Since the first screens of Disney's newest movie Maleficent started hitting the internet, the movie looked like it could be something good. Angelina Jolie, as the titular character, exudes enough creepiness on a regular basis that she was a great choice for one of Disney's most infamous villains. But when I announced to the world on Twitter the morning I was to see it and found that the hashtag "#Maleficent Not Good" was pretty popular, I really couldn't understand way. It had the star power, backed by Disney and one of the most beloved stories of all times. Where had it gone wrong?
Disregarding that, the wife and I headed to the theater. As the movie began, we were treated to a fantastically imagined world full of fairies, pixies, and playful water creatures. The story quickly unveils Maleficent's past and her history with a young boy named Stefan. An orphan, Stefan yearns to earn his place into the trust of the kingdom and does so at the cost of his relationship with Maleficent.
In a nutshell, that's the part of the story we don't know, the origins of Maleficent that they didn't show in Sleeping Beauty. The majority of the film, however, focuses on the events that occur during Sleeping Beauty, just from Maleficent's perspective instead of Aurora's.
As I was watching the story unfold, I began to realize the flaw with revealing the origins of a great, evil character. (I'm gonna put a SPOILER WARNING here.) The purpose of an origin is to get a feel for what drives a character's motivations. The starting point of their path to where they eventually find themselves. In this case, we know that Maleficent is an evil witch who placed a curse of the princess to make her fall asleep forever. But what happens when we can understand why she did what she does?
That's what I considered the main drawback of the movie; we start to sympathize with Maleficent given everything she'd gone through. She placed her trust in Stefan and was betrayed by him, in a scene that makes his betrayal reminiscent of a physical sexual rape (which, I have to say, despite it being uncomfortable to watch, was played magnificently by Jolie). So to see all of this unfold, we understand why she wants revenge. Why she placed a curse of Princess Aurora, who happens to be the daughter of the newly crowned King Stefan.
As the movie continues, the audience gets the feeling that the writer and director didn't even bother to watch Sleeping Beauty and just crafted a movie around some key plot points. But the end of the film explicitly says that this is the true story, how events actually happened. And it begins to make sense. Looking at it this way, the portrayal of Maleficent as a tragic heroine who succumbed to her own dark feelings only to find redemption at the end was pulled off well. And Jolie really brought the character to life, despite a few eye-rolling bits of over-acting. She had a knack for the part and managed to embody yet another strong, female character.
Which brings about another point. Maleficent is notable in the sense that two of the movie's main characters are women, with Jolie playing opposite Elle Fanning as Aurora. One of Hollywood's biggest fallacies is that female-driven films don't do well at the box offices. Even though this has been proven false on a number of occasions (such as by the success of the Hunger Games films), to see Maleficent earn $70 million in its opening weekend should be enough to put that untruth to rest. This could open up the doors to a number of female-driven films, such as the long-awaited Wonder Woman movie.
But even Angelina's pronounced cheekbones could not out-creepy the new version of the classic Sleeping Beauty theme song, "Once Upon A Dream". A seminal Disney classic, the newest version is crooned by recent star Lana Del Rey and is one of the scariest songs ever put into a Disney movie. The song itself isn't the problem; Del Rey's rendition is. The song is produced to be quite mellow and almost atonal. Pair that with Del Rey's slow, drawn out lyrics and the song becomes almost bone-chilling. I'm not educated when it comes to making music so I can't really explain why the song gives off such a creepy vibe but it does. I'm just glad that they didn't include it at the beginning of the movie otherwise it would have set a tone that didn't jibe with the film itself. Listen and decide for yourself.
Though I was expecting Maleficent to be a decent but wholly forgettable film along the same vein as Snow White and the Huntsman, I was very pleased with the final product. Jolie's take on the evil witch and Elle Fanning's turn as the innocent princess proved to be a pretty powerful combination. Add to that the latest reimagining of "true love" and you have a film that you're not embarrassed to let your little girl watch. If Disney can continue to make movies along this caliber, the movie theater would be a much better place.