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The 2014 version of Sleeping Beauty – a lot better than I thought

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I’m usually not a fan of feature films that are based on fairy tales that we’re all familiar with.

They always seem a bit at a loss in which target group they’re trying to reach: too violent for children to see, to unchallenging and unoriginal for adults. They fall somewhere in the middle. A typical example of this was Jack and the Giant Slayer, from last year. Admittedly I had a pretty enjoyable experience seeing it last year, but it was only thanks to that I watched it in a large IMAX theatre in the heart of New York City. I was thrilled at being where I was. But I was very clear over that if I had seen the film at home, I wouldn’t have finished it because it was dull and lacked soul.

Coming from this I would normally have avoided Maleficent, the new version of Sleeping Beauty, like I avoided Snow White and the Huntsmen, Hansel and Gretel and Red Riding Hood. Another fairy tale told with a twist was the last thing that I needed. But somehow, inexplicably, I ended up watching it anyway. It happens from time to time. A random slip-into-a-theatre watch. I didn’t even have an excuse, some 12 year old to accompany me. I saw it without any expectations and, as we all know, it’s the best starting point for watching a film.

So here are a few points about it that I liked about it:

  • Angelina Jolie. The role suits her perfectly. When interviewed about their latest movies, actors often make claims about how much they enjoyed playing that particular part. Most of the time we don’t believe them. It’s a part of the promotion game. But in this case I would say that she actually did like it. She’s so committed.I loved the way they switched the perspective, making it into a man vs nature film, where the “evil” fairy, while not without fault, is the one that gets the sympathies of the audience. There were aspects of it that reminded me of The Lord of the Rings, in the way how myth, magic and nature are connected, and how a beautiful realm of fairies faces destruction due to the greed, selfishness and ignorance of mankind. I guess the presence of the ent-look-alike tree creatures helped to make that connection.
  • I loved the look of the film. Like really loved it, especially the magical forest where Angelina Jolie rules. It’s imaginative, colourful, lush, beautiful and yet convincing in its own universe. When I see that world I feel the urge to jump into the movie and explore it on my own, which usually is a good sign. This is the first movie that Robert Stromberg directs, but he has 95 credits at IMDB for visual design of movies such as Pirates of the Caribbean, The Hunger Games and The Golden Compass. I’m not surprised.
  • Once again it’s a princess movie where women are allowed to have agendas of their own. Men are either baddies, servants or tools, but they can’t dictate women’s lives, at least not in the long run. Together with Frozen (which this film does resemble in some aspects, in one scene so much that it does border to copy-paste of carrying idea), this gives me hope about Disney princesses in the years to come. We’re quickly moving away from outdated set gender stereotypes, at least the worst ones. Not to be missed by anyone.

I’ll keep this review short. This is certainly no independent movie that needs to have the word spread around. It seems to be doing very well at the box office and considering how many copies of Angelina Jolie’s ace I’ve seen posted in my city, it must have a hefty marketing budget.

I watched a movie I didn’t think I was going to like all that much and I found that my instincts were wrong. I wish that happened more often.

Maleficent (Robert Stromberg, 2014) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

June 21, 2014 at 6:34 pm

Posted in Maleficent