Maleficent: Mistress of...Funny?by Todd Pickering, contributing writer
The remakes of the Disney animated classics keep doing great box office and there is no end in sight. The 2014 film of Maleficent re-imagines the Sleeping Beauty story with Maleficent getting a change of heart upon watching the three fairies disastrously rear the Princess. When Prince Phillip is unable to awaken the sleeping Princess Aurora it is Maleficent who saves the day by delivering the true love kiss. It begs the question, why did we need to recast this character as the hero? The answer lies in the amazing box office results despite lukewarm reviews. This makes the only re-make that Disney has done that re-invents the story by casting the villain as the hero. To be fair, it was entitled Maleficent to let us know this was going to be an altogether different story. Going into this second movie this reviewer was prepared to like it even less than the first picture but was pleasantly surprised by an original fairy tale, exquisitely costumed and most brilliantly acted by Angelina Jolie in a performance that was more often time laced with humor than with malevolence.
In the second installment, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, director Joachin Rønning seems to have his actors carefully playing the genre of fairy tale by opening the story with Prince Phillip's wedding proposal to Princess Aurora who is now the Queen of the Moors. All the fairy-folk are in on this joyous event including a sprite that resembles Sonic the Hedgehog that was definitely a favorite for the children in the audience. The land that we live in is very colorful and full of so much CGI that it is an onslaught to the senses. The trio of daffy fairies are yet again strangely manipulated into animation instead of letting the three talented English actresses (Juno Temple, Imelda Staunton, and Lesley Manville) use their faces just like Angelina Jolie. That is a shame because Maleficent is immediately played for laughs in a very real event of dinner with the soon to be In-Laws. With a wonderful dress that has a collar made out of what can only be described as bird skulls, ominous horns, and golden glowing eyes Angelina Jolie is a picture of stoicism with a mask-like gaze that cannot show emotion. It is the keen direction of Mr. Rønning keeping this scene that the audience knows all too well delightfully light and staccato. Maleficent and her valet Diaval (wonderfully played by Sam Riley) are practicing her small talk and dinner conversation to disastrous effect. Ms. Jolie's comic timing must push through the contact lenses and severe makeup and the banter is concise and understated. After all the art direction, animation and costumes set the fairy tale tone. This juxtaposition works immediately. Some of Maleficent's lines are literally one word answers to questions and they are filled with clear intentions without a clunky landing. The pace of the dialogue is amazing.
Elle Fanning as Aurora and Angelina Jolie have a really sweet bond and their rapport is easy and effortless. Kudos to Harris Dickinson as Prince Phillip and Robert Lindsay also for delivering loving and understated performances always making their co-stars look good and serving the story rather than trying to steal scenes. It feels like this cast is all working together to keep things real yet not melodramatic.
Of course dinner goes disastrously and the king is plunged into yet another sleeping death as Maleficent flies off in a fit of rage that parallels the original story. If there is even a moment where one doesn't think that Michelle Pfeiffer's deliciously evil Queen Ingrith (with a name such as that how could she not be the villain?) is not responsible for framing Maleficent it is revealed very clearly early on. She wants the entire Moor and all of the fairies destroyed. Even Aurora believes that her beloved adopted mother, Maleficent is responsible for this sleeping death and is prepared to marry Prince Phillip. The story gets more two dimensional here but it reminds us it is a fairy tale and it is moving along at breakneck speed. Maleficent finds that she is not alone and ends up in a gorgeous set of intricate caves full of her race of winged, horned fairies. Her people want to destroy the humans but Chiwetal Ejiofor's character Conall preaches peace as the other fairies want Maleficent to lead them into battle. Maleficent is stoic and silent with very, very few lines. She is taking it all in simply listening to the pros and cons. We are led to believe that she will have to make her choice. These scenes start to drag the pacing.
Meanwhile back at the castle the story is being told by the costume department. Aurora is no longer in her pink dresses that drape easily and comfortably off of her frame. Her clothing is so obviously restricted that Aurora comments on this. Meanwhile Queen Ingrith is clearly preparing for battle and not a wedding. Her dresses are also a work of art becoming more severe and layered as she readies for war. The quilting on her icy snow white dress is reminiscent of Queen Elizabeth the First's armored gown. Her pearls in her hair become echoed with strand and strands of pearls draped from ear to ear and under her chin and all the way down onto her bosom. Her tiara looks like giant peaks of an iceberg smashing out of the sea. The wedding dress that the fairies have so Disney-like made for Aurora is tossed aside for a severe gown that the Queen wore on her wedding day.
This is where the editing needs to be tighter and we leave the fairy tale thematic. Maleficent is prepared to lead them into battle and the drumming and war paint the winged fairy begin seems to come from Braveheart or The Matrix. Queen Ingrith needs to launch into a lengthy monologue of why and how the fairies upset her so much as a child after we are more than clear that she wants the fairy world destroyed. It was at this moment that my eight year old companion asked me "What are they talking about?" If she could grasp where this was heading was this all necessary? When it comes to the fighting it seemed like we were actually in an Avengers movie and also out of the fairy tale world. As gorgeous as the costuming of the winged, horned fairy's were and Maleficent's what had to be CGI outfit it once again seemed to be from a different movie. Is this the formula that audiences need? It seemed to go on for ever and ever and it would be recommended not to take children younger than eight to this film.
If you are in the Los Angeles area there is not a better cinematic experience then to attend this at El Capitan on Hollywood Boulevard. The restoration that Disney has done along with the wonderful organ concert before the evening shows makes this a terrific evening at the cinema.
In closing, the very basic definition of a Shakespearean comedy is that it simply ends in a wedding. No spoilers of course as to how we get there but it is the comedy where this movie excels. The writers and director simply could not get enough of the lightness of the Maleficent character and the one word answers abound with sharp cues and punchy delivery. Angelina Jolie has made this character her own and she relishes in her performance. When you think that there can be no more costume changes or an addendum scene there is another delightful scene with yet another dress. Still form fitting. Still black. But they seem looser. Breezier. And dare we say it; softer. This film seems poised to win an Oscar for Best Costume Design. Despite the clunky overwrought monologues and bombastic and unnecessary prolonged battle scenes in the middle this may yet be Disney's most original and best live action film to date.