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Non-Review Review: Maleficent – Mistress of Evil

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil might be the worst wide release of 2019, which is no small accomplishment in a year that produced Welcome to Marwen, Life Itself and Hellboy.

To be fair, the film’s starting point is decidedly eccentric. There is an argument to be made that the original Maleficent helped to kick start Disney’s live action remake renaissance, alongside the greater success of Alice in Wonderland. While the film didn’t quite do Aladdin or The Lion King numbers, it earned a hefty three-quarters-of-a-billion dollars at the global box office. It isn’t a surprise that it got a sequel. It is a surprise that the sequel took half-a-decade to materialise, to the point that Disney’s live action cinematic slate has already moved well beyond this villain-centric reimagining.

She’s really glowing lately.

Even allowing for the five year gap, Mistress of Evil is a staggeringly tone-deaf piece of work. The original Maleficent was a very clumsy piece of allegory, but an ambitious one. Obviously drawing from the same basic revisionist approach as Wicked or Oz: The Great and Powerful, the film attempted to offer an empathic and compassionate approach to one of the great villains of the Disney canon. The film depicted Maleficent as the victim of assault and shaming, a target of a patriarchal smear campaign.

Unfortunately, despite nods at subverting conventional gender narratives, Maleficent doubled down on them. Instead of allowing its title character her own strength and independence, Maleficent insisted on redeeming the character through the narrative of motherhood. This was decidedly uncomfortable, the obvious insinuation being that the only way for a woman to recover from such a brutal assault was through embracing conventional gender roles. Still, as misguided and clunky as the execution was, it was interesting to see a family-focused blockbuster story grappling with these sorts of big ideas.

“I’m Batman.”

Mistress of Evil somehow finds a way to double-down on the misguided clunkiness while also stripping out anything resembling an interesting or engaging social commentary. Almost everything about the movie is horrendously and grotesquely misjudged. Mistress of Evil is a frankly inexplicable hybrid of groan-worthy fifties domestic sitcom and pained allegory about the folly of resistance even when being herded into gas chambers. That isn’t even a “read” of the film, it’s “what is literally depicted on screen.”

The result is one of the most ill-judged blockbusters of the past twenty years.

Magnificent.

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Non-Review Review: Maleficent

As portrayed in the classic 1959 version of Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent is an absolutely fascinating character. Like so much in that film, she is woefully under-developed, but brilliant character design by Marc Davis and sterling voice work from Eleanor Audley helped to fashion an iconic characters. In spite (or perhaps because) of the fact that Sleeping Beauty establishes so little about her, Maleficent endures one of the most recognisable and memorable characters in the Disney animated canon.

So, if a live-action villain-centric feature film was going to tackle one of the classic villains from the studio’s rich history, it makes sense that Maleficent would be chosen. Angelina Jolie seems almost born to play the role, carrying herself with a regal grace, an icy detachment, an impeccable sense of comic timing and spot-on vocal impersonation of Eleanor Audley. The production design on Maleficent is absolutely stunning, with the movie occasionally seeming like an animated classic brought to life.

If only the same amount of enthusiasm had been invested in the script.

All fired up...

All fired up…

Continue reading

Non-Review Review: Maleficent

As portrayed in the classic 1959 version of Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent is an absolutely fascinating character. Like so much in that film, she is woefully under-developed, but brilliant character design by Marc Davis and sterling voice work from Eleanor Audley helped to fashion an iconic characters. In spite (or perhaps because) of the fact that Sleeping Beauty establishes so little about her, Maleficent endures one of the most recognisable and memorable characters in the Disney animated canon.

So, if a live-action villain-centric feature film was going to tackle one of the classic villains from the studio’s rich history, it makes sense that Maleficent would be chosen. Angelina Jolie seems almost born to play the role, carrying herself with a regal grace, an icy detachment, an impeccable sense of comic timing and spot-on vocal impersonation of Eleanor Audley. The production design on Maleficent is absolutely stunning, with the movie occasionally seeming like an animated classic brought to life.

If only the same amount of enthusiasm had been invested in the script.

All fired up...

All fired up…

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Non-Review Review: Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Sleeping Beauty is very much a product of the fifties, with the movie’s production spanning most of the decade. The story work commenced in 1951, with vocal performances recorded the following year. The movie was eventually released in 1959, to lukewarm critical and commercial success.

However, Sleeping Beauty reflects the fifties in other ways. The story about a young woman who needs to learn to do as her guardians instruct her, how marriage is really the ideal prospect for a woman of sixteen, and about how people we label as “evil” are unquestionably beyond redemption, Sleeping Beauty really plays to a very fifties mindset.

(Appropriately enough, the high budget and lacklustre box office performance of Sleeping Beauty would be a major part of the reason that Walt Disney would post its first annual loss in 1960.)

Sleep well...

Sleep well…

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Evil is the New Black: Tim Burton to Reboot Sleeping Beauty to Give us ‘Maleficent’…

Looks like Tim Burton is getting quite comfortable at Disney – apparently he plans to follow his 3D spectacular Alice in Wonderland with a reboot of the classic Sleeping Beauty. Don’t worry (or do worry, depending on your opinion of the director), he’s not going to be offering a straight-forward adaptation – that would be much too straightforward. Instead, Burton is going to rework the story from the perspective of the evil queen: Maleficent. It seems that revisiting classic stories from the villain’s perspective is Hollywood’s new business plan, and – being honest – I’m equally worried and excited about it. Which, at the very least, means it is in someway daring.

Evil or misunderstood? It is going be a Burton film after all...

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