Disney is doing it’s darndest to exploit all their properties and keep us entertained at the same time. A traditional retelling of “Sleeping Beauty” could have worked fine, just as the live action “101 Dalmatians” did a dozen or so years ago. Somewhere in the bowels of the Imagineering Department or in the Production agreement with big movie stars, someone has decided that a straight remake is not cool, and a story needs to be tweaked to make it fresh. The best known example of this in the recent past has been the musical “Wicked”. A couple of years ago, Disney re-imagined “Alice in Wonderland”. Now it is time for a classic fairy tale to get it’s own variation and they have chosen one with a great villainess which makes the visualization a handy shortcut to the story.
There is a great deal to admire about this movie. I thought the opening section in which the character of “Maleficent” is introduced in her child form was really marvelous. The character was appealing and there is a nice romantic edge to the story line that is being developed. The character of Stephan however, is not quite as nicely developed and it was hard to see the conflicting choices he was faced with until the key scenes in the movie. The character development here was incomplete which makes some of the plotting a little muddled. Although a conflict between the two worlds was suggested in the narration, we are not really shown any of that except in a direct combat scene. One side is immediately presented as evil and as a result, they lose any interest as part of the story. A whole Kingdom becomes a cardboard cutout villain. The movie shows armies and battles but nothing that would back up the need or desire for those battles.
My daughter has watched “Once Upon a Time” and we have both seen “Frozen” so the twist in the movie is not as great as it should be. I liked it pretty well but she feels that it is almost becoming a contemporary cliche. The movie is aggressively unromantic and that trend may reflect blowback from all the years that Disney has been accused of brainwashing little girls about “true love” and the handsome prince. The switch in tone is meant to appeal to more modern audiences and ways of thinking, but it feels like something of the magic is being lost by doing this. The outcome does differ from tradition and while that might sometimes be appealing, it does feel strange when being thrust upon a story like this. In a way it makes the calculation of changing the character focus even more noticeable.
Angelina Jolie was obviously perfectly cast in the movie. She almost has the high cheekbones without the prosthetic and special effects makeup. Her eyes do a lot of the acting in the movie but her voice is also used exceptionally well. She is the main reason to see the film. She appears to be invested in telling the story and selling her performance. She has two emotional transformations that she has to pull off and both of them succeed pretty well. The second one is more subtle and takes up much of the storyline but it feels solid because it is allowed to play out. You can see the turn coming, but you can also believe that it might not get here, That is the value of her performance. It is a bit disconcerting that the bad guy has to be the hero and the reverse happens as well. I hope that the desire to tell traditional stories doesn’t require us to subvert what came before every time. I’m willing to go along today because of the casting and performance, but screenwriters should be careful about going to that well too frequently.
This may have been a film where the 3D process would be worth seeing. I saw it in a regular two dimensional form and the edges of characters looked soft and artificial to me. I saw several spots where the extra dimensionality would be exciting in the scene, and make the events in those sequences more dynamic. The creatures of the moors that Maleficent is the de-facto queen over look a bit cartoonish and sometimes silly. There are long sequences where the beauty of the woods is supposed to be a marvel but it just looks conventional and weak. The best live comparison I could think of to make was Ridley Scott’s “Legend”. The enchanted forest in that film looked more real on the sets than anything in this CGI wonderland that has been created for the character here to inhabit.
You may notice that I’ve said nothing about Sleeping Beauty herself. Elle Fanning is a good actress, she was great in “Super 8” a couple of years ago. She is fine in this film but there is so little to her part that almost any pretty young actress would have been fine in the role. It has to be a thankless task to star in a fairy tale as the princess who is subject to a curse, and end up playing second fiddle to a character that might be mostly defined by her horns. The three good faeries are played strictly for laughs and between them and King Stephan, there is no emotional investment in what goes on with Aurora. There is more to say but it is late and I’ve been busy this weekend as you will see if you visit the other blog. I may come back and add some more to this review but for now i can say it was an interesting experience that I can’t quite warm up to, but did admire at times.