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Maleficent – Movie Review

Maleficent (poster)Maleficent shows us how far the modern fantasy genre has come, and not just in terms of the subject matter and frequency of adaptations either, but also in terms of support from the big studios and from audiences.

One of the reasons why fantasy stories resonate so well with us is that many of our favourites have a timeless-ness to them. And while it’s all very well and good to look at LoTR, The Hobbit, Harry Potter and other examples of mega-buck film cinema treatments of much loved fantasy stories; these block buster franchises, and the rise of fantasy generally, have inspired a long list of also-rans in the race for the attention and cash of audience-goes. And don’t forget there is the usual run of Disney releases, those animated features that re-tell classic tales with a spunky cast and a catchy sound-track. Yet, even though it’s still Disney, with Maleficent we see something a bit different, and I like it.

It can be a bit of an eye-roll to learn that a movie is “re-telling” an old family favourite: throw in a few pairs of bewbs, some pouty main characters, and a few “edgy” scenes for the money-shots – and viola, we have our dark and brooding version of Hansen and Gretel, Snow White or whatever. It’s a time-worn formula and any film that follows it deserves only death at the box office. What we get in Maleficent, however, is not only a departure from the above formula but also a re-affirmation of the power of a good story.

Maleficent (screenshot 1)

Now, I’m not saying that Maleficent doesn’t have a formula behind it, for one could easily say that all it is doing is repeating the success of Wicked, that similarly strong piece of re-telling that gives us the Wizard of Oz from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West. Yet I am prepared to overlook this similarity because of what the team behind Maleficent have done: that team being writer Linda Woolverton (The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and 2010’s Alice in Wonderland) and director Robert Stromberg (visual effects director on Pirates of the Caribbean, The Hunger Games and Pan’s Labyrinth).

Maleficent (screenshot 2)What they have done is this: write and direct the enhancement of a much loved tale that is actually enjoyable to watch for all ages. For an extra bonus; Maleficent manages not to insult you, whether you’re a kid or an adult. It’s not an overly complex movie, but it doesn’t need to be. All it needs to be to work is consistent, understated and crisp and this is achieved in spades. The world looks great; as it should, having been overseen by a man such as Stromberg with his track record for visual feasts. But Maleficent’s real strengths are a simple story done well and the eschewing of Disney tropes.

What tropes do I mean? Well, it’s not a musical for one. Not that I have a blanket ban on Disney musicals in my house, far from it. If I want a sleep in on a Saturday morning, then putting on Tangled or similar is a great way to buy me an extra hour and a half. I’ll even admit to liking the odd spunky character and catchy soundtrack. But, still, I’m glad no-one broke out into song or was even a smidgeon too cute.

Second, as Yogurt from Spaceballs is want to say; moichendising! Which Disney seems not to have pursued with their usual vigour. This can be seen in the characterisation of the three fairies that raise Aurora, for they could easily have been exact copies of the three from the original Sleeping Beauty tale. No, there’s none of this because this is a story-driven movie that doesn’t rely on cuteness for its cut through to the audience.

Maleficent (screenshot 3)

Jolie is great in her role, by virtue of not overplaying her character. It is her job to make the usually two-dimensional Maleficent into a character you want to feel something for; however, one of the ways this is achieved is by making all the rest of the characters more two-dimensional, which is a bit of a shame, as far as I am concerned. But, then again, the movie doesn’t belong to the supporting cast. An honourable mention definitely needs to go the raven, though.

Maleficent (screenshot 4)As it should, the movie belongs to Maleficent. The revised tale both works as a stand-alone movie idea and as a fuller introduction to the events in the classic Sleeping Beauty tale. In the stand-alone sense, it is a story with integrity hitched to a great actress with intensity. As an expanded view on a well-known tale, it offers three dimensions in many places, instead of two.

But this could all have gone badly. A cute-sy script or too great an eye of branding would have consigned this movie to the also-rans. Instead, we have a story that the studio was willing to rest on its own merits; one that with its class and poise may indeed prove to become timeless. And audiences, especially the one at my house; well, we have something that may become a new family favourite.

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Rating: 9.4/10 (8 votes cast)
Maleficent - Movie Review, 9.4 out of 10 based on 8 ratings
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One Comment

  1. Hi Karl! You’re a rave.

    Fantastic review–I felt the same about Maleficent. I rented it on Redbox and have watched it so much, I might break it. I’m sure it’s someone’s Bluray gift to me for Christmas. I thought I could wait, but…not so much–I’m going to go buy it… ;p

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