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Maleficent (2014)



Stories that delve into the origins of a character are not always something that will pique my interest – especially if it’s a story that has, in a sense, already been told because we have seen its future played out. Disney decided to embark on telling us who Maleficent is instead of letting us continue assuming we know who she is… and it’s not exactly how we might imagine.

Despite the threat of human power, there is peace in the forest kingdom where young kind-hearted Maleficent (Ella Purnell) lives with her and her kind, the woodland folk. Showing compassion to the young Stefan, a human who wanders the borders dividing her home and that of the neighboring royal kingdom. That day is the start something neither one of them could foresee. Years pass in which the two sneak around meeting and growing a friendship until Maleficent’s 16th birthday... and true love's kiss. After that,  Stefan never returns. An adult Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) grows to become the protector of her kingdom, which she enforces when the two enemy kingdoms embark on a war fueled by fear. The royalty has waged a fight which brings Stefan back into Maleficent’s life… only for him to betray her. 

That act of loyalty to the dying king results in Stefan ascending to the throne and Maleficent lets her feelings of betrayal multiply. Sending her raven companion Diaval (Sam Riley) to be her wings and report what is happening with King Stefan, she learns the happy news that he has a child. Seeing her opportunity to wreck havoc on her former friend’s life, she exacts revenge on baby Aurora only to watch over her as she grows, until the day when the 16-year-old Aurora (Elle Fanning) discovers she isn’t an ordinary girl… 

I’m all in for any kind of fairytale re-telling. I love them – everything from Alice to the more recent live-action remakes of the Snow White fable, which means it’s a safe assumption I’ll be watching any that appeal to the little girl part of me who still loves to be swept up into a pretty world of magic. When this project was first announced, I really knew nothing about it aside from realizing that the focus wouldn’t be the traditional Sleeping Beauty story considering it was named after the villainess. When you think about Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, I’m not sure if anything is ever revealed about Maleficent as regards her cursing Aurora (forgive my blunder if there is, it’s been years since I saw the movie) but with this live-action adaptation, the film is all about Maleficent. Anyone who goes to it thinking anything else will be disappointed. The story takes it’s time setting up the backstory through the heroine’s younger years, introducing the viewer to her as a fairy who had tragedies in her young life, yet came out strong and able to be a cheerful girl who cared about those around her.

During the opening scenes, I have to be honest there wasn’t a thing this film was doing to entice that “wow factor.” And I was shocked. I felt like despite its short run time (which I was aware of when walking into the theater), those opening frames were getting things off on the wrong foot because it seemed the pace was going to stretch itself too thin by spending its time in Maleficent’s early days. That soon changed and on reflection, I was really impressed by the script and its gentle persuasion in presenting Maleficent’s past. (Plus, the actress does a great job in her limited screen time.) What’s so unique about this script is how it carefully, genuinely not to mention beautifully pulls out so much of the character in that 90-some minutes - from her innocence of childhood to her enraged and redemptive adult. The results are epic. Not only do the writers answer the why behind Maleficent’s reason, it’s carried off in a convincing way and what's more, her transition isn’t about an “ah-ha” moment, rather it’s through the impact her silent guardianship of Aurora has on her (and whoever managed all this in the runtime should receive high accolades). It’s what she sees in Aurora (must add, I adored this Aurora - how curious and sweet a character was she!?), it’s how she loves her that is the difference in cracking Maleficent's heart - showing us (and her) that beneath her fierce, jaded exterior lies a being with a capacity to love... and make choices.  

If there is any kind of flaw in the film, it’s that the special effects are – a few times, less than stellar and appear painfully manufactured, however, that pales in comparison to the overall brilliance of the rest of the film. Maleficent is one of those movies that – surprisingly – make its viewer think, and in my case, the more I’ve pondered its intricacies, the more I’ve fallen for its charms. The humor is sensational (between plopping raw vegetables into a baby’s crib – expecting she’ll eat them, and Maleficent’s reaction to Philip in their first encounter, it couldn’t have been better timed or written) and I especially enjoyed the fairies who we may  remember as the three fairies fighting over the color of Aurora’s dress.

If you are looking to take a trip to the cinema, consider this latest Disney jewel. It was enchanting in a unique way, puts an entirely new spin on the story (thanks to a point of view we’ve never seen before) and what’s more, it challenges our judgment of what we thought we knew. Proof that fictional or not, there are two sides to every story. 
 
Your turn: what did you think of this one, readers?
Rant? Gush? So-so?
 
Sound off below! 

(Content: other than its magic themes and frightening images – dragons, Maleficent concocting spells, or terrifying battles, there is really nothing of consequence to mention in this one. And what is frightening is dependent on what your young viewers can handle - none of the youngsters in my showing seemed affected. The film is rated PG.) 
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Rissi
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15 comments:

  1. Definitely looking forward to seeing this one sometime in the next couple of weeks when I have a break to go out with friends =)

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    1. This is the perfect flick to see with a group of friends, Natalie! Sure hope you enjoy. :)

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  2. Great review, Rissi! :) I had a love-hate relationship with this movie. I loved how they twisted the original tale, but was a little disappointed that they only went so far. When they turned the crow into a man, I thought they might somehow set him up with Aurora. There was one scene where I thought Aurora would wake up from her dream sleep after visiting Maleficent and Diaval and think that the dude was her prince from the whole "once upon a dream" song. That would have been a clever, fresh twist. Instead, they include a Phillip, who has lost all his charm and humour from the original movie. This Phillip was too boy-bandish and awkward.

    Perhaps my main complaint, then, is that while the women are fairly well drawn (except for the poor queen--did she die? it never really told us), the men are either crows, traitors, or Mama's boys. It left a little to be desired. I missed the hilarious relationship between Stefan and Phillip's father, whose scenes always made me grin in the first movie. There just wasn't enough humour for me; I felt that the characters of old were mostly sacrificed to make Maleficent look good, when the story should have been strong enough to bring her on par with everyone else without sacrificing such things. Instead of making the fairies fools to enforce Maleficent's protection of Aurora, they could have had a third kingdom vying to take over Stefan's, targeting a child they believed was his daughter. Since the three fairies' powers are limited, Maleficent's more fiercely protective nature could have been called into play. She'd already been watching Aurora long before she became protective of her.

    Anyways, I'll end my rant with: I think I would have enjoyed the movie more if it had been a retelling of the original fairy tale rather than Disney's own movie. Now I'm not sure which one is supposed to be "canon" in our heads, which is a fairly postmodern view that makes me slightly uncomfortable. :P

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    1. Thanks for reading, Rebeka, and for sharing your thoughts, I enjoyed getting your take.

      I felt like this story put an entirely new spin on the "classic" and for that, I admired it. A viewer needs to be very aware that this IS Maleficent's story. It's not about Aurora (in the traditional sense) or Philip, or any of the other characters (in my view). As a matter of fact as the story played out, I kept thinking, "where is everyone else?" The reason they didn't appear for so long is because, this was about Maleficent's background - why she ended being the person who cursed Aurora and how she got there - which is why, for me, it was okay that Philip might not have been ideal and other minor little quibbles.

      Right or wrong, the theme of many films today is about the strength of women, and Disney is a big supporter of that, so maybe that's why none of the men stood out? (Subtle or not, secular stories like to put down men.) I have to say, I admired Diaval in that scene when he tells Maleficent he's not about to carry on with her bidding any more because he doesn't "care." That was a score for him. :D As I remember the fairies in the old Disney movie, they were a bit silly, yet I still loved them as I did these three. For me, they added humor, though I totally understand what you're saying - they were, in a way, cast in a foolish light.

      I'm sorry this one didn't work for you... although I respect and even, in some arguments you make, agree with you. Sadly, no film is perfect and no matter how much we like it, we can find flaws. Someday, I would like to see a more traditional, live-action retelling of Sleeping Beauty but until then, I must confess, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing a completely different perspective. :)

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  3. The trailer for this movie makes me curious about it.
    Plus Sleeping Beauty was on of my favorite movies when I was little.

    I"ll have to give it a try when it comes on on DVD.

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    1. Ooo, I hope since Sleeping Beauty was a favorite of yours that you enjoy this one, Ella. Cannot wait to get your thoughts when that DVD release arrives! :)

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  4. I haven't been able to see this one yet. I don't think I'll make it to the theater, so I guess I'll wait for the DVD! :)

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    1. DVD turnarounds are really quick these days, Kristin! Or that's what I've found. Hope you'll enjoy it - and I'll look forward to your thoughts. :)

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  5. I'm pretty excited about this one. I love all things fairytale. :) Hopefully I'll make it to the theater in the next couple weeks. Great review, Rissi!

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    1. Yay! Hope you do get to this one, Bekah. I'd be curious to get your thoughts.

      ...ditto on the all things fairytale remark. That's me, too. ;)

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  6. I just watched this last night. Angelina Jolie was excellent as Maleficent; however, I felt that the CGI was pretty cheap--in fact, it looked like every single set was CGI'ed, leading me to wonder, "Did they shoot this entire movie in a studio?" It was also just so dark--couldn't they have put some more sunshine someplace?

    Maleficent's changing relationship with Aurora might have had its good points, but I thought that it was a little sudden. And though Aurora is sweet, her naivete annoyed me (I guess I'm just too picky about "flat" characters). One thing that cracked me up was Philip's youth--and the fact that I, who am not even an official adult, found him to look like a "little kid." I'm getting old :-/

    All in all, I thought the filmmakers stuck to the storyline amazingly well, except for with Maleficent's "goodness." But, after all, how do we know that in the fairy tale's background, Maleficent wasn't betrayed by Aurora's father? The dynamic makes sense.

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    1. It seems a "trend" for the special effects to come across as... fake. I pick up on that a lot in Once Upon a Time though the fun is distracting and usually I am over it soon enough. ;)

      Hmm, I don't think I would say that about their relationship because, it was a LONG one. From Maleficent's perspective, she'd been watching Aurora for years and had plenty of time to learn about Aurora, to grow to care for her, and since much of this sequence was shown to depict time passing, rather than character's conversing or getting face time that wasn't a thought that occurred to me. And from Aurora's perspective, I think she became enamored with Maleficent's world and subsequently the idea that Maleficent was her protector. Ironically, Philip (the actor) is a lot older than Elle Fanning. Either he likes retaining the "little boy" look or stylists made him that way to look young. (I'll think the latter. ;D) You know, I'm like that too (though I'm older than you); I am so not a fan of the band boy look or the many band boys girls fawn over. But then, I'm glad of that. Let's think of it as maturity. Not getting old. ;)

      I saw this as a wonderful exploration into why Maleficent was who she was rather than a traditional retelling. I can't remember a reason why she was so evil in the Disney film, so getting a photo of WHY and the reason behind it did indeed make sense. Like you have pointed out, there were flaws though overall, I enjoyed this one tremendously. Bring on the DVD! :)

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    2. Yes indeed! It's a great movie :) And your point about Maleficent's time spent watching over Aurora is great. I did consider that a little after I watched the movie, but not during, for some reason. The scene in which toddler Aurora asks Maleficent to pick her up is especially adorable :)

      walking in the air.

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    3. Aww, you know I totally forgot to mention that scene with a toddler Aurora and Maleficent. How cute was that moment?? (Did you know that was really Angelina's daughter too? She seemed a little bit timid but then, she's only what, three, four? I don't blame her!)

      I'm very eager to rewatch the film on DVD as I think I'll have different perspectives with a second viewing. Either way, it was good, and I'm anticipating Cinderella next! :)

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  7. I'm a little late to this party(!), but I just finished watching this with my hubby and thought, "I bet Rissi has blogged about this. I need to look up what she said." :-)

    Really, I just had to find someone to whom I could say, "Wow! I loved that!" I'm not a big movie watcher, and wouldn't have watched this of my own volition, but I have this habit of getting sucked into movies my hubby decides to watch!

    I knew nothing about it (except a vague recollection of reading the original story as a child), nor have I seen any other versions to compare it against, but I came away wanting to congratulate Disney.

    My absolute favourite moment? "True love's first kiss" I realised what was coming about thirty seconds before it happened. <3

    I guess this qualifies as 'gush'?!

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