It turns out the evil faerie sorceress isn't so bad. We learned it this year in Disney's Maleficent, a live action version of Disney's 1959 animated Sleeping Beauty where Maleficent, the villain of that story, is reconceptualised as the heroine. Visually nice, though not as striking or as strangely beautiful as the 1959 film, the primary virtue is Angelina Jolie's performance in the title role. I wish she'd been allowed to be bad but the movie's story about a woman finding her strength again after a terrible violation is good.
A few reviews point to a scene where a young Maleficent's wings are cut off by her lover while she sleeps as being a metaphor for rape. Jolie's startling, painful cries when she wakes and discovers the loss are certainly evocative of terrible grief and a sense of profound betrayal.
For most of the film, Jolie gives an icy, restrained performance similar to the one given by Eleanor Audley in the original film. Dealing with the lifelong reminder in the form of physical mutilation certainly explains why Maleficent might be emotionally frozen over.
I don't quite understand why Jolie, unlike Audley, puts on an English accent, though. This is the fourth Angelina Jolie movie I've seen--after Beowulf, Tomb Raider, and Hackers--Hackers being the only movie I've seen where she uses her normal American accent. But I think the reason for the accent here is a general perception now that everyone in mediaeval fantasy worlds must sound like they're from the British Isles, a perception that really began with Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings adaptation, where I thought it was appropriate because the accents come through so strongly in the text. But there's really nothing particularly English about this film.
The film also takes a page from the Lord of the Rings films' opening history lesson montage as a woman who sounds a lot like Cate Blanchett tells us about how the human kingdom of people with Irish accents are trying to conquer the moors, a word the filmmakers apparently believe means "forest lagoon".
Maybe not as embarrassing as the creators of World of Warcraft apparently thinking "shire" means "village" but pretty close. To-day, the moors, to-morrow the tundra! Just think of it.
It's never made very clear but I think the humans want the moors because there are thousands of precious gems just sitting in rivers and streams running through the area. There are also various kinds of faeries, most of whom look like the cheap ceramic sculptures you see at the shopping mall.
Not the most innovative creature designs for a Disney movie. The extensive cgi environments clashing with the green screened actors also give the film a Star Wars prequel feel but Maleficent really shines with its costumes. Obviously they owe the original film for the fantastic design of Maleficent's gown and horned coif but I enjoyed the little variations on it, like a snakeskin version of the coif.
The good faeries, named Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather in the 1959 film have for some reason been renamed Knotgrass, Thistlewit, and Flittle. One of the primary flaws in the 1959 film is that it focuses far too much on these three due to Walt Disney's belief that children would have an easier time identifying with these friendly maternal characters. Strangely, this idea seems to be reborn in the new film's focus on Maleficent as a surrogate mother of Aurora.
It's a really funny idea--the good faeries do such a lousy job taking care of King Stefan's baby that Maleficent is forced to step in just to make sure the child lives long enough for the curse to come to fruition. The curse being the closest thing Maleficent does in this film to actually being a villain, though in this version, instead of giving Aurora a death sentence that has to be mitigated by Merryweather's magic--changing it from death to sleep--Maleficent only curses her to sleep after pricking her finger on the spinning wheel. Rather big of her, really, after King Stefan raped her and the human kingdom's continued, unprovoked assaults on the "moors".
Instead of having every spinning wheel in the kingdom destroyed as he did in the 1959 film, Stefan just has them all stashed in the castle dungeon in big piles. I guess so they can all be returned after Aurora's in the clear? I would think everyone would've gotten used to using drop spindles by then.
All the child actors in the film are uniformly bad, particularly Eleanor Worthington Cox as the prepubescent Aurora from whose annoying fake giggles the film dissolves as she grows into Elle Fanning delivering more lifelike giggles. The version of Merryweather in this version gives her the "gift" of never being blue, sad, for her whole life, which is about as annoying as you might think, as capable an actress as Elle Fanning is.
Though people who've seen Magic Magic know there's an even more talented woman playing this film's version of Fauna, the green faerie--Juno Temple. It's a shame she isn't getting juicier roles but she is good as comic relief here.
I've always wondered why Fauna was the green faerie and Flora was the red faerie, you'd think it'd be the other way around.
James Newton Howard's score of course pales in comparison to the Tchaikovsky ballet music adapted for the 1959 film. But Lana Del Rey does do a nice, drowsy version of "Once Upon a Dream" over the end credits, a song I've always liked.