Sleeping Beauty, Sleeping Audience
By Johnny Pomatto
Now that Disney has a few generations in its rearview mirror of people who were raised on their classic animated films, they seem determined to reinvent these “tales as old as time.” Their latest victim is SLEEPING BEAUTY, which few would claim to be one of Walt Disney’s finest films to begin with. Watch it again if you don’t believe me. But amidst the clunky narration and occasionally wonky color palate, one iconic image has always stood out in that film, and that is the evil fairy Maleficent. With the pale green skin, flowing black and purple robes, and pointy horns spouting from her head, one can see why she’s such a unique animated villain and who wouldn’t want to get to the bottom of what makes her tic? And so, rather than a straightforward live action remake of Sleeping Beauty, we are given MALEFICENT, an origin of how a good fairy could become so darn evil. And who better to fill those mal-nourished cheekbones than the equally iconic Angelina Jolie?
Unfortunately, it becomes clear far too early into the film that Disney is not going to deliver on its promise. It’s immediately clear that Maleficent isn’t evil at all but a mere victim of circumstance. Cursing a baby to die on her 16th birthday isn’t the result of pettiness for not being invited to a party. Rather, it’s a fairly understandable act of revenge against Baby Aurora’s father, (Sharlto Copely, the real villain of the piece), who seduced a young Maleficent, only to betray her and chop off her wings in a selfish act of mutilation. Welcome to the new world of PG Disney Movies.
So while the curse on Baby Aurora remains a fairly nasty act, it isn’t long before Maleficent’s icy heart is melted by just how cute that baby is and soon she’s practically raising her as surrogate mother. It’s a shame that the film is so quick to take the evil out of its villain, when the reason we’re at the theater at all is to see a witch do witchy deeds. Instead we get Jolie hamming it up with dumb gags of trying to scare a baby and having mud fights with poorly animated CGI forest trolls. This is not the Maleficent that we have come to see. Our villain has been turned into the hero, getting literally declawed in the process. Screenwriter Linda Woolverton, (who did a similar hack job on Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND) doesn’t seem to understand that you can have a villain as a protagonist without making them good. Meanwhile we wait patiently for Maleficent do that other thing she’s famous for: turning into a dragon. While a lame special effect of a dragon does appear, it’s not a transformed Maleficent, thus cheating me out of the last remaining thing I was hoping the movie might get right. It was at this point when I decided that Aurora didn’t need to be the only one sleeping through this mess and I rested my disappointed eyes for a bit.
Since I’m writing this on a blog that primarily covers fashion, I should address that Jolie does look pretty outstanding in the title role. The blackness of the costume contrasts her glowing pale skin well, and whether her pronounced cheekbones are the result of make-up or a punishing diet, they’re effectively creepy. On the other side of the coin, Elle Fanning looks like a gorgeous young Mariel Hemmingway as Aurora, who sadly doesn’t get to do much other than look pure and innocent in her virginal white dresses, but she does secure he place as our Greatest Living Fanning. Sorry Dakota.
While MALEFICENT is hardly unwatchable, and far better and shorter than Disney’s recent disasters ALICE IN WONDERLAND and OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, it’s still a foreboding sign of the direction we can expect their brand to go in. Before the film even began I was treated to a teaser for Disney’s live action take on CINDERELLA, coming to theaters next year. Live action remakes of THE JUNGLE BOOK and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST are also in early development. One can imagine that eventually they’re bound to get one right, but when we have a generation of children who would rather just watch FROZEN anyways, what’s the harm in introducing them to the classic animation that they’ve never seen instead of burning money to warm up properties that weren’t in need of modernization?
Hear more of Johnny Pomatto’s reviews on his podcast MOVIES AND FILMS WITH JOHNNY AND FRIENDS, available on iTunes.
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