Angelina Jolie returns for another outing as the legendary Walt Disney character Maleficent. The new film raises the question, is she a clasic villainess or a misunderstood stepmom?
This week’s film is Maleficent-Mistress of Evil, starring Angelina Jolie, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Elle Fanning.
Named for the adjective which means “doing evil or harm,” Maleficent first appeared on the big screen in Disney’s 1959 animated feature film Sleeping Beauty, based of course upon author Charles Perrault’s fairy tale. Denied an invite to Princess Aurora’s christening, Maleficent curses the infant to die before her 16th birthday and well, we know the rest. Maleficent’s character as a villainess has evolved over the years to embody an evil force rivaling perhaps only Dracula. She is depicted as a terrifying dragon shape-shifter, with extraordinary wings, piercing horns and fangs. Disney’s re-write for the first live action feature introduced more humanity and complexity into Maleficent as the conflicted god-mother to Aurora, the very princess she cursed in The Sleeping Beauty. In the first film, Malificent’s own kiss of true love awakes Aurora and secures her redemption. The character’s post-modern, alt- mom popularity only increased since repeat Deer Valley summer series standout Kristin Chenoweth played Maleficent in the popular tween movie Descendants.
Now, this new sequel, despite the subtitle Mistress of Evil, continues on the same arc. Maleficent’s viciousness is again shackled by traditional family responsibilities, and the ultimate fear of losing one’s child. Angelina Jolie reprises her role as the dark fey who protects the Moors, a sort of woodland for supernatural beings. Elle Fanning returns with youthful vigor to play Aurora, now queen of the Moors and still courted by Prince Phillip. When the young couple decides to marry, Maleficent and Phillip’s parents are confronted with the hopes and fears resulting from potential unity of their kingdoms. Phillip’s mother, Queen Ingreth played with steely, ferociousness by Michelle Pfeiffer, clearly has mommy issues of her own and she appears to be playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers.
Nowegian director Joachim Ronning delivers a vibrant and visually stunning world of forests, caverns, castles and fairies, but the plot, as simple as it should be, gets pretty muddled by introducing new threads and characters without sufficient back-story to get the audience engaged in the alliances or hatred forced upon the characters.
So, on my ski trail rating system, Maleficent-Mistress of Evil earns my intermediate BLUE ski trail rating. The strong cast benefits from another modern re-write which showcases Maleficent and Queen Ingrith with conflicting vulnerabilities and traits of strength, love, and sacrifice. Unfortunately, while our protagonist benefits from being further Disneyified, the plot does not. A distorted storyline features new sources of hate and tribal factions which rise and fall quicker than our disappearing autumn leaves, and predictably delivers an all too happy Disney ending.
Maleficent-Mistress of Evil is rated PG-13 for fantasy action, violence, scary images and why not, a goat.
This is Mark Harrington for KPCW’s Friday Film Review. The Friday Film Review is sponsored by the Park City Film.