The anatomy of a Disney movie used to be simple: princess meets prince, evil witch wreaks havoc, prince is hero, prince gets the girl. Things were black-and-white. A fairy-tale was nothing but a story.
Increasingly, we’re seeing more complex stories emerge that more accurately reflect real life. Sometimes the ugly one isn’t the villain, sometimes the handsome man is not the hero, sometimes romance is not the answer. Maleficent is the latest of these stories. It humanises the “badie” to the point where we’re forced to reconsider the very nature of evil.
I thought I was tired of re-tellings of the same story – does there seems to be a dearth of creativity in Hollywood at the moment, or is it just me? After hearing the reviews, I was braced for another Oz: The Great and Powerful (powerful disappointment, maybe), but Maleficent surprised me. Seeing it for the first time on Blu-ray, I loved it. However, I’m not sure that it hits the nail on the head for its target audience: children.
The story opens by establishing a complex political landscape. The first act is about forbidden love (easy enough to grasp), followed by intense betrayal (the kind that I’m not sure I’d want my kids to witness). Then the familiar story of sleeping beauty starts, featuring annoying fairies (now ten times more annoying) and a surprising lack of animal companions (this is still a Disney movie, isn’t it?).
Sleeping Beauty’s villain has always been among the most graceful and enthralling Disney characters and no one can carry off that level of poise and malice like Angelina Jolie. The other star of the show is the CGI which creates rich, layered environments. There’s something about the world where this film plays out that is both realistic and fantastical. Rich colours and high saturation combined with striking attention to detail creates a visual feast that’s difficult to look away from.
It’s a good analogy for the story too. It’s more nuanced than your average Disney with some attempt at creating real, three-dimensional, characters and with real driving motivations. On the other hand many of the characters are still the pure fantastical archetypes with completely unrealistic reasoning and motivation. Basically you’re more likely to enjoy it if you focus on the titular character and enjoy the prettiness.
Praise must also be given for the regular homages to the 1959 animated film, Sleeping Beauty. Disney fans will pick up familiar snatches of dialogue and some scenes – in particular the famous curse scene – are filmed to be almost identical. A new, haunting, version of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty Waltz – the main song from the 1959 flick – plays over the credits.
If you are looking at purchasing the Blu-Ray, you can be assured that the stunning visuals and dramatic score do the format justice. In addition, the release has a number of special featurettes on the making of the film that are short but interesting.
It’s the usual fare – interviews with the cast where they speak about how wonderful the other members of the cast are, a few deleted scenes and some information on how the story came to be. The most interesting of these features to me was a look at how the CGI was done. What was disappointing is that they didn’t really go into the costumes or character design. There’s a clip on Maleficent’s head dress but nothing more.
This is by far the darkest Disney story I’ve ever seen, and I guess that’s part of its appeal. The age rating is 7 – 9 PGV, but I’d caution parents of sensitive little ones against buying this one. The monsters are very scary and there are sad bits that had me – as an adult – in tears (don’t judge). As the age rating suggests, there’s also a lot of general violence. That said, it’s good to see a strong and powerful female lead character, and a message that doesn’t imply the ultimate aspiration for any little girl is to be rescued by a muscly man.