The wagon train of live action adaptations of Disney animated classics reached its pinnacle with 2014’s “Maleficent,” with much credit going towards Angelina Jolie’s portrayal of the title character. However, the visuals can not be dismissed as well. It’s a gorgeous film directed by Robert Stromberg.
Stromberg brings his wealth of experience in visual effects (“Avatar” and “Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World”) to his directorial debut. The fantasy world of Maleficent’s forest as well as the looming castle on its outskirts are dressed in gorgeous colors and vast dimension of pathways and caverns. The magical spells wafting in greens, golds, blues and reds, wielded by the characters, including the three protective fairies (led by a strong Imelda Staunton) is hypnotic and blends beautifully with the live actors’ performances. It’s as strong in the visual department as anything cropped up by Peter Jackson or James Cameron.
What makes this brisk 90 minute film special is a different point of view from the classic film “Sleeping Beauty.” Is there justification to a villain’s actions? Stromberg and Jolie certainly make a case for it. It’s a reminder that there are two sides to every story. Anyone ever consider that maybe Maleficent might have been betrayed at one point? I’ll be damned. At least that’s what I thought.
No one in life is born evil. I like to think people are made evil or perceived as evil. This film is a great example of that, much like the musical “Wicked” or the recent hit film “Joker.”
Jolie offers up the frightening aspects of the fairy dressed in black that we’ve been familiar with all these years. However, she’s fortunate that the capable script from Linda Woolverton offers up opportune moments to consider her soft, sensitive side. There’s moments of no dialogue as Maleficent observes Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) grow and develops a reluctant (it’s hard to resist calling her “Beasty”) affection for the child. Maleficent will even participate in a playful mud fight. There’s more than just evil machinations going on here.
Unlike the other Disney live action iterations, “Maleficent” shows me something new and unexpected. It harbors my appreciation for the film whereas “Beauty And The Beast” or “Aladdin” did not because they just churned out the same old thing.
If Stromberg’s film suffers from one weakness I’d say it could have used a stronger performance from Sharlto Copley (“The A Team”) as the antagonist, Aurora’s father and Maleficent’s first love; the eventual king. There was not much threat from this guy. He was no match in character much less performance against Jolie.
Still, “Maleficent” is a great character film with lots of fun visuals to explore.