Saturday, May 31, 2014

Maleficent

stock photo from IMDB

I've rambled on for years about my artist past and how the Disney movie Sleeping Beauty and Marc Davis (one of Walt's Nine Old Men, and, in my opinion, the single greatest artist of his day) has been the greatest influences of my entire life. I've been both anticipating and dreading Maleficent ever since the movie was announced. Last night was it's judgement day (so to speak)!

Throughout the entire movie, I found myself as fascinated with the backgrounds and characters as I did with the original animation. It was an esthetically beautiful movie. In places, it was as true to the original storyline, even right down to the dialogue (especially most of the Christening scene) and this made me extremely happy! I'm not a fan of Angelina Jolie, but I would find myself not even noticing that it was her and felt a bit like I was watching Eleanor Audley. That was impressive in its own right. And the music was just as spellbinding as the Tchaikovsky ballet used in the original (Lana Del Rey's version of Once Upon A Dream has given me a new favorite Disney song).

But at the same time, there were little things that drove me nuts, such as the renaming of characters like Diablo to Diaval, Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather to whatever their names were, etc. And the character turnarounds of the three fairies being almost selfish and hateful and King Stephan being the evil protagonist, felt just wrong. Some of the characters in the Moor world were a bit too Henson/Croftish in their design as well. Granted, it would be hard to make believable nether-folk (for lack of a better term), but did they have to be so "animated looking" when they tried so hard not to force that animated look on the humans?

I had major issues with Elle Fanning as Aurora. She just wasn't pretty enough and was a bit too "child-like" in her facial expressions and actions where Mary Costa/Helene Stanley were both elegant, graceful, and mature in their Aurora portrayals (since the both served as models even though Mary Costa was the voice). Aurora is MY princess just as Maleficent is MY villain (and Phillip is MY prince). I am very protective of them as characters and Aurora is where this movie fails while Maleficent is where it succeeds. Even when the Disney Store dolls for the movie came out, I found myself not buying the Aurora doll because she was just NOT Aurora. I don't think I've ever not bought the matching set of Aurora/Maleficent figurines in any form, be it ceramic or plastic, since I've been collecting them.

I also had more than an obvious awareness of how King Stephan and his realm were all Scottish (all but for the Queen and Aurora) and the Moor people were all English (even though Diaval was Irish). I don't know if this was deliberate or just actor choices, but it was noticeable and offensive to my Scottish blood. Why did all the baddies have to be Scottish?

But my biggest complaint with the movie was their choice of minimizing the "true love" aspect of Aurora and Phillip's relationship. I know that there is this whole backlash against the "Prince Charming" effect on little girls and how it skews their view of romance and love, but I think it's misdirected. It's the boys that need to change their behaviors, not necessarily the girls...teach girls to be independent Cinderellas, but also teach boys to be Prince Charmings. Men-themed movies today tend to make them anything BUT chivalrous...they blow stuff up, screw every woman in sight, and they still end up being the hero and women are just supposed to accept what they can get or do without, whereas women-themed movies are all about your cheating man that makes you an independent spirit. Do we really want to teach kids THAT? Chivalrous men do exist in the world today and it doesn't mean they aren't unrealistic goal to desire, just that I can do without if I never find "the one" (I tried settling once and I'll never do it again). But I have watched Disney movies my entire life and I am a product of the "Prince Charming" generation, so maybe I do have a skewed view of men and love. Despite that, I still feel that the idea that they give you an unrealistic expectation of love is just as stupid as the idea that video games or horror movies makes killer kids. Disney movies have always taught us that you must work for what you want, that good conquers evil, and love, in any form, rules above all (even if in an overly dramatic, possibly unrealistic fashion). Is that such a horrible lesson to teach?

I do have to backtrack a bit, because, although Maleficent didn't focus on the "true love" aspect as the savior for Aurora, at least they didn't wipe it out completely. And Phillip was as much a "Prince Charming" in Maleficent as he was in Sleeping Beauty (even if his screen time was limited). His chivalrous actions didn't make him the savior of the girl, but at least it made him worthy of her and he got her in the end. It's a start (even if Maleficent's Aurora was a bumbling, naive, very un-independent maiden who really didn't deserve him, the complete opposite of Sleeping Beauty's Aurora).

I pretty much know, the moment I walk out of a movie, how I felt about it. This movie, however, was initially a stumper. After mulling it over for quite a while, I pretty much decided that, as long as I looked at Maleficent as a separate entity, and not try to compare it to Sleeping Beauty, it was probably the best movie I've seen in years! Only when I started to compare the two did I run into issues and started to critique it a bit too harshly, after all, they are dinking with the single biggest Disney influence in my entire life!

The moment I got home, the first thing I did was put on Sleeping Beauty, expecting to find myself even more upset with Maleficent, but it had the opposite effect. I realized that the casting of King Stephan, which I was initially unimpressed by (and was laughed at by the kids in the audience), was a quite deliberate choice. I had a mental image of the animated King Stephan, which conflicted with the live action version, but upon rewatching it, realized that my mental picture couldn't have been more wrong. How they found an actor that resembled a 60 year old animated character was quite a feat!

I'm really looking forward to it's Blu-Ray release so that I can watch it at home as well as watch them back to back. I'm also curious to see the special features and their influences in the original source material. This is also the Diamond year release of Sleeping Beauty (and, I'd bet they come out at the same time). If you own Sleeping Beauty (especially the 50th Anniversary version), watch the special features and then go and see Maleficent. I might have enjoyed the movie better in the moment than as an afterward had I done so.

But overall, it was an amazing beautiful, haunting, lyrical expansion of the Sleeping Beauty we all know and love, and, if you can get over the little details that ate at me (like renaming and character personality 360's), then you will probably love it! Even my die-hard Disney purist heart has to admit that I absolutely loved this movie (even if my beloved Phillip took a backseat)!

1 comment:

Tiffany Pincombe said...

Very interesting review, thank you! Sleeping Beauty is my favourite of the princess movies, so I was glad to get your take on Malificent. I just might have to go and see it now.