Never one to shy away from a film that centres around a female lead, my expectations for Maleficent were particularly high. The film tells the 1959’s Sleeping Beauty story from the perspective of the iconic villain, Maleficent, looking at the reasoning behind the curse that she bestowed upon the innocent Aurora and focusing on the saddening personal tale of the ‘wicked’ fairy. From trailers, promotional material and the general buzz that surrounded the release of this Disney film, I was expecting a dark twist on the classic tale. Instead, all the film offers is a messy adaptation that inserts sudden dark cackles and somber visuals set alongside a cliché fairytale narrative which results in a cinematic experience that uncomfortably jolts you from one chaotic genre to the other. I ordered lobster but all I received was a takeaway portion of fish and chips.
For a film that lasted only 97 minutes long, it seems unjust to say that it dragged. But it did. The dreary voice of the omniscient narrator greeted us, but elongated the exposition to such a length that the explanation of where we have entered in the plot got lost entirely within the narrative itself. The conventional fairytale omnisciency carried on throughout the whole film and was contributed by the conventionality of the whole text. If it wasn’t for the falling-in-love subplot or the arrival of the Prince that looked like he had been regurgitated from Nickelodeon, it was the disappointing character of Aurora. Portrayed by Elle Fanning, the princess was nothing but a cloned stereotype of every other princess that we have seen, offering nothing different but merely serving up the same old slop.
It wasn’t just the typical fairytale themes that made the film as tedious as it was, but it was the binary of dark themes that were offered simultaneously. Surrounded by children that ranged from the age of three to six in the cinema, I found myself questioning whether I was watching a children’s film, a family film or an adult action. I was lost in a genre-oblivion. Maybe this was the point, but with the toe-curling typicalities that saturated the film making the majority of adults uncomfortable and with the rest of the film filled with eerie creatures that made the majority of children uncomfortable, I struggled to fathom exactly what Maleficent was and what it was trying to be.
If there was anyone that could bewitch this Disney film to appear somewhat enjoyable, it was Angelina Jolie. Luckily, her portrayal of the villain was exquisite. Jolie, an ideal Oscar-winning actor to play the part, placed herself within the complex layers that constructed the villain-hero that is Maleficent. She was packed with evil, hatred, love, wonder and melancholy: emotions that constructed a perplexing but effective and innovative portrayal of the previously-enigmatic character. Despite this performance, Jolie could not save the movie and could only gloss over some of the many cracks that characterised the film.
With the vivid structure to the character of Maleficent, others were left vacant and bemusing. Aurora, who is more well-known as Sleeping Beauty, was a fairy-like character, who occasionally had strength and the other times fell in the arms of a Prince. She was confused and so was I. Stefan was another undeveloped character, whose aimless actions never quite supported the absent authentic emotion within, but only the irrational anger outside. Not to mention the characters of the three fairies that Disney placed in the film, their dialogue merely quests to desperately seek laughs that miserably failed.
The film was underwhelming in almost every aspect, but Angelina Jolie’s exquisite performance resurrected it from its ashes where the film was reborn, not as a phoenix, but as a negligible crow.
Maleficent (2014), directed by Robert Stromberg, is released in cinemas in the UK by Walt Disney Pictures, Certificate PG.