Time for another Review, and this time out, I’m taking a peek at a fairly mainstream choice with the Disney live action fairytale reworking of 1959’s animated classic “Sleeping Beauty”, 2014’s “Maleficent”. Fairy tale? Why certainly!! Your favorite Catgirl loves fairy tales…. and luckily for me, so does my sweetie, so this one was a no-brainer pick to give her a “Movie Nite” she’d like filled with magic and wonder and that proverbial “happily ever after” ending that leaves you feeling warm inside. 🙂 Mind you though…. this one promised to be a wee bit darker… a wee bit more wicked… but c’mon… it’s a Disney film, so there’s gonna be a happy ending…
Our synopsis? How’s this? “A beautiful, pure-hearted young fairy princess, Maleficent has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom of the Faefolk, until one day when an invading army threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land’s fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a most ruthless betrayal at the hands of her one true love – an act that shatters her spirit, destroys her belief in love, and turns her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent wraps herself in hatred and evil and battles with the invading king’s successor, her unfaithful lover, and as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Maleficent realizes that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom – and perhaps to Maleficent’s true happiness as well.”
Yep. This time out it’s not Sleeping Beauty who is center stage, but the Evil Queen…. who maybe isn’t as irredeemably evil after all. With my years of watching melodramatic Asian films where villains can be just as honorable and heroic as the heroes of a story, this certainly sounds like a story this wee Catgirl can get behind. Sound intriguing to you too? Then let’s get right to it shall we? 😉
If you’ve seen 1959’s “Sleeping Beauty” you certainly remember Maleficent…. Tall… regal… darkly evil in that stylish way wicked Queens can be when they really want to. Outside of being pretty darn pissed off at King Stephan there wasn’t really all that much explanation of her motivations or back story way back then. She was just the villain and for those innocent days, that was enough for audiences. Nowadays however… in world more accustomed to less simply “black or white” stories, where perhaps the more interesting ideas are those hiding away in those little shades of grey, that character was perfect for a little “what if” re-imagining….
So it’s “Spoiler Alert!!” time o’ Gentle Visitors… and perhaps if you haven’t already given this one a look-see you might want to skip down aways to see my rating and general impressions. Yep… can’t really pick this one apart without ruining things a bit.
Anyways… it’s time to be up-front about the story. If you expected Princess Aurora, “Sleeping Beauty” herself… to be the major focus of things you are going to be sorely surprised. I mean… she’s in the story… she’s certainly important to the story… but she’s definitely second fiddle to our film’s real Heroine, the fairy Maleficent. This is her story from beginning to end. Got it? Ok then… let’s proceed. (Wait a minute… this shift in focus does lead to one minor quibble that this lady has with the film. It’s our fairy queen’s name. Maleficent. In the old 1959 film, that name was cooked up for a villan… coming as it does from the Latin “maleficentia”, generally translating as “evil doing” (malus, “bad, wicked, evil” + ficens, past participle of facere, “to make, do”). Hardly the sort of name that should have been bestowed upon the innocent little fairy girl from our 2014’s movie’s beginning. She should have been given a real name…. a name worthy of the gentle innocent spirit she was in the start. It would have made so much more sense for “Maleficent” to have been a nickname forced on her by the greedy humans angry over her defiance of their attempts to overrun the homeland she battled to protect, and a name that she embraces later in an attempt to become the cruel and vicious thing they’ve always believed her to be. I’m thinking that would have made so much more sense… but no. Why didn’t the writers go that way? Who knows… but I wish they had. 😦 )
But then nobody is quite what you expect if you remember the old animated version… Mostly the human characters are the real villains. That starts with Stephan (first played by Michael Higgins), a young orphan boy who foolishly enters the fairyrealm of the Moors one afternoon to steal himself a gem. Caught by the treeman guardians, he’s saved by the intervention of young Maleficent (first played by Isobelle Molloy), last of the Fairyfolk who once ruled these lands. She feels sorry for Stephan and after getting him to surrender the jewel he stole, leads him back to the border and safety. They have an almost instant rapport… and we see an odd friendship grow and develop as the years pass and Stephan (played as a teen by Jackson Bews) returns again and again to visit her. Naturally that friendship grows into love… at least on Maleficent’s part (played as a teen by Ella Purnell), and it’s that love that ultimately leads to her tragedy.
The problem is, the human kingdom that shares a border with the Moors is ruled by greedy King Henry (played by Kenneth Cranham) and he wants to conquer that realm and banish the faefolk into history. He makes an attempt at invasion… an invasion thwarted by now grown up Maleficent (now played by Angelina Joli) and the Fae Hosts who destroy the invading army utterly, driving them back to the human lands and mortally wounding the King.
That’s when the real trouble starts. The dying King decides to pick a successor… and that man shall be the one who can kill Maleficent and get his revenge for him. Stephan (now played by Sharlto Copley), by now a grown man, is stupidly driven to use his old friendship with Maleficent to give him the one chance that will allow him to fulfill his childhood ambitions.
He goes to her…. and uses her love and trust to trick her and drug her. He thinks to kill Maleficent as she lies helpless, but ultimately finds he can’t bring himself to do it. Instead… he uses a cold iron chain to saw off her beautiful wings as the trophy he’ll need to win the throne. Ahhhhhgggg!!! What a f*cking bastard!!! I can’t tell you how utterly angry this scene made me…. even now, days later… it brings my blood to a boil. I hate him!! Soooo damn much it makes me tremble with seething desire to see him killed in some brutally appropriate fashion!! There are other movie reviewers for this one that I’ve read who say that this idea is intended as some version of a symbolic “rape”… and seeing Maleficent in those first moments when she awakens it’s fair to equate this in just that way. It’s painful and ugly and hateful in a way that has no words. All I know is that if the story needed a betrayal… something so terrible it could poison her soul and drive her to Evil, then this would be it.
In the human lands, Stephan becomes king…. while in the Moors, Maleficent’s pain and soul wrenching agony at being crippled and denied the freedom to fly along with the realization that her love for Stephan was nothing more than an illusion, drive her to become the poisoned heart of a realm turned to darkness. She broods and lurks and waits… and knows that someday she will have her revenge.
That comes about once Stephan and his queen have their child… the Princess Aurora. At her christening, we get that scene you’ll remember from the old 1959 animated story. For some reason that makes little real sense… those three fairies show up to bless the child… kind of stupid given the xenophobic hatred Stephan and most of the humans in the story have for fairies. It’s then that Maleficent chooses to make her grand entrance…. and pronounce her curse, “that on her sixteenth birthday, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel, which will cause her to fall into a deathlike sleep forevermore”, with the added bit that “the curse can be broken by true love’s kiss” just as in the original. Now we are in business. 😉
With the help of her one loyal companion, a shape-shifting crow named Diaval (played by Sam Riley), she spends the next 16 years secretly watching over Aurora as she grows up in the care of those three stupid fairies. She kind of has to…. I mean the fairies are so darn horrible at being mortals and caring for a human infant that without Maleficent working behind the scenes they probably would have accidentally killed the poor girl in the first week or so. Again…. that whole notion of Stephan giving these three his daughter to hide away and raise till her 16th birthday…. is totally stupid as written. He absolutely hates fairies…. in a “nuttier-than-a-fruitcake” paranoid kind of way. So why the hell would he trust these three? It makes no coherent narrative sense and is probably the weakest element in the script. Oh well…. can’t let common sense get in the way now, can we?
Here’s where the neat lil’ twist starts. Maleficent has to spend soooo much time protecting Aurora from secret, that little by little Aurora’s naive sweet innocence and genuine goodness starts to sneak its way past the darkness that surrounds her heart. Eventually they encounter one another face-to-face as Aurora approaches her 16 year… and Maleficent is surprised to find that the princess has always felt her presence and that she has come to believe Maleficent is her “Fairy Godmother”… a lifelong protector and benevolent “surrogate mother figure”. Now that they’ve finally met, Aurora and Maleficent become friends…. despite the hatred and pain Maleficent still feels for her father. That culminates in Maleficent trying in vain to renounce her curse…. but sadly she had foolishly pronounced that “no power on Earth can change it”… and so not even her own magic can alter what is to come.
Meanwhile… King Stephan, after the loss of his Queen, locked away and brooding in his castle has been plotting and scheming for the day he has come to dread. Aurora’s 16’th birthday… and the day he knows Maleficent will return to finish him at last. But all fairies…. and Maleficent in particular… have a secret weakness he knows only too well…. the burning touch of cold iron. A weakness he intends to exploit…
So then…. what about the Prince? Yep it’s a Disney “princess movie” so there’s always a Prince, right? Right indeed. Right on schedule Aurora and Prince Phillip (played by Brenton Thwaites) meet one day before her birthday as she plans to leave the three dizzy “aunts” she’s been living with to run away and live with her “Fairy Godmother” in the wondrous realm of the fae. The two of the have instant sparks…. although pretty Aurora has been living a lonely life in the woods since she was a baby, so by now any hunky guy would probably catch her eye. Maleficent… catching them together… thinks that Phillip might just be the key to avoiding the tragedy to come, even if in her wounded heart, she still believes that the idea of “true love” is nothing more than a romantic lie.
But Curses and Fate are not to be avoided. As Maleficent swore all those years before, our Princess finds herself right on schedule at the castle on her birthday after discovering her own true identity and the truth of who Maleficent really is… she finds the long locked cellar room with the remains of the shattered and burnt spinning wheels and pricks her finger right on time. Yep… cue our young Aurora to become “Sleeping Beauty”.
She’d stay that way too… but Maleficent just can’t let the young girl she’s become so attached to suffer for the evil deeds of her father the king, and with the help of Diaval sneaks into the heavily guarded castle with a magically unconcious kidnapped Prince Phillip in tow to try to break the curse. Naturally… crazy King Stephen and his army are ready and waiting for her…..
So in our climax, we get some serious battles… a shape-shifting dragon…. the real truth of the meaning of “true love”, and an ending to all the darkness, hate, and fear once and for all. We even get our “Happily Ever After”…. just not quite the way you’d probably expect. I could tell you all about it… but I’ve spilled enough beans already…. and you are going to want some surprises to discover for yourself… 😉
Yep. That’s our story in a nutshell. Outside of a couple of niggling quibbles that I’ve mentioned, it all works pretty darn well too. Heck it had me angry in all the right moments… happy in others… sad at times… and even a little teary eyed by the end. Most of that can be laid right at the feet of Angelina Jolie (who really is the eerily spitting image of that old character come to life) carries this film from start to finish and who is Maleficent. You buy it… in every scene. Somehow she takes this cardboard fairytale villain and captures all the malevolent evil of that original animated character and invests her with a sympathy and depth to make her into someone you’ll want to be the Heroine of the story. Bravo!! Elle Fanning is good here too… with a sweetness and vulnerability that are well suited to the character of Aurora, who remains important… but definitely secondary… to the overall plot. Both actresses play well together with real chemistry in the scenes they share. It’s not a perfect film…. and there could have been more effort to try to work out some of the more questionable plot ideas in ways that made better narrative sense, but still it’s a pretty good “What if?” story seen through a lens darkly…. Mind you though… this one’s a pretty grim story at times, and unlike the original 1959 movie, probably definitely not a film for the kiddies….
So with all that said, your Favorite Catgirl gives “Maleficent” a solid 4 “Meows” out of 5. I liked it… Carolyn liked it… and if a Westernized “Bride With White Hair” meets “Wicked” take on an old classic Fairy tale is your idea of fun, then you’d probably like it too. The Region 1 DVD is pretty darn easy to find, and for those of my Gentle Visitors elsewhere in the world, it’s available in a multitude of foreign release formated DVD’s in your neck of the woods too. Haven’t seen it yet? You might want to rectify that lil’ oversight…. 😉
We’ve a Trailer…. one of just oodles of choices in Trailers… and this one captures the overall feeling of the story without really giving it all away for those of you who want it that way… 😉