Photo credit: Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Maleficent: What Works

Based on a variety of mixed reviews, Maleficent seems to be the most controversial PG-rated movie since Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom. Personally, I think it deserves a PG-10. I’m not saying younger kids can’t handle it but it’s a fair warning to parents who might otherwise leave their six year old alone to watch a PG Disney movie. But once I relaxed and stopped judging the movie by its rating, I discovered that in spite of its flaws, I kinda loved Maleficent.

First of all, Angelina Jolie is stellar. There is a poisonous majesty to Maleficent, she is as charming as she is vengeful, and I don’t think anyone but Jolie could have nailed it. I consider it a perfect performance and I’m calling it now: Best Actress nominations will be rolling in.

There is true sweetness in the scenes between Maleficent and Aurora, even at the toddler stage. I was so caught up in the moment, I forgot entirely about the much publicized fact that the toddler is Angie’s daughter. As Aurora ages into Elle Fanning, these are some of the film’s funniest moments as well, a side of Jolie we don’t see too often in movies.

Like most fairy tales, Maleficent is a dark, violent story. (SPOILERS AHEAD! Proceed at your own risk) When Stefan violates Maleficent’s body – let’s just call it what it is – all of her physical, emotional and psychological pain is embodied in an agonizing primal scream that sent chills through my body. The act is so heinous, it drives Stefan mad, and I think that scream echoes in his head for the rest of his life.

The movie is as much about regret as it is about betrayal and redemption. It’s obvious that Maleficent grows attached to Aurora, that she’s not really a cold hearted villain, just a broken soul with trust issues. I was moved by her attempt to revoke the spell and by her sorrow when she couldn’t. I wasn’t expecting her to be healed in the end, and if this was the R-rated movie it could have been, Aurora’s heroic rescue of her wings might have rung false. But this is a PG Disney movie and I think it earns its way back into the light.

I’m tempted to say I’d love seeing someone like Terry Gilliam direct a movie like this but having been so disappointed by The Brothers Grimm, that’s really not fair to first time director Robert Stromberg. At least Stromberg plays by the rules of his chosen fairy tail; I never felt cheated by his twists on the source material, which is more than I can say for Gilliam.

In Maleficent, she still curses Aurora – her entrance at the christening pays beautiful, eerie homage to the 1959 animated film – but she herself modifies the curse (not Merryweather) as an act of pure cynicism. It’s Diaval the shape-shifting raven, not Maleficent, who becomes a fire breathing dragon (and may be the best CGI/live action character I’ve ever seen; his transitions in and out of animal form are very well executed). And in the end Aurora is awakened by true love’s kiss, but it’s Maleficent, not Prince Phillip, who truly loves her.

There is real power and beauty in the story of these two women healing each other. Maleficent is by no means a perfect movie but I don’t think it’s, as one critic brilliantly phrased it, “Disney’s I Spit on Your Grave”. His article is well reasoned and based on his visceral response to the film; I certainly don’t fault his opinion, I just don’t agree with it. I know that 10 year old me would have loved Maleficent without reservation. Grown up me loves the bits that work when I ignore the annoying cutesy crap.

Maleficent fell short of my admittedly high expectations but the character met and exceeded them all. Jolie has created an iconic character who is likely to remain stamped in our imaginations for years to come. Now that the initial thrill is over, a second viewing is definitely in order so I can determine if that’s enough to keep the whole movie afloat. I’ll let you know!

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Tags: Angelina Jolie Maleficent

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