Remember when Sleeping Beauty was an example of how disastrous improper etiquette could be at formal occasions? If you thought your drunk uncle telling bawdy jokes were bad at your wedding, at least your first-born daughter wasn’t cursed by a snubbed fairy or sorceress.
There are also likely language teachers who are despairing that the “Mal” in Maleficent won’t be associated with bad as in malady, malfunction or malicious. Maleficient seems to be a portmanteau of malicious and magnificent and in the original Disney animated feature, she was the most developed character. Aurora just slept. The prince was just on time and gallant enough. The live-action CGI-laden movie is about making Maleficent magnificent and even majestic despite being much maligned.
The first movie, “Maleficent,” started with a girl who was actually a fairy. She lives on the Moors without any parents or other relatives to interfere with her carefree lifestyle. The Moors have yet to become the dark and brooding place best associated with the Bronte sisters. Without any of her kind in sight, Maleficent the fairy (Isobelle Molloy and Ella Purnell at different ages) falls in love with a boy (Michael Higgins and Jackson Bews at different ages) who came to steal a gemstone from the Moor. The boy, Stefan, is also an orphan and grows up to be a servant (Sharlto Copley) of the king who covets the Moors. The king offers his daughter and kingdom to the man who can defeat Maleficent, now protector of the Moors. Stefan drugs and cuts off Maleficent’s wings and takes them to the king to claim his reward. When Stefan and his wife have a child, Maleficent with her servant Diaval (Sam Riley) come uninvited to the christening and place a curse on young Aurora: On her sixteenth birthday, she will prick her finger on a spindle of a spinning wheel and fall to sleep and sleep until she gets true love’s kiss. Here there is no fairy to soften the curse. The king has all the spinning wheels destroyed and sends Aurora away with three fairies to raise her, but Maleficent learns of this and spies on this foursome, even saving Aurora from the incompetence of the smaller fairies. Maleficent attempts to lift the curse, but she cannot. And the prince (Brenton Thwaites), who barely knows her, isn’t the answer. Instead it is the motherly love of Maleficent that wakes Aurora. Aurore helps Maleficent regain her wings and her father will die. Maleficent crowns Aurora ruler of the Moors.
“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil”
In “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” several years have passed since the events of the first movie and now someone has been sneaking into the Moors and capturing little fey creatures that resemble the dancing mushrooms from “Fantasia.” The thief also takes one of the glowing flowers from the Moors and extracts something to make a potion.
Other fey folk are plotting–with Prince Phillip, conspiring to set up the perfect proposal and Aurora (Elle Fanning) becomes engaged as Prince Phillip. As the path to true love isn’t without obstacles in Hollywood (Thwaites was replaced by Harris Dickinson due to scheduling problems), neither is the path to a wedding for Aurora and Phillip. Phillip’s father, King John, (Robert Lindsay) rejoices–at last the two kingdoms will be united. Although Philip’s mother Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) appears to be more accepting of the match and Maleficent is opposed, there are mysterious dark secrets at Phillip’s home castle. And someone has been spreading lies and rumors about Maleficent.
Aurora convinces Maleficent to attend an engagement banquet. Having no parents and little interaction with humans outside of that dastardly first love, Stefan, Maleficent is magnificently ill-suited for small talk and idle chatter. Soon enough, the king won’t be making small talk either. He’s fallen into a deep, deep sleep and the kiss of his queen won’t awaken him and that’s not only because she isn’t his true love. Ingrith has set the stage to blame Maleficent for the king’s condition and the king is the victim of a poison and not a curse.
To make the subsequent battles more interesting and to give Maleficent backup, Maleficent will find others of her kind–winged fairy folk from all over the world who’ve been hiding out. This is where diversity comes in and a possible love interest for Maleficent. Don’t forget that from the last film, we know that Maleficent and all of her kind are allergic to iron–one of the most common elements in the world (unlike kryptonite).
Pfeiffer’s Ingrith gets to wear a jewel-encrusted bodice and an assortment of pearls for protection. White and off-white and a soft grey are her colors. Jolie’s Maleficent doesn’t don the fetish black pleather of her battle in the first film and opts instead for mostly dark colored gowns and what appears to be a bird-skull collar. Yet that makes it seem as if the costume designer didn’t read the script (both Maleficent and her faithful friend Diaval look disgusted when served what looks to be Cornish hens). Just what do fairies feast on?
No dragons on board for this film, but there is what appears to be a phoenix. And, as this is a Disney film, there will be a happily ever after. But it is also a bloated Disney film that comes in just under two hours. There’s little enchanting about the film that has a plot aimed at setting up great moments for CGI and battles. In a time when technology kept castles and villages small, the plans of men in this modern age makes them overwhelmingly big. Linda Woolverton’s story, with a screenplay written by Woolverton, with writing partners Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzeman-Blue leaves emotion as a secondary consideration over spectacle.
Unlike “Pirates of the Caribbean: Deadmen Tell No Tales” which director Joachim Rønning co-directed with Espen Sandberg, there is little humor in “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” and there’s also none of the deliciously evil moments of scenery-chewing. Rønning diligently takes us from one action scene to another. The Mistress of Evil isn’t the maligned and misunderstood Maleficent after all. Maleficent becomes the hero but still no one mysteriously comes close to her neon green powers that no one seemed to have taught her in her childhood oddly presented in the first movie with parental absentia.
Some day, perhaps there’ll be a homier, more intimate approach where we can examine the mere foibles of mortals in cramped quarters with the fey folk–a sort of cultural comedy of manners and perhaps even resorting to wit and whimsy over the crowded mayhem of battle scenes.
Re-watching the bonus features from the first movie, what comes later with the DVD/Blu-ray release may be the best for fans of CGI and fight scene choreography and blue screen. Additionally, if you have difficult in-laws, at least you can say your engagement party didn’t start a war and whatever family-committed wedding faux pas may have happened, the wedding planning wasn’t hampered by a war-mongering spousal poisoning mother-in-law. Or if that did happen, then begin writing that script.