Angelina Jolie’s wickedly entertaining performance fails to save Disney’s Maleficent from disappointing mediocrity.
It is a story with which we are all familiar. Disney’s 1959 classic Sleeping Beauty has been watched, and loved, by generations. Much like Wicked, the musical which tells the back story of Wicked Witch of the West, Maleficent is Disney’s attempt at giving us a classic story from a more villainous point of view. However, in doing so, Disney takes a well-loved story and mangles it almost beyond recognition for the sake of Maleficent’s unneeded redemption.
Maleficent is so effective as a villain because, in Sleeping Beauty, her motives are few. She is unpredictable, and wicked for the sake of wickedness. She does not require humanising, her appeal is in her immorality. Maleficent attempts to get us rooting for her through making her a woman scorned, then redeeming her through her attempts to rid Aurora of her curse. When Maleficent is truly wicked, however, she is utterly enthralling. Jolie’s performance is enough to make us love Maleficent for all of her heinousness, even without giving her a redemptive backstory. Her appearance in the baby shower scene echos back to the 1959 original enough to remind us of why we love her as a villain, and it’s thrilling. Jolie has such presence that we cannot help but root for her. Disney has shied away from giving us a truly evil Maleficent, instead choosing to water her down and make her more palatable. A bolder, and more interesting move, would have been to give us pure, sharp-tongued and exhilarating villainy.
However, the film’s problems lie not only with its character choices, but with its visuals. Directed by Robert Stromberg, who worked as production designer on Oz: The Great and Powerful and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, does not lose his penchant for excessive CGI here. I am not one of those who dislikes CGI in all its forms- to the contrary, I admire it- but its use here intrudes on the viewing experience. There is so much CGI that it detracts from Jolie’s performance, and the few natural-looking landscapes are a palate cleanser for the eyes. It would have been refreshing to see such a dark story told in a natural setting as opposed to a phosphorescent wonderland. I found myself more impressed by Jolie’s prosthetic cheekbones than any of the Avataresque CGI backdrops.
Ultimately, Maleficent’s faults outstrip its merits, and what we are left with is a disappointingly forgettable take on Disney’s most iconic villain.