by Bob Garver
June 2, 2014. In preparation for Disney’s “Maleficent,” I watched Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty,” the animated staple from 1959. I say “staple” because I refuse to call it a classic. Talk about a movie that doesn’t hold up, if in fact it was well-regarded in the first place. People who associate Disney with vapid, cutesy princess movies are thinking of “Sleeping Beauty.” The rare compliment that I do hear is usually praise for the film’s villain, Maleficent. Truth be told, I don’t much care for the animated Maleficent. She’s plenty scary, but she lacks motivation and frankly, competence. Disney is apparently aware of these weaknesses, because the goal of the new live-action film starring Angelina Jolie as the “evil” fairy queen seems to correct them.
One scene that both versions share is one where Maleficent curses the baby princess Aurora. She shows up uninvited to the royal baby shower and announces that sometime on or before the girl’s sixteenth birthday, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. A stipulation is later added where the princess will not die from the finger pricking, but will instead fall into a deep sleep that can only be broken by True Love’s Kiss. In the animated version, this scene is the first we see of Maleficent and it establishes her as cartoonishly evil (pun intended). In the new film, this scene is roughly in the middle of the movie, and we see what led Maleficent to be this way and a very different version of what happened after.
The lead-up is fairly predictable. Sweet fairy Maleficent was a childhood friend of human Stefan. A war between the fairies and humans drove them apart and Stefan ascended to the throne by turning on fierce warrior Maleficent and cutting off her wings. Now she’s out for revenge against King Stefan (Sharlto Copely) and figures she can hurt him most by threatening his daughter Aurora.
I thought the rest of “Maleficent” was going to parallel “Sleeping Beauty” but surprisingly it doesn’t. It tells an all-new story, one where there is no question that Maleficent is good and Stefan is evil. In this version, for example, Maleficent figures out in about half a second that Aurora is going to be raised by three fairies at a cottage far away from her father’s castle (there’s that previously-missing competence I spoke of earlier). She watches over the child throughout the years, first out of disgusted curiosity, but eventually out of genuine love. There’s even a major deviation as she and Aurora become friends after Aurora makes a blissfully wrong assumption about the evil sorceress who has cursed her to death.
This is not to say that the story or movie is great on its own. Angelina Jolie nails Maleficent’s voice, but I could detect that she was uncomfortable under all her makeup. A lot of the CGI creatures and greenscreen settings are unconvincing. And speaking of bad special effects, the three fairies who adopt Aurora are comprised of the actresses’ faces superimposed on tiny, disproportionate bodies. The results are downright creepy. But perhaps the worse offense is that the movie features a “twist” ending that rips off a Disney movie that is barely six months old and technically is still in theaters.
It does somewhat defeat the purpose of “Maleficent” to change the story so drastically from “Sleeping Beauty.” We’re supposed to be getting the villain’s side of the familiar story, not a whole new one. But one thing Disney didn’t count on was that I wouldn’t be pining for the familiar story. The familiar story is garbage. “Maleficent” may not respect its source material, but the source material doesn’t deserve to be respected.
Two stars out of five.