Film

In 'Maleficent', Angelina Jolie Channels Shakespeare's Richard III

Like the great antiheroes of history, Angelina Jolie's seductive performance as Maleficent gets you to root for her even as she commits acts of evil.


Maleficent

Director: Robert Stromberg
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Sharlto Copley, Elle Fanning, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, Juno Temple
Length: 97 minutes
Studio: Disney
Year: 2014
Distributor: Kino Lorber
MPAA Rating: PG
UK Release Date: 2014-10-20
US Release Date: 2014-11-04

There is a certain silliness in most movies in which cartoons are translated to live action and grown adults are forced to act like cartoon characters. One would think that considering the critical praise and box office power of Disney’s Maleficent that this might have been expunged. However, in this retelling of the 1959 Disney version of the Sleeping Beauty story, the trio of Fairies who care for young Aurora (Elle Fanning) somehow seem fine in their CGI guises of cartoonish fairies, but when the fairy godmothers are morphed to human dimensions (where they resemble the actresses who play them, Juno Temple, Imelda Staunton and Lesley Manville) the result feels like something out of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers with adults merely acting silly for the cartoon-themed camera.

To be sure, this is likely merely to appeal to kids (and why shouldn’t it?) but Maleficent is an overall dark film with some very non-kid-friendly moments, especially surrounding the title character as played by Angelina Jolie.

It is in its central character, Maleficent truly finds its strength, primarily due to the actress’ strength and pathos in the role. There is no dearth of “Sympathy for the Devil” stories. In fact, the trend of “humanizing” the villain and finding the psychological reasons for villainy and inverting the old fairy tales has been done to death in the past several years. Clearly, Disney and the cast and crew are well aware of this fact because they have succeeded greatly in creating a very different kind of fairy tale that doesn’t quite feel like the same “villain redemption” story that we have seen a thousand times.

According to the bonus features (of which there are thankfully many), screenwriter Linda Woolverton approached Maleficent with a simple question: the original story establishes the character as a fairy and in this fairy tale world, fairies have wings. So, then: what happened to Maleficent’s wings?

Director Robert Stromberg runs with this premise beautifully, telling the story of the winged (and horned) Maleficent from her early days in the enchanted forest through her first encounters with the world of humans all leading up to the famous uninvited crashing of the Christening of young Princess Aurora. There, of course, the curse that will make her “Sleeping Beauty” is laid upon her by Maleficent, clearly the villain that the original film showed that she was. Also present is the enchanted castle, the wall of thorns and even our own resident Prince Charming.

That said, the very motivations behind Sleeping Beauty are altered drastically here. While this could be something of a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead of the fairy lot (with the exact same events taking place but a larger story unfurling behind the scenes), Maleficent goes in a completely different direction. In many cases these alterations are justified and make the story better. In other situations they feel a bit like change for the sake of change or even change for the sake of clever cuteness. The length of Aurora’s famed sleep and the method of her awakening may feel less familiar, for example.

Do these stranger changes (no spoilers, folks) ruin the original story or make Maleficent its own adventure? Mostly the latter, because nitpicking too far in this film would both be overly cynical and missing the point. Maleficent is not always fun and cartoonish and with its scenes of war, revenge and betrayal, many of these moments prove to be the exact opposite of “uplifting”. However, Stromberg and Woolverton weave an enchanting tapestry with most every element worthy of propping up the finale. And the secret weapon here remains Angelina Jolie herself.

Even at its silliest, Maleficent is a well-acted film, with Sharlto Copley turning in a memorable performance and Elle Fanning proving to be an inspired choice for Aurora/Sleeping Beauty. Jolie manages to steal her own show in most every scene. Jolie is excellent as the hopeful fairy, enjoying the world she flies through. She is also brilliant as the Dark Lady, who could be a perfect counterpart to any Darth Vader, as she malevolently takes her revenge on those who have wronged her.

Further, Jolie never loses her pathos as her character goes bad. She is seductive as the dark Maleficent, but still retains the core of her innocence. In this way she remains something of a modern Richard III with his ability to get the audience to root for him, even as he performs great evil. While I’m not exactly comparing Woolverton to Shakespeare here, it is noteworthy how much depth was both written into the character and executed by Jolie.

Still, with its sillier moments (clearly designed to appeal to kids, but not necessarily in the best ways), Maleficent isn’t quite perfect. The acting, overall story, directing and oft-seamless special effects (the CGI does occasionally “look like CGI”, to be fair) make Maleficent well worth seeing, especially as it stands up to repeat viewings.

Befitting of a Disney Blu-ray, Maleficent’s first release has enough extras to qualify for the Criterion Collection. Deleted scenes, documentaries and a commentary (that goes beyond the very adult “social commentary” that we find in the film) all enhance the viewing of this new classic.

There is still something to be said for the purity of the cartoon fairy tales of Disney’s golden era, and this darker retelling may not sit well with a few purists. However, let us not forget that Maleficent became one of Disney’s premiere baddies because she was so dark and menacing in the first place. This is far from a mere “humanizing” of the character, but a worthy adventure in its own right. For the purists, this remains a Disney fairy tale (not quite as dark as the Grimms, but not all sunshine and pixie dust either), for the film fan at large, Maleficent is a spectacle for the eyes and is well acted in every part, especially that of the very capable star.

7

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image