Friday, October 25, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Maleficent (2014)

Disney's MALEFICENT (2014) was released theatrically over half a decade ago, but until now I hadn't caught up with it.

The studio's SLEEPING BEAUTY (1959) is my favorite animated cartoon, and in the past I wasn't particularly anxious to see a live-action film focused on the villain of the story.

At this year's D23 Expo I saw a clip from the new MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL (2019) which I found quite intriguing, so I decided it was time to give the original MALEFICENT a look at long last. And I'm pleased to report that I quite enjoyed it.

MALEFICENT was written by Linda Wolverton, who wrote the animated classic BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991) and cowrote THE LION KING (1994).

Inspired both by Disney's cartoon version and the original SLEEPING BEAUTY story by Charles Perrault, MALEFICENT is an inside-out telling of the classic fairy tale. In this rendition, Maleficent is a kind fairy who is horribly betrayed by Stefan (Sharlto Copley), a peasant who longs to be king. He achieves his dream, but at a great price, as Maleficent curses his only child, Princess Aurora.

The broad outlines of the story continue in familiar fashion, yet with additional changes. The good fairies who hide and care for the infant Aurora in the forest are generally nice but also quarrelsome nitwits. Maleficent's loyal servant Diaval (Sam Riley), who travels far and wide in the form of a crow, soon finds where Baby Aurora is being raised.

With the fairies being somewhat ineffectual, Maleficent watches over and grudgingly protects the child she derisively nicknames "Beasty" for years, and she gradually comes to love her. And when the nearly grown Aurora (Elle Fanning) meets the woman she believes is her Fairy Godmother, that love is returned.

Maleficent wants to revoke her curse on Aurora...but how? Unfortunately, she was all too effective in making it irrevocable. Is young Prince Philip (Brenton Thwaites) the answer?

Jolie is magnificent as Maleficent, in a performance which is by turns moving, fiery, and wickedly funny. Jolie is an extremely charismatic performer, and as she's in the majority of the movie's scenes, that goes a long way to carry the film.

Fanning convincingly radiates joy as Aurora; the scene where she meets Maleficent and says she knows she's the Fairy Godmother who's watched over her her entire life is quite moving. There's another nice twist near the end of the film, as Maleficent grieves for the sleeping Aurora. The screenplay is rather clever giving the old story some fresh spins.

In a nice touch, Aurora as a very young child is played in a couple of scenes by Jolie's blonde daughter Vivienne Jolie-Pitt; I recall reading at the time that it was perhaps the only way to have a child that young in the movie who would smile at the scary-looking Maleficent!

Thwaites is pleasant but a bit of a dweeb as Prince Philip, though I think in the end that's perhaps what the filmmakers were going for. (He was recast in the new film, played by Harris Dickinson.) Riley comes off better as Maleficent's messenger; they share some nice bantering scenes.

The good fairies are played by Lesley Manville, Juno Temple, and Imelda Staunton, the latter recently reviewed here in DOWNTON ABBEY (2019). They are fine, if a little annoying, as the human-sized fairies in the forest, but the CGI versions of the characters seen elsewhere in the film are a little creepy.

I also could have stood for the multiple battle scenes to be pared down, but that's my only other real complaint. While I think those scenes could have been shorter, the movie runs a refreshingly brisk 97 minutes; the last few minutes are the credits, so the movie itself is closer to an hour and a half, which in this day and age counts as a short film.

Speaking of the end credits, Lana Del Rey sings "Once Upon a Dream" while they roll, paying tribute to Disney's earlier animated classic.

MALEFICENT was directed by Robert Stromberg and photographed by Dean Semler.

Parental Advisory: MALEFICENT is rated PG. There are some scary-looking, fiery battles and a couple of emotionally upsetting moments which may disturb sensitive young children, but otherwise it's family friendly.

A trailer is here.

MALEFICENT is available in a Blu-ray/DVD combo set, or as a single-title DVD.

I expect to see the new MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL this weekend, so look for that review here soon. (Update: Here is the review.)


Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Laura, please pardon me for busting into this movie to comment about another film!!

Last night we went to see "DOWNTON ABBEY" and I did say I would comment after. I can only say that I enjoyed every minute of it! For anyone who loved the TV series could not fail to enjoy the film equally. It must have been a considerable feat for Julian Fellowes to be able to reassemble the entire cast for the occasion, but fortunately he did, as they were all in place.
I wonder if there is any hope of more?

1:12 AM  
Blogger Irene said...

I guess I never realized you had not seen Maleficent! I saw it when it first came out and then rewatched it again with my brother when he was in the nursing home. I really enjoyed it and thought Jolie's performance was amazing. I hope to see the newest movie, but we shall see :) I will look forward to your review of that one because I have seen mixed comments about it.

8:43 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jerry, I'm so delighted to know you enjoyed DOWNTON ABBEY as much as I did! It was such a thoroughly enjoyable time at the cinema (and I know Irene agrees!). I hear rumors there may be another one...

Irene, glad to know you've enjoyed MALEFICENT as well and really hope you can catch the sequel. I didn't think it was quite as good as the original -- 2-1/2 stars to the original's solid 3, as a rough comparison -- but Jolie still entertains and there were some very nice moments which made it worthwhile. I'll have a review up later today!

Best wishes,

2:07 PM  

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