PHOTO BY WALT DISNEY
Where is it playing?: Sunset Drive-In (in 2-D)
What's it rated?: PG
What's it worth?: $4.00
Before discussing Disney’s Maleficent, let me walk you through the Hollywood Origin Story Machine—put more simply, hype and disappointment.
First, producers thumb through influential and profitable films from the last hundred years with stories no one has seen on television in the last few months. Studios then choose respectable actors who normally wouldn’t do something like this and offer wheelbarrows full of money so said talent couldn’t possibly say “no.” Audiences in turn get so excited by the prospect of such a project that, even before the first previews, they add the film to their must-see lists for the summer.
But heed the warning we got from wanting to see Darth Vader’s origin story in the prequels: Don’t believe the hype.
Maleficent follows suit by casting a fantastic Angelina Jolie in a role she was meant to play. The wickedness and scorn Jolie gives to the titular character must have convinced the filmmakers their job was done—because that is where the magic ends.
In an ancient land, a kingdom of men borders a land occupied by fairies. Maleficent, a loving yet poorly named fairy, grows up to be the enchanted moors’ protector.
When the king decides he doesn’t like to see land he doesn’t rule from his bedroom window, the two sides fight—making the king hate Maleficent so much he’ll offer his kingdom to anyone who can slay her.
Enter Stephan (Sharlto Copley), whose decade-long love affair with Maleficent gives him the perfect pretext to steal her wings and thus assume the throne. (Warning to younger audiences: This scene comes off as date rape.)
Stripped of her wings and her trust, Maleficent strides the land looking like the menace we know so well.
As with the original story, she curses Stephan’s young child, Aurora, to die by pricking her finger on a spinning needle on her 16th birthday. Here, however, she changes her mind and settles for an eternal sleep interrupted by love’s first kiss—believing that such a thing doesn’t exist.
So many more changes to the original story soon follow that you should forget everything you know of Sleeping Beauty and just take in the pretty pictures.
As mentioned above, Jolie is the only delight in Maleficent. Elle Fanning is fine as Aurora, but doesn’t show until the third act. Copley, on the other hand, sours the film all the way through. Sputtering what I’d guess is a Scottish accent, his lines are either laughable or undistinguishable, and his character’s actions lack any real intention.
If you think I’m a bit bitter over what Disney has done with Maleficent, you’re right. If you think I don’t like Sleeping Beauty, you’re wrong. I heartily enjoy the Disney classic and looked forward to a live-action retelling. What Maleficent only delivers to its filmgoers instead is confusion.
Why must a good story be rewritten and stripped of its best parts? We can still adapt Romeo and Juliet without Romeo changing his mind about Juliet to return to his quest for Rosalind.
Maleficent can only be enjoyed by moviegoers who liked all the visuals of the 1959 animated film but hated the plot. But we can’t really ask the producers to give us something new; that’s not what they’re good at. (97 min.)
—Chris Daly; New Times contributor