The number one hit at the box office this weekend was Maleficent, the highly anticipated Disney film starring Angelina Jolie. The idea behind the movie was to explain Maleficent’s backstory – the topic of re-telling fairy tales or looking at villains in a new way has been very popular in the last ten years or so, as evidenced by Wicked, Once upon a Time, and Snow White and the Huntsman, just to name a few. The first half of this review will be spoiler-free, and then there will be a warning and some spoilers involving plot points and, particularly, the ending. Just a fair warning!
I got to see the movie this past weekend and here’s my bottom line: while the film had potential, I ultimately found it disappointing and not put together well. I feel like people are going to be very split on this movie. Some Disney fans may love it, because it is an interesting concept. But I think some of us just expected more, and I will explain why I felt that way. I would say it was just an okay film. Not great, but not bad. My husband, on the other hand, absolutely hated it and said it was one of the worst movies he had ever seen. So you can see how opinions are going to vary.
I want to start with the good things about the movie – and by far the greatest thing about this movie is Angelina Jolie herself. She embodies the character of Maleficent so well, and delivers her lines perfectly: exactly as you would imagine Maleficent would. She’s over-the-top is exactly the right way, as is necessary for the character. If anything, Angelina is brought down by the plot and script, which are just mediocre. She did a fantastic job, but I think she could’ve done even more with it.
A couple of the other characters were also highlights. Maleficent’s henchman (Diablo the Raven during the movie) was potentially the most interesting and complex character in the film, aside from the title role. While it wasn’t explored very much, I felt like he acted it well. And Aurora was a decent character. I felt like we got a little bit more personality from her than in the Disney movie, and I thought the actress played the part well. Finally, the soundtrack to the movie was very good too.
Unfortunately, that’s about all I can say for the positives. For me, the biggest negative was the plot of the movie itself. Things felt rather choppy and not very cohesive at times. I was left with questions about why certain events were happening that were never explained (I’ll elaborate more below in the spoiler section). And in the beginning of the movie, a lot of the plot was explained through narration. I don’t think having an opening narrator is always a bad thing, especially for a fairy tale, but this was a lot of “telling” instead of “showing”. I feel like if we had seen certain things that the narrator just told us, we would’ve connected to the characters more.
The movie and the characters had the potential to be really complex. The idea of showing a backstory to Maleficent is almost crazy in and of itself – she’s arguably the worst Disney villain of all time, so showing a different side to her could be really, really interesting. But I almost feel like the filmmakers underestimated the audience and simplified her character and transformation a bit too much. My husband put it well – he said that in the originally movie, the characters are basically black and white. Aurora, the fairies, King Stephan are all completely good, and Maleficent is just evil through and through. Instead of really delving into the complexity of the characters, they were basically just switched. There was no gray, just different black and whites.
The 3 fairies in the original Sleeping Beauty were perhaps naive and silly, but still loveable. In this film they were just over the top annoying. I almost couldn’t stand it every time they came on screen. I guess they were going for the humor factor, but the funny parts for me usually had nothing to do with them (I guess that’s another pro to the film – there were a couple of really good laugh out loud lines, usually from Maleficent herself or Diaval, her sidekick).
And finally, the ending was a disappointment. It was a predictable, cliche ending that they could’ve done so much more with. That’s all I’ll say for now, but I’ll definitely be talking about it further below!
Like I said, the plot felt a little choppy. Why did Maleficent watch Aurora for 16 years? What difference did it make to her if she died when she was 2 or went into an eternal sleep at age 16? I’ve been told that this is actually explained in the book, so I’ll have to get my hands on that and read it. But that is super important to the plot and Maleficent’s feelings toward Aurora, so not having an explanation for it was just confusing to me.
As for too much told through narration – for me, I really want to be able to connect to the characters. When Stefan left her the first time, we are told through narration that she was sad. Don’t tell me that, show me that! It will make it so much more meaningful when he then betrays her, and makes her transformation to villain that much more believable. For instance, when he cut off her wings we got an absolutely gut-wrenching scene of her pain that really moved me – not just the narrator saying “And she was very upset her wings were gone.”
Showing more of her feelings – even making the movie a little longer to do that – would really have gone a long way. In many ways Maleficent’s journey reminds me of Regina from Once upon a Time. Starts out as a good person, ruined by heartbreak that turns her evil, but ultimately comes around to good again because of a child. The advantage that Regina has is that her transformation takes place over dozens and dozens of episodes of TV, while Maleficent only has an hour and a half. The way the movie was done it just all felt too sudden to me. Stefan as well could have been a more interesting, complex character. He could have been completely torn between his love for Maleficent and his ambition, and we got hints of that when he cut off her wings instead of killing her. But ultimately he just seemed to turn evil and no longer had feelings for her by the end. I think him going back and forth would have been much more interesting.
And I said the ending felt cliche and overdone. I don’t know what they could have done instead, but the whole “true love’s kiss coming from not the person they expect it to come from” has been done so much recently. Frozen, for one. Snow White and the Huntsman. Once upon a Time (twice). It was a cool concept, but I would love to see something different!
Overall I can see how some Disney fans will love this movie. I will say that it’s just not what I was expecting or hoping for. I wanted a movie that was really intriguing with a strong plot and twists on the old fairy tale you never would have saw coming, and while it almost seemed like Maleficent would do that, it ultimately failed to deliver for me.
What do you think? Do you completely disagree, or do you think the movie wasn’t all that it was hyped up to be?