Box Office Democracy: “Maleficent”
Recent years have brought an avalanche of terrible fairy tale remakes. Snow White and the Huntsman was boring, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters was dreadful, and Jack the Giant Slayer is so absent from my memory that I suspect it induced some kind of post-traumatic stress reaction. I went to see Maleficent expecting to have an unpleasant experience along the lines of the others but was instead pleasantly surprised. Disney has made a thoroughly pleasant, if not super ambitious, modern take on Sleeping Beauty. They fall in to a few pitfalls along the way (if I never see another mid-to-large scale medieval battle it’ll be too soon) but emerge on the other end with a solid movie.
This is the second big Disney kids release that bucks the traditional fairy tale view of true love. In last year’s Frozen the moment of true love was between two sisters and in Maleficent it’s a decidedly maternal gesture. It’s refreshing to see them move to stories about characters that don’t have to be boy/girl romantic love stories and in Maleficent the love story is pushed so far to the periphery that I’m not sure it was in every draft of the script. I’m not cynical enough to say that I never want to see Disney do another love story but it’s wonderful to see a company with so much access to the building of romantic ideals of generation after generation of young girls start to acknowledge that other relationships can be loving and that boys aren’t the be all and end all.
Speaking of characters pushed way to the periphery, the trio of multi-colored fairies from the original animated film are done quite a disservice this time around. They’re just blithering idiots in this film and are reduced to scenes where they think infants should eat carrots and radishes straight out of the ground and reenacting magic-assisted versions of old Three Stooges routines. They also made some kind of horrible casting blunder by casting Imelda Staunton as Knotgrass, the leader of the trio. To an entire generation she’s Delores Umbridge, the phenomenally evil teacher from the Harry Potter films and I couldn’t help see anyone else even when she was in the throes of a hair-pulling slapstick routine and I can’t imagine little kids are doing any better.
The movie is completely carried by the command performance by Angelina Jolie. What ultimately separates this movie from the other fairy tale remakes is that Jolie is in an entire other class as a movie star than the actors in those other films. Letting her run loose with such an iconic character is a delight to watch and the effortless way she brings you along even as she does some honestly terrible things is a tremendous accomplishment. I don’t mean to take anything away from Elle Fanning who does a fine job being an adorable foil but this movie was always going to live and die on Jolie’s prosthetic cheekbones and it not only lives it thrives. I came in hating this entire genre of movie and left something of a believer and that’s as high a compliment I can imagine paying this film.