Thursday, May 29, 2014

Review of MALEFICENT: Ironic Enchantment

May 29, 2014

"Maleficent" is about the evil horned witch who condemned Princess Aurora to a grim irrevocable curse on her 16th birthday in the Disney classic 1959 animated film "Sleeping Beauty." Like the recent "Snow White and the Huntsman", this re-imagined fairy tale goes beyond the beloved story we know. In this case, it tells us the reason behind Maleficent's malevolent hate for humanity that caused her to issue such a curse.

The popular trailer with all those quotable lines ("Well, well ..." or "Then you'll be afraid ...") does not spoil anything. There is still so much to see and be enthralled about as the story unfolds from Maleficent's childhood until that fateful day of Aurora's Christening. You will definitely understand what drove Maleficent deliver such a miserable curse.

But for me there was more ironic magic in what unfolds when Aurora was brought to live in the woods with the three small fairies. Even in the face of impending danger, the film manages to convey a sense of wonder and even awe. It does so without ever lapsing into over- sentimentality or being corny. For me, these scenes about Aurora's first sixteen years in the forest are a pure delight. 

That is, until we reach that part when the sleeping Aurora gets wakened from her eternal sleep by the kiss of true love. What was supposed to be THE climactic moment of the film turned out to be a most anti-climactic disappointment. This scene was just so familiar, very reminiscent of another climactic moment in another recent big Disney hit. 

Angelina Jolie looked like she was born for this role. Those exaggerated cheekbones actually suited her quite well. She captured the many layers of Maleficent's emotion and character in her big theatrical gestures, and more so in those small subtle facial or vocal inflections. I cannot imagine another actress other than Ms. Jolie in this role. That beautiful scene between Ms. Jolie and her real daughter Vivienne (as toddler Aurora) was divine beyond description.

Elle Fanning was a very pretty Aurora, with her disarming smile radiating her character's good nature and blithe spirit. Sam Riley also stood out as the human form of Maleficent's trusted crow, Diaval, with his wry sense of humor. 

Sharlto Copley looked woefully miscast as King Stefan since he did not particularly look or act kingly at any point. Brenton Thwaites, the awkward young actor they chose to play Prince Philip, did not particularly look or act princely as well.

The three actresses who played the three little "good" fairies led by Imelda Staunton were not bad. However for me, they were only occasionally funny as sometimes their comedy could get corny. That they did not stick to the dear Flora, Fauna and Merriweather we know is also rather disconcerting for me.

The land of enchantment in the mysterious Moors, with its fairies and other fanciful creatures, was created as a surprisingly delightful dream world by the film's computer animation artists. The special visual effects which transformed Diaval into his various animal forms (including fire-breathing dragon) were also topnotch. 

This film is best viewed with a blank slate, no expectations at all. The magic of this film is witnessing firsthand those unexpected twists and turns in the relationship between Maleficent and the other characters in the well- known tale. 

Up to the point before Aurora goes back to the palace, I was very fascinated with the storytelling such that my rating was 9, or even 10. However the weak and predictable climax significantly knocked a couple of stars off for me. But overall, it is still a magical film worth catching on the big screen. 7/10.

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