Everyone loves a good villain. Sure, we root for the hero and want to see them win at some point before the end, but many movies succeed because their villain is so memorable. One such example is Disney’s 1959 animated adaptation of Sleeping Beauty, which featured the scheming enchantress of evil, Maleficent. Well, 55 years later Disney has decided to cash in on the appeal of the horned and slickly dressed villainess with a spin-off movie entitled (creatively enough) Maleficent, which is set to release on May 30th of this year & a new trailer has just dropped.
As the trailer blatantly points out, “You Know the Tale”; Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) is a wicked fairy who lives outside of an unnamed kingdom in the dark forests. One evening, at a party celebrating King Stefan’s (Sharlto Copley) newborn daughter Aurora, Maleficent crashes the festivities to place an irrevocable curse on the child. However, this prequel/re-imagining seeks to explore Maleficent’s motives for such an act, which seems to promise a more political rift between her and the king which results in warfare between the kingdom and Maleficent’s magical army from the forest. In the middle of all this conflict, an adolescent Aurora (Elle Fanning) must try to find a middle ground between the forest she’s grown to love and the kingdom she’s destined to rule. Watch the trailer below:
Based on this trailer, there’s a lot to like about Maleficent on an aesthetic level. The film looks gorgeous in terms of production, costume and visual effects design. It’s quite clear that veteran visual effects and art director Robert Stromberg (whom won Academy Awards for his art direction on Avatar and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland) has made sure that his directorial debut will be stunning to see. The trailer also makes sure to emphasize the dark fantasy nature of the story, most notably with the moments of Angelina Jolie gleefully taking on the part of a wicked magical enchantress and the use of Lana Del Rey’s haunting cover of “Once Upon A Dream”, the central song from Sleeping Beauty.
So, the film is definitely getting across what it wants to convey visually… but is the content there? Maleficent as a villain worked in her original form, but is there really enough to her to make a spin-off film worth it? Based on what limited details we have, I’m really not that sure. While I did mention the film looks stupendous, I’d still say it looks fairly reminiscent of many a post-Lord of the Rings trilogy fantasy film that’s come out in the last ten years or so. Big tree creatures, warring factions racing at each other, magical side creatures, etc. It all just feels so familiar and having a first time director mostly known for his visuals and not his story telling worries me even more.
I do still have some hope for Maleficent, though. Jolie looks like she’s definitely embracing the part and providing a lot of devilish charm. It helps that we have up and comers like Elle Fanning and Sharlto Copley in key supporting roles who can probably pick up the slack as well. Plus, there’s also the biggest factor in the movie’s favor: the screenwriters. There are two credited writers for Maleficent, one of which is Linda Woolverton who is responsible for some of Disney’s biggest hits of the last twenty years, for better (The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast) or worse (Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland). The second is Paul Dini, a veteran of television writing best known for his work on Bruce Timm’s DC Animated Universe, especially Batman: The Animated Series. Dini and Woolverton are both responsible for some of the more memorable female characters of my generation’s childhood, whether they be Belle or Harley Quinn. Characters with dimension and flaws, yet are also strong in their own individual ways. Surely, they can give this potential cash in enough character to make it worth my cold hard cash, right?
But what about you out there? What do you think of the trailer for Maleficent? Do you think the villain can carry the film? Or is there another Disney villain far more worthy of a stand alone project? Personally, my vote still goes to Hades from Hercules.