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05 June 2014 @ 01:19 pm
Picoreview: Maleficent  

Picoreview: Maleficent: a worthy re-telling of (specifically Disney’s) Sleeping Beauty, and one that caused me to leave the theatre thinking “Victors write the histories.”

It’s not perfect. There’s a voiceover that I think would have been better done as in-story storytelling instead, but to have done that successfully I think the movie would have needed a PG13/12A rating rather than the PG it got. And–this is something I will almost never say–I thought it *should* have been a PG13 movie.

That was never going to happen, though, because adults aren’t the target audience, even if they’re going to go to it in droves. Given that it’s a movie made for kids…I think they did a pretty damn splendid job. And–the opening scene–no, I’ll put it behind the spoiler cut, because it’s actually beautiful enough I don’t want to spoil it for anyone.

Jolie was *wonderful*. She could have been even more wonderful, but again: target audience, ratings. I’m pretty sure 6-10 year olds will think she’s utterly terrifying. Indeed, apparently while in makeup she scared the bejeezus out of her own 10 year old, and in a scene with 4-year-old Aurora, her own 4 year old daughter ended up playing the part because the other child actors that age wouldn’t go near her, so she’s probably the right amount of scary. :) She also gets some genuinely funny moments, and her wings, oh my lord, her wings are so beautiful.

Elle Fanning, who I like as an actor even more than her older sister Dakota (and I love Dakota), is equally wonderful as Aurora. One of the best moments in the movie is born from her utterly convincing sweetness combined with a totally reasonable, absolutely accurate, and completely mis-read interpretation of Maleficent. It requires Fanning to be note-perfect, and she is. Throughout, she is.

The kid playing Phillip is so totally bland he’s funny. Tweens will no doubt adore him, but I adored him because of one revisionist moment that I’d been quite worried about and which was both written and played very nicely. King Stephen is also *extremely* well acted, I said carefully, not wanting to go into spoilers. :)

But as far as the male roles are concerned, the cake goes to Sam Riley, as Diaval the raven, who hasn’t got much to say but is exceedingly eloquent in his presence. I had ALL KINDS of plans for how the story was going to play out with him, and it didn’t, which is fine, but wow, he was *wonderful*.

I’m looking at what I’m writing here, and it’s pretty glowing. Moreso than I necessarily think the film deserves, because I think it fails to be greater than the sum of its parts. It’s as *good* as the sum of its parts; I just thought it could be greater than them. I’m going to put some further, more spoilery commentary behind the cut, because I want to talk about some of the reasons I think it’s flawed. And about some specific reasons I think it’s wonderful.

Spoilers ahoy!

First, the three fairies: we’re given a faint sense of them thinking Maleficent, who is a Big Fairy, is kind of too big for her britches–”Always in a hurry with those big wings of hers,” is the line, or something like it. But that’s really the *only* indication that we have of any kind of dislike/disapproval of Maleficent from those characters, and I feel strongly that there needs to be a sense of actual fear/anger/hatred/resentment from them. So that weakens the movie hugely for me right there. They’re played almost entirely for comic relief, and it could have been So Much More.

In general, as an adult, I didn’t find Maleficent to be *malevolent* enough. She was in many ways more mischievious than malignant, and all of her actions were toward the end of protecting the fairy kingdom from encroaching humans. That, I liked, but it tied in with the above in that it reduced her threat in ways that I thought could/should have been played up instead.

Another problem was that Maleficient interrupts the christening ceremony before the 3rd fairy grants her wish, as happens in Sleeping Beauty. However, it’s Maleficent in this version who mitigates the curse to “broken by true love’s kiss” (for reasons that make great sense in the film), which would be fine except then the third fairy never grants her wish. I spent the ENTIRE MOVIE waiting for that to come out of the bag, for something to happen with that, and it never did.

Oh! A thing I liked a lot! I always wondered why the hell Sleeping Beauty (in general) stuck her damned finger on the spindle when she knew about the curse, but in this version (I don’t remember the Disney Sleeping Beauty version) it’s clearly a *massive* *compulsion*. It’s not just her drifting aimlessly through the palace, it’s a huge terrible swelling and itching in her finger and this fever-bright-eyed compulsive action, which just made me feel SO MUCH BETTER about it all. :)

The moment I was concerned about with Phillip was of course the True Love’s Kiss moment, because in fact they’ve only met once and ew creepy. But in this version, the fairies have dragged Phillip in and are shrieking, “Kiss her, kiss her!” while the poor kid is (actually literally) saying “She’s beautiful, yes, I’d like to kiss her, but I wouldn’t feel right about it, we’ve only barely met…” The only thing that would have improved the scene is that when he finally does kiss her, I’d have kind of liked to have seen him sort of screwing up his face and showing us an “oh god i think this is probably a bad idea but these little shrieking harpies are going to turn me into a frog or something if I don’t” expression. He didn’t do that, but in general the scene was a lot better handled than I feared it would be.

I admit, I was really kinda hoping Diaval would end up being the True Love, and he wasn’t, but that was okay, because this was still the third Disney(Pixar) movie in a row where true love isn’t about the prince. Brave, Frozen, Maleficent. It makes my heart grow three sizes!

And oh, the opening scene: Disney’s logo is Sleeping Beauty’s castle, of course, and as the years have gone by the background to the castle has gotten more elaborate, with the river and the countryside and the pirate ship and everything, and the opening scene of Maleficent transforms from the logo into the ‘real’ castle, with the ‘real’ landscape which is picture-perfect to the logo-castle-background sweeping along below us, with the river cutting through–and it’s so well done that much later in the movie there’s another shot of the countryside from another angle and I *recognized* the landscape as the country behind the castle. It was so, so beautiful, and I am just in love with them for having done that.

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

M. C. A. Hogarth: presenthaikujaguar on June 5th, 2014 01:27 pm (UTC)
I really liked it too! And was okay with Maleficent not being more scary, since I think (for me) what they were trying to say is that she WASN'T scary... she was a good person, and happy, until some guy ruined her life and then she got all dark and depressed and bitter. She wasn't evil, just broken-hearted. -_-

I think my only quibble with the movie was that I found Stefan unbelievable. After all the work they did making Maleficent into a character you could understand, motivation-wise, Stefan's gibbering greed/evil felt kind of cardboard-cut-outish to me. And a little disappointing, in that so far we can't have girl power without making men look bad. (Though I was gratified that at the end, Philip wasn't discarded, and there was the intimation that love can grow over time, given the chance.)

I might have squealed when they let true love mean more than just romantic love. :)
kitmizkit on June 5th, 2014 01:31 pm (UTC)
Yeah, she wasn't evil, but I still wanted a little more scary. :)

Stephan's motivations were a little murky, yeah, but his descent into madness was pretty inspired.

I was SO HAPPY about the true love thing. Yay!
M. C. A. Hogarth: presenthaikujaguar on June 5th, 2014 01:33 pm (UTC)
The prosthetic cheekbones, though. I spent the entire movie puzzling at them. "Did she starve herself for this role so that her cheekbones would be extra prominent? Or maybe it's clever use of black eyeshadow and white over the top--"

And the on the drive home my sister rolled her eyes and said, "They were FAKE."


I am still marveling over the fake cheekbones. Hee.
kitmizkit on June 5th, 2014 01:36 pm (UTC)

The story cited above, about her scaring her 10 year old? She was chasing him around and thought they were playing until he disappeared and she found him hiding, terrified, and she had to take the cheekbones and stuff off in order to convince him it was really Mommy and it was all okay. :) She also said that on weekends when she was home without the makeup every time she'd look at herself in the mirror she thought her face looked awfully flat and dull. ANGELINA JOLIE thought she looked dull. *laughs*
M. C. A. Hogarth: presenthaikujaguar on June 5th, 2014 01:39 pm (UTC)

Poor woman. I thought the cheekbones were kind of disturbing. She should be grateful they were fake. >.>

Now if only they could give me prosthetic leg, arm, and torso extensions so I could look as dull as Angelina Jolie! Being tall must be so useful. -_-
kitmizkit on June 5th, 2014 04:10 pm (UTC)
They're supposed to be disturbing! But you gotta admit if you got used to seeing yourself with those all day every day for months on end, when they came off your face would look pretty strange to you, too!

We should all be so lucky as to look that dull, yeah. :)
Jeff Linderjslinder on June 5th, 2014 01:54 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed the movie - visually, it was one of the most impressive things I had seen in a long time, but I had two major quibbles


1> The wings. The fact that they suddenly animate just when needed and can be reattached? You'd think if that was an option she would have gone for them sooner.

2> The ending. How much better would the film have fit into the Disney storyline if although it was her kiss that did it (another nice variation a la Frozen I will admit) but everyone thought it was Philip (or didn't know). Same battle scene, but at the end a bittersweet Maleficent is watching the trees crown Aurora as queen of both realms while she has to stay in the shadows as a tragic anti-hero as the result of her actions.

kitmizkit on June 5th, 2014 04:08 pm (UTC)
I didn't have a quibble with the wings because I seriously doubt Maleficent knew they'd survived. *We* didn't know it until most of the way through the movie, and they only came back to 'life' when she was very, very near them. And for all we know they went crazy when she was there for the christening, too, but there was no one there to see/free them. :)

That would have been a lovely alternate ending, I agree!
Herefoxherefox on June 5th, 2014 04:08 pm (UTC)
The wing thing: I rather thought she'd just assumed they'd been destroyed. If she'd known they still existed and could still be restored I think she would have gone after them.
Herefoxherefox on June 5th, 2014 04:13 pm (UTC)
I was actually hoping that Diaval WOULDN't be the true love, amusingly. I did sort of wish that he hadn't been a raven as I found it a bit distracting near the end when she'd changed him into the dragon. When she finally escaped and he was still bound and everyone was fighting him I was all "Change him back to a raven....change him back to a raven!" because I was afraid he'd be killed as that's the fate of Maleficent in the original movie when she turns herself into a dragon.

I am, admittedly, a bit more into ravens than might otherwise be wise, however.

I agree with you about the fairies though, I never quite got their motivation when before Maleficent had lost her wings they seemed to be in her camp, as it were...and the third wish was distracting.
kitmizkit on June 5th, 2014 04:16 pm (UTC)
I didn't think he was going to be the true love (although as my husband said, he was pretty sure Diaval's kiss would have worked as well), but I just loved him so much I was holding the candle anyway. :)

I ALSO kept waiting for her to turn him back into a raven! I was like "that would totally screw up all their big chains, neener neener!" :)

Yeah. The fairies needed work.
Herefoxherefox on June 5th, 2014 04:26 pm (UTC)
I think his kiss would have worked...but if they'd gone that route I'm sure it would have ended up that she'd throw Phillip over for him. And while avian/princess marriages might have been ground breaking in some ways, I think it would have sort of shifted the message of the story a bit. *grin*

I loved him too. I want one of my very own.
kitmizkit on June 5th, 2014 04:30 pm (UTC)
*giggles* HEADCANON ACCEPTED! but yeah. :)

Actually I really loved the "This isn't your fight. You can go. / I need you, Diaval. I can't do this without you, Diaval... / I can hear you" moment, which I thought played beautifully to Maleficent and Diaval's relationship. They're a much sexier couple than Aurora and Diaval would be anyway. :)
Herefoxherefox on June 5th, 2014 04:58 pm (UTC)
They are! And I kind of hoped it would be made a little cannon that they were going to be a couple but I'm fine without it. (thought they could have just held hands at the end and made me happy, I'm easy to please sometimes!)
Kes Yocum: celtic ravenkesmun on June 6th, 2014 07:17 am (UTC)
I have long considered myself a Corax (a la Werewolf: the Apocalypse) by personality, I completely sympathise with wanting a Diaval of one's very own. I play in chatrooms where we most often pick actors, models, singers, or whatnot and use them as representative pictures for our characters. I foresee many a new male corax with Sam Riley. *G*

Edited at 2014-06-06 07:18 am (UTC)
Herefoxherefox on June 6th, 2014 12:48 pm (UTC)
I used to play a corax ages ago when I could still game. The first game after I played the character when we finished my friends went, "Uh...that was the PERFECT character for you."

That particular character indirectly leads into why I have a raven tattooed on my shoulder too ;-)
Kes Yocumkesmun on June 6th, 2014 09:14 pm (UTC)
Hee. *Feathered high five*
No Xtink is Xtink.goingferal on June 5th, 2014 06:07 pm (UTC)
Oops. I was trying to leave you a link to a review/criticism of the movie that I thought you'd find interesting and it got marked as spam. Not meant to be spam, sorry!
(Deleted comment)
Chris: Hercules90scartoonman on June 17th, 2014 02:21 am (UTC)
I wanted it to be scarier and darker, hoping Maleficent would be a little more evil and the ending wouldn't be as happy. It was a good movie, though, and Angelina was fantastic. Elle too. I wasn't a fan of the fairies, either, it seemed that if they had such a good relationship with Stephan and his kingdom, the only thing keeping the two worlds apart by the time Aurora was born was Maleficent herself and the darkness she brought.