“I think I liked that movie…”
As soon as Maleficent’s credits rolled, those were the lukewarm words that scrolled across my brain like a news ticker reporting a traffic jam at three in the morning. Robert Stromberg’s reimagining of one of Disney’s villains had me entertained and interested throughout. But, do modern day revisions have to be this heavy? This is more of a question directed towards Disney and screenwriter Linda Woolverton.
When Maleficent was making its rounds and pleasing audiences worldwide, Angelina Jolie – who plays the title role with transfixing fierceness – stated in an interview that one of the film’s first climactic beats has an underlining correlation to rape.
The next piece could be considered a spoiler, so proceed with caution. Although, it’s a plot point that occurs early into the story and evokes Maleficent to further this tale of betrayal.
Maleficent and long term friend-turned-foe Stefan (played by District 9’s Sharlto Copley) reunite and breathe in the magical night air. Maleficent is fed a liquid that lulls her to sleep, and Stefan proceeds – with hesitation and pressure from higher rulings – to sever off Maleficent’s wings. She wakes up the next morning in pain, and starts sobbing as soon as she realizes she’s been duped and maimed.
I had read Jolie’s interview before seeing Maleficent, but time flew by. As soon as I got around to catching Stromberg’s adaptation, I had forgotten Jolie’s insight. With that said, as I watched this very scene, its analogy for rape was the first thing that leapt forward. I didn’t need Jolie to spell it out for me. That undertow is obvious for any adult watching the movie.
Will the kids understand it? No. It’ll fly over their heads as their eyes well up. But, those parents who have accompanied their child will start breathing nervously – hoping innocent, curious questions don’t arise later that day.
There’s a time and place to use film to face such evils as assault, and a Disney flick with a PG rating may not be the best situation to pounce on such a topic. Luckily, what’s important is Maleficent manages to juxtapose these scenes in a mature manner. These scenes are not here to instigate or provoke, but rather to shape Jolie’s character into someone who’s more human than we think. And, Jolie is an accomplished actress who approaches the material with firm sophistication.
Still though, were there other ways for Woolverton to add depth? Could Stromberg have been more subtle? Perhaps, and maybe they’ll show more experienced skill in future projects. We’ll wait and see.
I try not to read other reviews before writing my own, but I also remember briefly reading another online critic’s point-of-view. They described Maleficent as “joyless”, and I disagree. The subject matter may be weighty, but the movie itself offers a lot to enjoy and be entertained by. Maleficent provides bountiful art direction and costume design that helps further carry the film’s storybook atmosphere. I can easily see it as a dark horse for technical categories at next year’s Oscars ceremony.
The supporting performances are narrowly written, but the actors do their best with what’s given to them and pull off watchable roles. Sam Riley plays Maleficent’s assistant who can change into all sorts of animals, and has a mysterious charm that locks our eyes onto him whenever he’s sharing the screen with Jolie. A silky, innocuous Elle Fanning looks and sounds the part of Aurora – the girl known as Sleeping Beauty – and Copley plays a frightening menace though his motivations are a tinge grey.
There are plenty of strengths in Maleficent to deem it as a modest success. I guess I just miss the days of Disney simplicity. Hopefully, those days aren’t over.