Sunday, June 1, 2014

Movie Review: Maleficent

Warning: If you're reading a movie review for a movie you haven't seen yet, you obviously want the film spoiled for you. Seriously, why are you even reading this right now? If you don't want spoilers, go watch that video about hamsters eating tiny burritos.


Maleficent is a Disney icon. An odd Disney icon, perhaps, as she has always been known by the moniker "Mistress of All Evil." (Rightly so as in the original 1950s Sleeping Beauty, the final showdown sees her summoning all the powers of Hell in order to become a fire-breathing dragon.) Since redemption stories are all the rage right now (read: Wicked the novel, Wicked the musical, the upcoming film adaptation of Wicked...seriously, this movie is an excuse to make Wicked but with Maleficent), one needs to realize one key point before they see the movie:

Maleficent is the protagonist.

That's right, folks. Fans Critics People that remember Maleficent of the classic Disney film have been giving all sorts of grief over the fact that - Oh sweet Jeebus on a stick - Maleficent isn't actually the bad guy in this movie. She's an anti-heroine. Someone who loses her way, becomes a fabulous Drag Queen, gets incredibly snarky, all of a sudden has green fire powers, and then eventually finds her way back to who she once was. 

Anybody with even a passing bit of knowledge of the world of Gregory Maguire's Elphaba will see immediate parallels. However, people that can see the rating of this film will realize very quick that Maleficent could never have become the socio-political, wartime story that, it seems, many critics were wishing for. It's PG. This is a children's film. Sure, it's a children's movie with a bit of a darker climax than many children's movies, but no darker than Beauty and the Beast. (Seriously, the end scene is ripped straight out of BatB's finale.) 

The Highlights

I won't go into plot details, as I really don't enjoy spoiling movies for people (and, come on, if you want to find the plot you can find it elsewhere online). I will tell you that a few of your favorite classic scenes are included. The curse scene is possibly the most direct adaptation from the original animated classic, as she very nearly repeats the original words verbatim. Though, amidst the classic plot points, there are many new things to enjoy about this film:

  • You get to see the rest of the fairy kingdom. Sure, you remember Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather, but what about the other fairies? In the fairy tale, a whole host of fair folk show up for the birth of the princess, but the original cartoon only gives us 3 and a demon witch from Hell. In the updated version, we go back a bit to the original story. Maleficent is, indeed, a fairy, and she is part of a much larger taxonomy of fair folk and mystical creatures residing in a place called the Moors. Trust me when I tell you that this place is everything your inner child wants fairy land to look like and more. 
  • Fairies aren't purely good or purely evil. They're not necessarily all wise, nor are they instinctual nature spirits. They have foibles and follies and are quite fun. Maleficent oftentimes comes off as mischievous instead of evil, with a few very memorable moments that I'm sure will have you quoting lines back and forth with your friends for weeks. (You will never have as much fun quoting lines amongst your friends as trying to, with a very, very serious face, say the words 'I hate you.') The three fairies, whose names this time are Knotgrass, Flittle, and Thistlewit, are not in the film as much (remember: this is Maleficent's story. We've already heard their tale in the 1950s version.), and are more included for a few moments of comic relief and to keep the plot of Aurora living with the three "aunts" in a cabin in the woods until her 16th birthday. 
  • Maleficent is kind of a female Baphomet. Seriously, I could see her being a visual update of the original myth of Lucifer, a fallen angel who was the Hebrew god's favorite but fell due to pride. There are many moments that I'm sure I'll be turning into screenshots to use as desktop wallpaper, because they are just so beautiful.
  • Speaking of beautiful...I think every graphic designer ever was working on this movie. It is the most seamless inclusion of magic and the fantastic that I've ever seen in a live-action film. It does not look like CGI. It looks real. Very, very real. The film is stunning. If it doesn't win any Academy Awards for acting (which, really, Angelina should at least be nominated), it will definitely be a strong contender for editing, visual effects, and costume design. 
  • The crow. I don't want to give too much away, but you will have a new favorite movie sidekick. 

The Misses

There are some things that I missed from the original:

More Prince Phillip, please!
  • While I realize this is Maleficent's story, I did very much love the antagonistic nature of Merryweather and Flora's relationship. Their wand duel over the color of Aurora's dress is one of my favorite Disney scenes, and it's only barely included. (There's a brief moment when Flittle smacks Knotgrass on the cheek and it turns blue for half a second. That's all you get, folks.) 
  • Prince Phillip (the super hunky, 25-year-old Brenton Thwaites...helloooo sexy Prince) could've suited up with the help of Maleficent and fought alongside her. As it was, he basically got 2 scenes and about 3 lines. It's ok (it's Maleficent's movie after all), but I think he could've had a bit more screen time.
  • A friend of mine that went to see the film with me says she missed the sound Maleficent's staff makes on the floor when she strikes it in the original curse scene.

But that's really it. They gave us a different story. A revisionist, anti-heroine story. I found it beautiful, empowering, magical, and full of wonder. It's perfect for folks of all ages. And, believe me, you or someone you love WILL be attempting to pull off a Maleficent/Aurora costume this halloween. I cannot wait for the endless line of drag queens who will be donning those horns come October.

Why it's good.

My favorite characters from modern literature are those that have had to truly struggle. You all know by now that I'm a comic book fan, and many are surprised when I tell them how much I dislike Superman. Superman is sort of always good. He's always incredibly powerful, incredibly fair, incredibly just, and I can only imagine that he brought his own apple polishing cloth to school to make sure his teachers never had to eat a dull fruit. But, I find that boring and unchallenging. It doesn't tell as much about the human story as I'm interested in reading. It might tell us a lot about how much we desire to worship gods, but it doesn't speak to the spirit of humanity. 

Then there are the anti-heroes of modern literature. From Catwoman to Jean Grey to Emma Frost to Scarlet Witch and more (so many more), anti-heroes and heroines are some of the most interesting, dynamic, fully realized characters in pop culture. 

Maleficent is that kind of character, drawing on a world of fantasy and a familiar story to bring us a new addition to the lineup of powerful, independent women who are doing anything but 'learning their place' and being 'good little girls'. She is strong. She is powerful. She has flaws and makes mistakes, but she is a person and her motivations are understandable. I have seen reviews stating that her story all comes down to being jilted by a lover, which isn't true. She is jaded and fearful of the entire human race, which I think she has a right to be. 

And it is a message that is palatable to children of all ages. I didn't see one person in the theater last night that didn't laugh at the funny parts, clutch their chest at the sad parts, and cheer in the finale. It is a very satisfying film. But, don't be mistaken. 

Maleficent is the protagonist.



Did YOU see Maleficent? What did you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below! Good night, beasties. 

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte

4 comments:

  1. I thought it was a good movie with a lot of quotable moments. The first thing I liked, because linguistics buoys my happy vessel, is that Maleficient look predatory but grand, to fair folk this is probably not as big a deal but to humans it make her an other, a scary other; Thus her name starting with the Latin root "Mal" for bad sounds grand and evil but to the fair folk with their not human words, it's probably not. I had a lot of fun thinking "What if her name means something totally different to her people, how does that change perspective?" Also: She wore simple brown, earthy clothing for most of the movie. THANK GOD! As a Brown Thing, I like it when brown things are given an opportunity to be something other than "dirty", "drab", "boring", "bad".

    The visuals were good. They weren't seamless to me because I spend a lot of time paying attention to visual effects but I loved the designs of the Fairy and the Moors. The human realm like many things in the movie not directly related to Maleficient were uninteresting or so disappointing they took away from the movie. Perhaps the excuse could be made that as this movie focuses on Maleficient that is how she sees the human world as drab and full of things she's not particular interested in, which is hard to make engaging for movie audiences though.

    Aurora is so 1 dimensional, any attempt to look for depth in her character will inevitably have you arrive at the same point like a moebius strip. The bickering fairies were nice and fun. I liked them a lot, though I don't quite understand the reasoning for the name change. Prince Phillip was also one dimensional and I think the had a lost opportunity there.

    Finally, Diavol(sp?) was snarky and I liked his lines a fair bit. His character design was really fascinating and a little odd. I liked where their heads were at but would probably tweak some things though.

    In summary: My mom and I enjoyed the movie, loved Maleficient, and hated the king as you do.

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  2. A moderately enchanting, sometimes thought-provoking corrective to the flaws in the story that inspired it.

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  3. Baphomet is not the same as Lucifer, and Baphomet is both male and female.

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  4. Angelina Jolie absolutely "made" this film an enjoyable watch. The back story on Maleficent was an imaginative one that was artistically and emotionally rendered. I found it worth adding to my video library. Fun to think of Maleficent as a creature with a damaged heart, with an ability to be healed like the rest of us.

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