“DISNEY GOT DARK”
Alas, a new challenge is upon us, and what a great way to start than with a unique twist on one of Disney’s classic and best known fairy tales. In a world where 2014 was a-wash with Frozen, Maleficent cuts through the songs, talking snowmen and over-night relationships with betrayal, tense battles and an irreversible curse; Disney got dark!
Directed by Robert Stromberg Maleficent portrays the other side of the Sleeping Beauty story but this time from the perspective of the villain. Or should we say “villain” as this retelling puts a different spin on how Maleficent became to seek out vengeance.
Jimmi says: “I have never really taken much interest in anything with Angelina Jolie in, not that I fault her as an actress or anything, but they just never really struck me as ‘must-watch’ (maybe that will change over the next fifty weeks or so?). That was until I watched this and I must say she put on a very good and very striking performance as the malevolent fairy. Jolie makes Maleficent and depicts her as powerful yet graceful, like she is always a force not to be reckoned with and is always in control of the situation no matter how sinister it may be.”
Kat says: “From the point of view of having watched the original Sleeping Beauty as a child, it was thought-provoking to see Maleficent as more than a one dimensional villain that she was portrayed as initially. I like the fact that she was showed as a human character with emotions, feelings and motives rather than someone who was outright evil for no discernible reason, something that Sleeping Beauty never really touched on; she was bad and that was that. This film shed light on this misunderstood character and created a more mature narrative.”
From the beginning, it was clear that the character set up in Sleeping Beauty was of course, very wrongly portrayed. As a child, Maleficent was a kind, sellfless and sensitive fairy, protecting the Moors and all of its amazing creatures. After meeting a human boy, Stefan, the two grow close and start to fall in love. As they grow apart and grow older, we learn that a powerful king wants to claim the Moors as his own. This doesn’t sit very well with Maleficent who summons vast tree-creatures of the forest in their droves and fights back taking out the King’s army and wounding him in the process. No small task but it showed us how much the Moors mean to Maleficent and the lengths she will go to. As the King lies on his deathbed he states he needs an heir for the throne and his daughter; the man who overcomes Maleficent will inherit the throne and his daughter’s hand. Stefen steps forward as he knows he had a bond with a younger Maleficent and uses this to deceive her for his own personal gain, claiming the throne. Seeing Disney use such underhand tactics gives the film darker edge. Disney has always done death and characters being killed off but what they did in Maleficent isn’t really the norm. Jimmi says “the emotion Jolie puts into her character once she knows she has been deceived was rather unsettling for me to watch and would perhaps go over some children’s heads. It’s interesting to see it be done but at the same time, very irregular.” The motive of how she became evil is suddenly apparent and the rest of the story plays out with that in mind hence why she curses Princess Aurora with an unbreakable spell, the same spell that was cast in the original film, word-for-word, something that Jolie insisted on during the production. “At first, Aurora is the chance for revenge and so Maleficent makes sure nothing gets in the way until her sixteenth birthday when the curse comes into effect. However, when the two start to bond, I sense that Maleficent sees that innocence in Aurora that was once in Stefen and as she watches over her, she grows to love her” Kat adds. The rest of the story shows how Maleficent battles not only with the true enemy, but also her regrets.
This is all set on a backdrop of amazing set pieces. In one scene the colourful, neon Moor creatures evoke a similar sense of awe that was found in the alien rainforests of Avatar and having the palette change when things do inevitably get dark, it sets the right sinister tone making this film get the right balance between good and evil. Sam Riley is great as Maleficent’s human-formed raven Diaval and the dialogue between the two is a sharp contrast to the slapstic and comedic three pixies Knotgrass, Flittle and Thistlewit (played by Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple respectively). Sharlto Copley as King Stefen is also remarkable at out-villaining the villain too and Elle Fanning’s Aurora recaptures the carefree sweetness of the typical Disney princess.
Rather than seeing the villain as just a villain and a means for the protagonist to finally defeat, seeing this sort of twist is unusual of Disney to do but something that we would like to see them do more often. Normally the villains have a better tale to tell than the hero and learning about how they came to be is bound to be very interesting. Maleficent proves that this type of storytelling can be crafted extremely well.
Words by Jimmi and Kat