People went out in droves this weekend and even stood in line for hours to see the reincarnation of one of Disney’s darkest and most feared villains, Maleficent. The film raked in over $170.6 million during it’s opening, proving that its star, Angelina Jolie, still retains her global appeal despite having been absent from the silver screen since 2010’s The Tourist. The film seeks to tell the recycled untold story of the classic fable Sleeping Beauty and its antagonist, Maleficent -- a miscreant so wicked she curses newborn baby Aurora at her christening. Directed by Avatar’s production designer Robert Stromberg, the film seeks to immerse you so deep into the fairy tale that you forget that it’s live action and begin to think that the world of magic and pixies is real. But does it succeed?
I checked out the film over the weekend hoping to see a modern and mature version (a la Ever After – which I loved) of a movie that scared the crap out of me when I was little. Disney is known for their candy coated narratives for kids but the pure evil antihero, dark undertones and haunting melodies of the original Sleeping Beauty were more in line with the stories of The Brothers Grimm and their Little Briar Rose which the film was based on. I predicted from all of the marketing (heavy on the Angelia, with no explanation of why we needed a new version of this classic) that the movie was going to be 97 minutes of her perfectly arched eyebrow and cold sneer but wondered if she could really carry it. The final verdict? She didn’t need to. The wonderland created by Stomberg steals the show in the first half of the film as Jolie slowly gets her bearings (maybe she was rusty?). We are introduced to the fairyland of “the moors” where all the magical creatures live and are left wondering, “how did they do that?” The marriage between live action and the artistry of CGI suck you in and the story is well on its way before you realize that… “hey, there are other people in this movie besides Angelia Jolie?!”
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Yes, yes there were… but just barely. Elle Fanning plays Aurora, more pawn in the battle between Maleficent and King Stefan (Sharlto Copley) than a real player in the story. Copley as the King was a little over the top, and the storyline didn’t do much to save him. After spending his childhood with her, and seemingly falling in love, young Stefan betrays Maleficent by drugging her and cutting off her wings in order to become king. When Maleficent retaliates by delivering her deadly curse on his newborn daughter, Aurora, King Stefan descends into a ridiculous obsessive state of vengefulness. So much so, that he can’t even go to his dying wife’s bedside because he must sit and have imaginary conversations with Maleficent. He sends his daughter away to be cared for by three pixies (Fittle, Thistlewit and Knotgrass—fun right?) until her sixteenth birthday, hoping that his nemesis will never find her. But no one is more cunning than Angelina… I mean Maleficent and she immediately goes to the cottage where young Aurora lives in hiding.
In act two, we see something that was definitely not in the cartoon version of Sleeping Beauty. What starts out as the fairy queen spying on Aurora turns into Maleficent looking over her. Maleficent’s merciless demeanor and spine tingling cackle are slowly melted away by Aurora’s burgeoning charm. The cutest scene is when toddler Aurora (played by Jolie’s daughter Vivienne Jolie-Pitt) waddles up to Maleficient who says, “I don’t like children.” Some irony there coming from Jolie, mother of seven. Maleficent picks up Aurora and holds her for a second before she sends her back to the cottage. Still holding on to her hatred of King Stefan, Maleficent almost sends 8-year-old Aurora over a cliff. But the once lighthearted fairy queen can’t go through with it. And when Aurora finally visits the moors, the merciless Maleficent is completely won over by her wide-eyed wonder. “I have a plan,” Aurora says. “When I get a little older, I’ll come and live here with you. We can take care of each other.” “Why don’t you live here now?” Maleficent says.
The evil queen and the young princess chillin’ together? This isn’t the sleeping beauty I remember! The story seems even more unfamiliar as Aurora pricks her finger as foretold in the curse and falls into a death-like sleep but the kiss from cute Prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaites) doesn’t wake her up. Say what? Isn’t this true love’s kiss? The story ends and we find that true love isn’t always romantic. Aurora and Maleficent have to team up to help each other defeat the crazed King Stefan and the story is suddenly more Thelma and Louise than the romantic Disney fairy tale we all remember. Overall, I thought the story was a bit choppy and the performances could have been stronger but I wasn’t mad at the effort. Really though, what was disappointing was the lack of maturity in the story. This may be a modern retelling but it’s still one for the kiddies. Should you see it? Sure, but bring your little cousins too.
This article was originally published on Water Cooler Convos.
The title of this post might seem a bit melodramatic. But, I am okay with that being that my natural state is melodrama and I am pregnant. So, whatever. But, as someone who watched my mother toil with breast cancer for many years and who is now considered high risk herself, this narrative of Angelina Jolie somehow being a hero for publicizing her decision to have a preventative double mastectomy bothers me for several reasons.
First, Angelina Jolie is a mega-millionaire. The test to see if a woman possesses the BRCA-1/BRCA-2 genes is currently patented. This means that normal people, like me or my mother, would have to shell out at least $3000 to get the same testing Jolie had. This is highly unrealistic given the fact that this country is still embroiled in a debate over semi-universal healthcare. If we can’t figure out how to ensure the poorest and neediest, how could we possibly figure out how to make these types of preventative measures affordable to women nationwide?
Second, the medical research company, Myriad Genetics, who holds the patent on this gene is currently in litigation at the United States Supreme Court level over whether or not research companies should be able to hold patents on these types of genetic advances at all.
Third, “healthcare” companies have made it crystal clear that the “care” part of their name means absolutely nothing to them. If they cared, we wouldn’t see cases where mothers, fathers, and children are denied life-saving health services due to lack of coverage. And, we definitely would not see people dying on hospital room floors if these companies cared about the recipients of their services.
Overall, I am grateful that Jolie shared her story with the larger nation because those at risk, especially in the Black community, could really benefit from increased knowledge and awareness about a disease which claims so many lives each year. But, this disease is already one which strikes fear into the hearts of many. Some have criticized that Jolie’s extreme decision is not a common one. And while Jolie’s story seemed to be well-intentioned, it could have the counter-effect of sending women with much lower risk of breast cancer into a frenzy when faced with this type of decision.
But, Jolie could and should do more within her power to advocate for these types of preventative health services on a nationwide scale. She could start a nonprofit funding these types of tests. She could lobby Congress to expand healthcare to women in need.
In many ways, this reminds me of Hollywood’s efforts to thwart gun violence. The “Demand a Plan” video, though riveting, did little to sway congressional Republicans from slapping down any efforts to tighten gun security in the country. And now, I truly believe Angelina Jolie’s story will face much the same fate. Folks will appreciate it. But, with no follow-through, with no gusto, with no courage to actually do something, it just won’t mean much of anything.
Beyoncé once claimed herself to be a southern girl from humble beginnings, and now she is marketing sugary beverages to her “bey-phytes” or “bey-hives” or whatever they are called. Mary J. Blige remixes her songs to sell Whoppers. I mean really people. Stop selling out and fight for something.
I don’t mean to be negative. Maybe it is the pregnancy talking and adding the snark to this take. But, in all honesty, when are we going to demand more of the political and pop culture figures who feed us information yet have no audacity to make any changes? At some point, we have got to go back to being a nation of doers not talkers. And that goes for all of us.