I love a good postmodern take on a villain’s back-story – Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (the novel and, sort of, the musical) or John Gardner’s Grendel or even Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (which gives us a topsy turvy, super-identifiable Joker in Heath Ledger’s gonzo performance). I even like Tom Stoppard’s exercise in twee Shakespearean intrigue Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.
I had such high hopes for Disney’s similar take on Sleeping Beauty‘s nefarious baddie. Sleeping Beauty is one of my least favorite Disney animated classics, so I figured they could really go for broke and do something interesting. Angelina Jolie is perfect casting, and I believed the sky to be the limit. When I heard Lana Del Rey’s spooky, woozy take on the iconic “Once Upon a Dream” back in January, I thought, “Oh, yeah, they’ve nailed this.”
If the film could have simply been Angelina slinking around to that hypnotic musical interpretation for two hours, I might have enjoyed myself.
Don’t get me wrong, Jolie is spot on as the titular anti-hero. (This does seem to be the summer of the anti-hero from Godzilla to Neighbors to Michael Fassbender’s dreamy Magneto.) Jolie is a delight in her otherwise disappointingly sketchy scenes, wringing an intoxicating cocktail of wit and despondency from a dearth of dialogue. Honestly, if she speaks 200 words in this film, I would be surprised.
I wish the rest of the film lived up to her wry potential. She owns the fact that she is spectacularly featured in a big summer blockbuster cartoon, but unfortunately no one else matches her (save Del Rey’s musical contribution).
Directed in ham-handed fashion by Robert Stromberg who was scenic designer on Disney’s other atrocious fairy tale reinventions Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful, Maleficent is clearly a Disney cash-grab forged from those films’ over-stuffed visual cast-offs. There are floating mountains and Wii-video game worthy creatures aplenty, but not much heart.
Jolie puts in a yeoman’s effort salvaging a film with no discernible script and a supporting cast that is be-wigged and be-dialected mercilessly. Seriously, Sharlto Copley’s King Stefan sounds like he took a left turn off the set of an Austin Powers flick, and the less said about the waxy-faced fairies Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), Thistlewit (Juno Temple), Flittle (Leslie Manville) the better. (Ladies, I urge you … fire your agents … now.)
Jolie conveys such beautiful heartache as a true force of nature. Her Maleficent is violated over and over by a world consumed in its material goods, power plays, and social status. With simply her limpid eyes (and her fabulous cheekbones, lightly accentuated by some Gaga-esque prosthetics), she conveys a hurt that is deep and compelling as Maleficent finds her core essence destroyed by those she loves deepest.
Why the rest of the film couldn’t meet this performance is a crime I will never understand. I fear Maleficent’s greatest betrayal came at the hands of Disney’s relentless (soulless?) marketing department. Sigh.
Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Thanks to BroadwayWorld for this coverage – click here to view. In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.