All Hail The Queen
It’s a fad the last couple of years to take classic fairy tales and put a spin on them. What it boils down to is Hollywood asking how they can make money off of the same story again and again. You can only retell Snow White so many times before the idea to add mythological creatures and Lord of the Rings style battles sounds like a good idea.
There have been a slew of movies like Snow White and the Huntsman, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, and now Disney’s Maleficent. Disney is one of the biggest culprits of the phenomenon, and who could blame them? One of the most popular shows on TV is Once Upon a Time, a modern retelling of classic stories, produced by- you guessed it- Disney (who owns ABC, the network on which the show airs).
The success of OUaT can most likely be blamed for any number of formerly animated movies being adapted into live-action features. Unfortunately you can end up with a drab, so-so affair like the aforementioned Alice (to be fair, it did come out before this particular fad really picked up steam), or you can get Maleficent- a movie that, dare I say it, is pretty damn good.
The movie itself never aims as high as star Angelina Jolie’s cheekbones, but it does do a good job of presenting the traditional story of Sleeping Beauty in a different light, some of it much darker and some of it full of more life. I can’t really, or won’t actually, go into too many details about the way in which the story unfolds, because the different telling of the tale is the fun of the movie.
I will say that all the familiar elements are there, some have been fleshed out, some things have been added (like just enough woodland creatures that you aren’t annoyed), and the actors bringing the familiar human characters to life are high caliber and fun to watch. Jolie hasn’t been this much fun for a long time, Elle Fanning (Dakota’s younger sister) is Aurora, Imelda Staunton was a fun surprise as one of the fairies and Sharlto Copley is fantastic as King Stefan- though, he’s fantastic in everything.
Where Alice in Wonderland came across as a flat painting in a limited landscape, Maleficent flourishes with depth even without 3D glasses. The action happens in generally the same arena for the entirety of the movie, but it explores the space far better than other stories like it. The depth can also be seen in the characters. When a story is made much more than a prince-saves-the-girl parable, the people inhabiting the story need to be elevated to match the new complexity.
I know there is an adaptation of Cinderella coming later this year, and I’m almost hoping they take the same off-beat approach as Maleficent did. While the twists in the tale can be seen from a dragon’s wingspan away, they make the story that much more engaging than if it had been a straight translation of a previous telling. One hope I have is that we don’t see many retellings casting the villain in a different light. This time it worked to reverse roles, but I can see it getting to a point in which the gimmick gets very stale, very quickly.
Final Verdict: See it. Maleficent didn’t break any new ground, but strong performances bring to life a story that is just unfamiliar enough to feel like something fresh.