Posted May 30, 2014 by in


Total Score

1/ 5

Quick Stats

Genre: fantasy
Director: Robert Stromberg
MPAA Rating: PG
Actors: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley
Length: 97 minutes
Release Date: 5/30/2014
Studio: Moving Picture Company (MPC), Roth Films, Walt Disney Pictures
What We Thought

What were they thinking?

by Daniel Hodgson
Full Article
There are two sides to every story, or so the saying goes.  Sleeping Beauty (1959) told the tale of how the evil sorceress Maleficent placed a curse upon Princess Aurora, which fated the princess to die on her 16th birthday after pricking her finger on a spindle of a spinning wheel.  Maleficent, however, says there’s more to the story than that.
     This live action version tells the story from Maleficent’s point of view.  As the film would have it, Maleficent was once a bird-winged fairy, living in an enchanted moor not far from a human kingdom, ruled by King Henry (Kenneth Cranham), who would conquer the moors and the fey folk living there.
     Her childhood friend and first love, Stefan (Sharlto Copley), tempted with the promise of the kingdom and the hand of the dying king’s daughter if he’ll slay Maleficent, betrays her, putting a sleeping potion in her drink.  Stefan then tears her wings from her unconscious body to feign that he had killed her.
     Maleficent, filled with hatred, becomes a dark sorceress.  It’s not long before she learns of the christening of Aurora, where the story catches up to the events of Sleeping Beauty, which Maleficent parallels, deviating in a few details.
     It’s like something out of a rape-revenge movie.  Betrayed, she loses her innocence.  Stefan takes from her body, and leaves her for dead.  Then, Maleficent comes to a power position over the man who did her wrong, and she revels in the reversal.  She deserves her revenge, but goes too far, and becomes the villain herself.
     In the right hands (and with a PG-13 or R rating), this had potential as a dark fantasy, which Grimm’s Fairy Tales often were.  But under the Disney banner, Maleficent plays it far too safe for what it’s trying to do.  Here, Maleficent’s curse merely places Aurora under a deep sleep, which can be broken with true love’s first kiss.  Maleficent then spends the rest of the movie secretly looking after Aurora as she grows up, and playing pranks on the fairies who watch over her.  Breakable curses, pranks?  She’s not maleficent, she’s just mischievous.
     Given that her descent into malevolence is so slight, the merit of her redemption is equally slight.  That’s the problem with Maleficent—it’s too timid to go for it, to make her evil, make her do truly horrible things, and then see the error of her ways.  Instead, she goes from slightly bad to sort-of good. Hell, she’s practically cuddley despite herself.  She comes off as a comic villain that way, but it’s completely inappropriate for her character.  A comic villain can work; Gru from Despicable Me started out as just that.  But that’s Gru.  He’s surrounded by adorable yellow Minions.  Maleficent is clad in black leather and wants revenge.
     First time director Robert Stromberg has a background in special effects, and it shows.  The special effects overwhelm the story and characters.  On a visual level, I’d add this is one of the most 2D-looking 3D movies I’ve seen.  This may have been an issue with the projection at my screening (I’ll update this at a later date), but nevertheless, Stromberg likes to go in on depthless close-ups of Jolie, which don’t work for the format.  There’ some effective lighting design, but that’s all I can say for it.
     This movie has to be one of Disney’s biggest miscalculations.  It’s too dark and somber for young children—when they say Parental Guidance, they’re not kidding—but not dark enough for adults.  This is a movie where all you can do is throw your arms up in the air and ask…what were they thinking?  A PG I Spit on Your Grave?

Update:  I caught a few minutes of Maleficent at another theater.  From what I saw, the film looked 3D when the compositions played to the format, however, that effort is not consistent.  

About the Author

Daniel Hodgson

Daniel has a degree in film from the University of Texas at Austin, and writes about himself in the third-person, because that's the fashion.

One Comment


    Watching “Maleficent”. About a third of the way through. To summarize so far: Our protagonist goes from being a sweet country girl to vengeful, icy drag queen within 30 minutes.

    So you know about 29 minutes longer than it takes me.

    But woe, psycho-campy is a turn-on for me. And so this viewing continues, despite its patent absurdity.

    the plot is thin on explaining Maleficent’s motivation. She is magical and do anything, but grow new wings. She can turn her manservant-cum-pet into anything, except apparently, an airline pilot (or a bigger bird capable of flying her around).

    Isn’t she supposed to be, like, mad jealous about King Stefan marrying some blonde? If we’re going to go camp, why not go for some sort of frivolous nonsense like that, rather than imply some kind of rape allegory?

    I think this might be Disney’s attempt at making a John Waters movie. But as many reviews have noted, this falls way short of true Watersian low-brow whimsy. As you note, it instead tries to aim for middle-brow family fantasy, and ends up losing itself.

    Since I started writing this, I’ve gotten to the part where Maleficent tries to reverse her own curse on Aurora, shouting “let it be no more!” I’m tempted to take her advice and put in my other Red Box DVD (“The Imitation Game”).

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