Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Maleficent plays well with others (sort of)

Disney reimagines yet another of its cherished properties with a darker, richer take on the antagonist to Sleeping Beauty 


ARTH VADER (AV): In 1959, Disney’s classic tale of a young girl deceived by a malevolent sorceress became a an instant classic with children, specifically with young adolescent and teen girls. The classic victim/damsel in distress tale captured the hearts and minds of generations and has spurned a whole new take by the creators themselves. As for this film’s alignment with it’s original manifestation, it’s close enough and does a compelling job of updating the fable with new actors, new effects and a new take on an old tale. As for continuity, it is the second in what looks to be an ongoing series of re-boots of classic Disney properties including the upcoming Cinderella in 2015 and John Faveraau’s The Jungle Book already in production. Personally, I think this is all exciting stuff for Disney whose properties, quite frankly, have grown stale. P-Man?

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): “Sleeping Beauty” has never been told like this! In life I have found it true that there is always another side to a story, sometimes, many sides. This film tells the other side of this classic tale and enlightens the audience that everything isn’t a clear cut case of “good versus evil.”


AV: For me, there is only one name that matters in this film and that’s Angelina Jolie. While not a brilliant performance, her characterization was richly portrayed and she brought a confusingly complex and delightfully troubled woman to the screen. Gone are the days when a character is defined by one simple, one-dimensional character trait (read: ‘she’s evil’). Maleficent is a kaleidoscope of personality contradictions. And that is exactly how we are all made. Most characters in the film run a steady faucet of either chaotic good to untempered rage while Jolie’s Maleficent is often merciful and other times ruthless, bitter when she need be and oddly forgiving and even whimsical to downright playful. Director Robert “ hunger Games” Stromberg brought continuously volatile camerawork to bear to devastating 3D-enhancing effect to the world of Maleficent, would you agree Pontificator? 

TP: Agreed VaderAngelina Jolie is the only name you need to know here and for good reason. She is absolutely electric in her role as Maleficent. Her character grabs hold and never releases as we see her progress from “good” to “evil” and back to “good’ again. She convinced me of the tragedy of her story and had me questioning who the real villain was. Elle Fanning also delivered in her role as Aurora. Being the real life daughter of Jolie and Pitt, I should have expected as much. Sharlto Copley (first seen by me in “A-Team”) surely added some enlightenment by his role as King Stefan (I just have yet to grasp it). The fact that I had such disdain for the character tells me he either did his job or his role was garbage.


AV: Castles and fairy-folk and woodland creatures live aplenty in Stromberg’s Maleficent. While none are trend-setting or ‘next-generation defining’, all are handsomely handled and bring the magical world of this film right into the viewer’s psyche. It may be that both my daughter and I both have an affinity for dragons, we were beside ourselves with the dragon sequence. The enchanted environment came to life in small part due to exceptional visual effects.

TP: Never passing up an opportunity to watch a film in 3D, I watched this one in that medium and was happy I did. The effects where very nice with bright and flowing scenery, just the sort of look I’d expect from a Disney film. The effects added some depth to the overall story, but never overshadowed the performance of Jolie or detracted from message of the film. There was no new ground broken, just special effects done right.


AV: Like Alice in Wonderland before it, Disney seems to be doubling down on its core properties with re-boots and “re-imaginings” of their ‘princess properties.’ This is a necessary effort in this world of Disney-owned super-IP’s like Star Wars & Marvel studios. Classic IP’s like Cinderella, Snow White and all of them really, run the very real risk of becoming obsolete. In an age of digital animation, high-gloss visual effects and a notoriously endless number of re-boots and re-imaginings. While I would strongly question the staying power of these films in the mind space of their core audience (namely pre-teen and early teen girls), these films keep these characters in the hearts and on the lips of us all. And while the screenplay could use a bit more polishing, I think it handsomely accomplishes its task of staying relevant in an increasingly attention-deficient world. 

TP: The line between good and evil, became very blurred in this film and totally skewed if we are to believe the original version of Sleeping Beauty. Although I loved the performance of Jolie, I just couldn’t get a handle on Stefan. I couldn’t connect with him at all and I suppose that’s par for the course seeing the armies of men besiege their neighbors for no reason at all save for the prospect of new land with untold wealth. It made no sense (as mankind mirrors in real life) and was only compounded when Stefan does a complete one-eighty about how he feels about Maleficent. He grows up with her, falls in love with her (or so we think) only to later become the most tragic and un-relatable character to ever grace the silver screen. Anyone not on the side of Maleficent just didn’t have a heart as we all understand the pain of loss and yearning for retribution. We also understand forgiveness and a willingness to move on. Maleficent may have been the one with horns and wings, but King Stefan was the least human character of all, a sad reflection of how some of can be in reality.


AV: Having pulled more than $500 million in box office revenue worldwide (as of the writing of this post), Maleficent 2 is presently undergoing initial script writing. Disney is in the business of entertainment and nearly 20 million people the world over saw great value in this film, and Disney is hot to strike while the proverbial fire is hot. This film needed to be re-made and for the greater part of things, that part was done well. I am pretty unconvinced that a follow-up is necessary at all and would rather see that money and effort go to the development of original properties and additional ‘re-boots.’ Our daughters are hungrily consuming far lesser-quality movies and franchises, so a Maleficent sequels isn’t the worst idea I’ve ever heard. 

TP: This film doesn’t need, nor should have a sequel. The story is told with complete resolution as just another way of looking at events we are already familiar with. That said, I’m not surprised part two is already in the works. I mean, why let a story stand alone as a classic when you can keep milking the box office cow right? 


ARTH VADER rates Maleficent: This movie is entertaining is if you can keep your composure through almost two hours of intensive emoting, voiceover and dialogue, the action sequence are compelling and the story, while familiar, is told well. There are moments of greatness tempered by moments of sheer boredom. The presence of Jolie onscreen is impressive but the comic relief to the three fairy Godmothers is just this side of bearable. Still, fun with something everyone and a strong, if not heavy-handed re-boot, Maleficent casts its spell over eight (8) magical busted blocks and starts something wickedly wonderful.

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Maleficent: One of the most tragic stories to come along in a long time, this certainly will appeal to female audiences as it is all about the heart and paints men in a way they are all too familiar with. While the effects and performance of the cast were stellar, there was just a level about the film that I couldn’t relate to and that left me wishing it could break more than seven (7) magical blocks. 

Maleficent: 7.5 / 10 Busted Blocks

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