The Dark Knaves Return
Jolie and McFarlane sell nihilism to kids in Maleficent and A Million Ways to Die in the West.


In a voice as declamatory and patronizing as a kindergarten teacher’s, the narrator of Maleficent delivers this epilogue: “Our kingdom was united not by a hero and a villain but a hero who was a villain . . . and her name was Maleficent!” The title is proclaimed like “Eureka!” and if you think that’s a spoiler, you deserve this film’s condescending combination of make-believe political détente and quasi-feminist triumph.

Disney’s Maleficent uses the Sleeping Beauty fairytale (first animated by the studio in 1959) for an ideological remake. It suggests a child-rearing guide following the politically correct manner of recent Disney animation like Frozen, Brave, and The Princess and the Frog, but its effect is not innocuous; it’s a culture-shifting project that revises old-time myth in superficial terms of girlhood empowerment. Its true purpose is to realign popular taste with trendy social tenets.


So as not to compete with Disney’s own animated product, this live-action Sleeping Beauty reboot stars Angelina Jolie as the memorably wicked black-garbed, two-horned sorceress now rehabilitated by obvious reference to Jolie’s off-screen social activities and sentimental political agenda (concerning the ostensible rights of women and children in war). Disney expects celebrity-worshipping audiences to also be illiterates who totally ignore the meaning of “maleficent” as description of an intentionally evil deed. The berserk premise introduces Jolie’s character as just an innocent child fairy with a colorful name.

Betrayed at puberty by a devious young prince who clips her wings (metaphor intended), Maleficent ages like a damaged virgin into a jilted, vengeful woman. She curses the child of the Prince-now-King Stephan with the prophecy that at age 16 she’ll fall into a deathlike sleep until awakened by “true love’s kiss.”

That kiss is the object of Maleficent’s revisionism. The agenda behind recent Disney films questions traditional assumptions of classic fairy tales and legends as the carriers of patriarchy, changing them in favor of marketable “girl power.” The romantic kiss that rouses one’s sensuality and intelligence into biological and spiritual fulfillment gets subverted. This is not honest, fully rationalized fairy-tale revision, like 2010’s The Sleeping Beauty — in which French film provocateur-eroticist Catherine Breillat revealed the psychological source of modern romantic myth. It’s just kindergarten patronization.

That celebratory sign-off hints at post-war armistice, capitulation, and surrender in vague terms (as if taught at the Little Red School House), but the war depicted on-screen is between moral polarities. In Maleficent, aggression and retaliation are no longer politically acceptable. “There is an evil in the world, I cannot keep you from it,” Maleficent warns Aurora (Elle Fanning), the princess she has cursed yet who naively regards her as “Fairy Godmother.”

Movie Preview: Maleficent
Disney delves into the darker chapters of the classic tale of Sleeping Beauty in Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie as the Mistress of All Evil. The film opens in theaters May 30. Here’s a look at the visually stunning reboot and some early reviews.
“Let us tell an old story anew and see how well you know it,” begins Maleficent, a reimagining of the story behind Sleeping Beauty from the point of view of the villainess, played by Jolie.
Maleficent as she appeared in the 1959 Disney animated version. Only a minor character in that original, she takes center stage in the new film.
Jolie as Maleficent. The new story fleshes out the character's origins, why she turned to evil, and why her hatred for the king burns to strongly.Jolie as Maleficent. The new story fleshes out the character's origins, why she turned to evil, and why her hatred for the king burns so strongly.
As the film opens, Maleficent is a young fairy girl who lives in the moors and falls in love with a human boy, Stefan, who later betrays her. Jolie plays the older Maleficent.
Sharlto Copley stars as the older Stefan, now ruling as king, a throne he obtained by committing an act of cruelty on the young Maleficent.
Elle Fanning plays Princess Aurora, a.k.a. “Sleeping Beauty,” whom Maleficent puts under a spell that will doom her to eternal rest at age 16.
Young Prince Philip visits the sleeping Princess Aurora in a scene familiar to fans of the original film.
Despite being the daughter of the human king, Aurora has an affinity for the creatures of the forest kingdom ruled by Maleficent.
Some of the other creatures of the enchanted forest.
But all is not sweetness and light in the forest realm, which is also inhabited by the menacing mud creatures.
Stefan is a man on a mission that incurs a heavy price.
Maleficent confers with Diaval (Sam Riley), her shape-shifting sidekick and right-hand man.
From left: Thistlewit (Juno Temple), Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), and Flittle (Lesley Manville) are pixies assigned by Stefan to look after the infant Aurora.
Knotgrass and Flittle visit with the infant Aurora.
WITCHY WOMAN: Early reviews of Maleficent have been mixed to somewhat positive, with all eyes naturally turned to Jolie’s turn in the title role. Here’s a sampling of reactions.
Keith Staskiewicz, Entertainment Weekly: “Jolie's at her best when she's curling her claws and elongating her vowels like a black-sabbath Tallulah Bankhead.”
Joe Neumaier, NY Daily News: “Jolie, in her exquisite ink-black horns, nails every note perfectly. She’s playing here with her split pop-culture identity: Earth mother and temptress, altruist and agitator. Maleficent proves that no performer is more adept at controlling her image. When Jolie sneers or cocks an eyebrow, she knows exactly the spell she’s casting.”
Sheri Linden, The Hollywood Reporter: “Angelina Jolie doesn’t chew the estimable scenery in Maleficent — she infuses it, wielding a magnetic and effortless power as the magnificently malevolent fairy who places a curse on a newborn princess.”
Andrew Barker, Variety: “When Jolie is let loose to really bare her fangs, such as her nearly word-for-word re-creation of Maleficent’s first scene from the Disney original, she strips the paint from the walls.”
Amy Nicholson, LA Weekly: “Jolie carries her embittered witch with the dignity of Nefertiti. She rarely speaks, preferring to sulk and scream. Stromberg and his effects team have enhanced the actress's otherworldly beauty to monstrous perfection … For a children's movie, Maleficent makes one hell of a Vogue pictorial.”
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap: “If you're expecting Jolie to deliver purring sarcasm in the pursed-lipped, raised-eyebrow mold of Agnes Moorehead on Bewitched, fear not — she absolutely does. Rest assured, however, that she offers up this character in many moods and modes, turning what was a striking but fairly single-minded villain into a fully fleshed-out woman.”
Claudia Puig, USA Today: “Jolie is at her best in vicious mode. When she appears at Aurora's christening and curses her, she is mesmerizing in her ability to strike terror. But too much of her time is spent skulking about, glowering and pouting.”
Updated: May. 29, 2014



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