Mar 28, 2015

Review: Maleficent (2014)

If I were a movie studio, I'd want to be Disney. Despite all the consolidation that they've been doing with Marvel, Pixar and LucasArts, they haven't stopped churning out their own products and making good chunks of change. It hasn't all been peaches and cream if John Carter is any indication, but Disney has never been more powerful than now. They've come to rule the animated and live action blockbuster circuits which the latter will become even more of a reality once the Star Wars movies start up. If I were Universal, Warner Bros. or MGM, I'd be shaking in my boots.

A re-imagining of Disney's Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent is also a pet project of Angelina Jolie's. In addition to starring as the main protagonist Maleficent, she also served as an executive producer giving her quite a bit of say in the whole project. Disney shockingly went with rookie director Robert Stromberg which isn't so shocking when he happens to be one of the most accomplished production and visual effect designers in the business. With such a CGI heavy film, his experience could definitely prove valuable.


Genre: action, adventure, family
Directed by: Robert Stromberg
Produced by: Joe Roth, Sarah Bradshaw, Don Hahn, etc.
Written by: Linda Woolverton
Music by: James Newton Howard
Running time: 97 minutes
Production company: Roth Films, Walt Disney Pictures
Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Bandwidth Digital Releasing, The Walt Disney Company, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $180,000,000
Box office: $758,410,378 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Sam Riley, Brenton Thwaites, Kenneth Cranham, Sarah Flind, Hannah New, Isobelle Molloy, Michael Higgins, Ella Purnell, Jackson Bews, Angus Wright, Oliver Maltman, Gary Cargill



The magical fairy beings of the Moors live in peace, watched over by a young Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy). However, the bordering human kingdom continually poses a potential threat to that peace. Young Stefan (Michael Higgins) of that kingdom takes refuge in the Moors with a stolen diamond originally from the Moors. After returning the diamond on Maleficent's order, the two fall in love with one another. Sadly, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) and Stefan (Sharlto Copley) grow apart over the years.


Maleficent opens to the CGI fantasy landscapes that Disney seems to love so much. It sure is pretty I guess as Stromberg gives us a flying tour of the Moors terrain alongside an airborne Maleficent, but it's the kind of thing that feels so old now. I'm sure the effect is even prettier if you're watching this in 3D on the big screen in a theatre, but it doesn't really add anything to the story. It's eye candy pure and simple and I don't think there are many people left who feel enchanted by CGI eye candy anymore.

With that in mind, it shouldn't be any surprise that special effects play a huge part in Maleficent. For the most part I can't deny that everything looks masterfully crafted. Tree guardian thingies look and sound good and the effects associated with Maleficent casting spells and such look great. It's not perfect however since closeups when Maleficent is flying around look a little awkward unfortunately. Worst of all though, the pixie trio of Flittle (Lesley Manville), Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton) and Thistletwit (Juno Temple) look expressionless and generally horrendous. Done with motion capture, it's an easy example of bad motion capture. Planet of the Apes this is not.

The overuse of special effects also cause problems for several of the battles in the film. An early battle between beings of the Moors and human soldiers lack weight even if they are well captured. Where was all the power that should've come from all the larger Moor monsters as they delivered crushing blows on the soldiers? Stromberg is unable to hide the fact that we're watching CGI creations duke it out which isn't satisfying for anyone. The final battle however while not perfect is pretty well executed. It's a little bit anticlimactic, but still a decent finish from an action stand point.

What I'll also say is that some of these scenes are surprisingly frightening for young children. Or at least I think they are. While the violence is visibly glossed over for good reason, that's probably why the battles lack punch. I understand that had to be done for family reasons, but it's still a shame. Still, some of those monsters from the Moors are a little on the scary side and the film gets progressively darker in tone and colour palette. That's definitely an aspect that I appreciated even if that makes Maleficent a movie you don't show your five year-old.

The real highlight of Maleficent though without a doubt is Angelina Jolie. She positively radiates Disney "evil" when it's required of her and she's able to also be slightly amusing when the scene calls for it. Her character's makeup and costume is also without fault. Jolie's love for the Maleficent character is very much on display here and that's probably why she nailed the role so well. Seriously, good for her.

Exploring the origins of Maleficent as a character is also surprisingly satisfying. It's revisionist in nature and goes into some pretty hefty themes that honestly took me aback. Allusions to rape is nothing to scoff at after all. This angle is well managed if you ask me and it doesn't make it any less of a family film. It's the kind of thing we need in a 2014 film featuring a female protagonist. I'm very impressed with Disney for being willing to stick to something like this without trying to undercook the whole effort which would've been very easy to do.

Despite the strong performance from Angelina Jolie and the strong female-minded themes of the story, Maleficent is overshadowed by all the special effects. Disney still seems to think that you need to dazzle the audience with pretty CGI when nothing could be further from the truth. This isn't 2009 anymore. While there's some legitimate meat on the bones in terms of character and story, Maleficent is drowning in vapid imagery.



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