I have a confession to make. Unlike a lot of people my age – or a lot of people generally – I didn’t grow up on Disney films. Of course my brother and I had seen a few. Our VHS copy of The Lion King is still with us, although is probably on its last legs. I remember watching a slightly off recording of Robin Hood which hadn’t worked properly and was therefore on two tapes, with amazingly dated adverts for sofa sales cutting up the action. But I was certainly never one for the princess movies. I only began to familiarise myself with the ‘classics’ during my teenage years, and even then I haven’t found one from the studio’s back catalogue I’ve been particularly gripped by. It’s Tangled and Frozen that have found a special place in my heart.
So consequently, the decision to go and see Maleficent may not have been my finest. If I’ve seen Sleeping Beauty I have no recollection of it, although I am familiar with the story through books I read when I was little. I went because a) I’m not one to turn down a cinema trip with a friend and b) I’ve been impressed with Disney’s recent output. The cinema experience began well, as we entered to find an entirely empty and clean screen. Unfortunately it didn’t stay that way, as everyone else who had bought tickets for the film entered with their young children during the trailers. I can’t complain about this, because the film is clearly aimed at children, and I have to say that they were all immensely well-behaved. It came down to the other adults in the screen to break the Wittertainment code of conduct in a variety of ways. Still, I’ve come to expect this (and nothing will ever be as infuriating as the couple talking in outdoor voices throughout Godzilla).
The film itself…well, it’s a day later and I’d struggle to tell you much about it. Angelina Jolie was, perhaps unsurprisingly, an effective lead. Everything from her voice to her delivery made me want to see her spend more time on screen, being a convincing villain. But as the film progressed from origin story to a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent’s screentime became less and less about her, and more and more about Aurora. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that Sleeping Beauty is about the character of Aurora, and what she goes through over the course of the narrative. However, by calling the film Maleficent and almost selling the reversed perspective as its central premise, I wanted it to be more about her. I also found this an issue in terms of the narrative of the film, which aimed to redeem Maleficent as the film went on. Yes, it’s a Disney film. Yes, you have to be able to understand the lead. But I wanted her to be a bit more, well, villainous. I understand that I’m not part of the target audience, but at the same time if you decide to position the villain as the centre of the work I want to see that angle explored in more detail.
Instead, what I got was a film I couldn’t fully engage with. I can’t deny I wasn’t caught up in its story occasionally, with Maleficent’s entrance to the christening – first through silhouette, then through profile, then a full shot of her in all her glory – being a particular highlight. The wide shots of Maleficent flying were pretty spectacular, and her bursting through the clouds was fun to see. But when those wide shots became close ups, I was taken out of the film entirely. On the whole, the CG really didn’t convince me (and after having watched Pacific Rim the night before, I find bad CG really difficult to accept after seeing how it can be done properly). The other fairies were frankly a bit disturbing in their minute forms. Rather than convincing me to believe in this fantastical world – which isn’t something I usually have a problem with – I questioned everything I saw.
I’m also not going to go into detail about the ending, but I wasn’t particularly happy about it. It doesn’t come out of nowhere by any stretch, but it didn’t work for me in the same way as it would have done (and actually HAS done, but I’m not going to say where for fear of spoilers) in another film. As soon as that particular path was made clear, I sighed.
I’ve seen films I’ve enjoyed less in my life, and by no means do I feel that my afternoon was wasted. I liked the raven (or is it a crow? We couldn’t decide), and Angelina Jolie is marvellous. But like some of the fellow adults around me, I too felt more interested in what was happening in the outside world – I just decided that breaking the code of conduct wasn’t worth it. This being said, the kids around me seemed to be engaged, and I guess at the end of the day this is what the film was setting out to achieve.