weren’t for Angelina Jolie, this movie would be a huge waste of time and money.