The Film (3/5)
Maleficent is the latest in the line of live action fantasy films made by Disney in the wake of the success of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. The general premise behind these films is to take a well known, and loved concept, and to either sequelize it, or give it a slightly different perspective from the well established one. This avoids the stigma of remaking classic cinema, and instead allows the filmmaker an attempt to play around with established concepts within a popular narrative.
Maleficent, in the 1958 film Sleeping Beauty was one of the most effectively designed of all the classic Disney villains. She had the sheer evil of Snow White's Evil Queen with the perceived elegance of Cinderella's Wicked Stepmother with one of the most memorable characters designs in animated film history. That being said the character was largely one dimensional, not that it was a bad thing, but it was simply what the narrative of the film called for. It is now approaching 60 years since the release of Sleeping Beauty, and Disney has decided to go back to one of their most classic villains, and tell that iconic tale from her perspective.
The film plays early on as the origin story of Maleficent before moving into more familiar Sleeping Beauty territory. We have Maleficent as one of the popular fairies in a magical kingdom, one day she befriends a rogue young boy named Stefan who has attempted to steel jewels from an area lake. After the two settle that matter they end up becoming friends, until Stefan ages, and exits Maleficent's life. That is until Stefan develops royal ambitions. The armies of his Kingdom have been attempting to take on those of Maleficent's, and have lost each time. In order to put himself in line for the crown, he goes to her, and slices off her wings in order to have evidence of her supposed death, and uses them to obtain the crown.
Maleficent angered swears revenge on the new King Stefan. When his child is born she places a curse on the princess Aurora (welcome to Sleeping Beauty territory). When she is 16, if she were to place her finger on a spinning wheel, the young Aurora will fall under a deathlike slumber. The young girl is then whisked away by 3 fairies to protect her from the curse, but not from the eye of Maleficent who watches the child grow, and becomes fond of her. This, of course, causes complications, because the curse is irreversible.
Fantasy, prior to Peter Jackson adapting Lord of the Rings in the early 2000's used to be a low budget cinema game. Sure, every once in a while you'd get a Jason and the Argonauts or Conan the Barbarian, but more often if you wanted a fantasy feature it was stuff like Hawk the Slayer and Deathstalker. The one-two punch of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings changed the studios perception of the fantasy genre as a marketable force in theaters, and thus we get more films like Maleficent which definitely plays in the same ballpark.
Unfortunately, while Maleficent does have some excellent production design, and is anchored by a fantastic lead performance by the always reliable Jolie the film by and large does not seem to work. The film seems like an amalgam of certain things have worked for Disney recently put together in one film. We have the Disney Fairies line that has been successful for the studio with a series of Tinkerbell movies, and TV shows, and now we have Maleficent with a cute fairy origin. We also have turned the dark witch of Sleeping Beauty into a hero of sorts, thus making the film into more of a superhero origin story. We also have the recast direction of existing material, which as mentioned earlier puts it into the same category as the earlier Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland or Sam Raimi's Oz: The Great and Powerful.
However, in the end it feels without the casting of Jolie in the lead, the whole of Maleficent would be nothing more than a made for SyFy TV movie. The design work as mentioned earlier is excellent, but some of the FX choices do appear to be in the low budget CG realm, and a lot of the characterizations appear as one dimensional as their Sleeping Beauty predecessors. That being said the film is an interesting experiment in casting a villain in a new light, and is grounded by an excellent lead performance and could and should be recommended on those terms alone.
Disney presents Maleficent in a 1080p AVC encoded MPEG-4 2:40:1 transfer preserving the films original aspect ratio. The transfer is flawless, but that is not surprising as this is a new Disney film. The level of detail is outstanding, colors pop, blacks are inky and deep.
There is a DTS-HD 7.1 MA track in English, everything here sounds excellent with dialogue, score, and effects coming through nicely. I did not detect any issues with the audio.
Disney Blu-ray of Maleficent contains a nice slate of features included short featurettes on the production, and the design of the costume, and more. We also get a section of deleted scenes, and a background history on the Maleficent character.
Maleficent is Disney's latest take on an existing property. It has an excellent performance by Jolie, and some excellent design work to recommend it by. The A/V on the disc looks and sound fantastic, and though not the most elaborate extras package, what is here will certainly please fans. RECOMMENDED.