I’ve openly admitted my dislike of the live-action Disney remakes before, they’re expensive messes that disappoint more often than not. Many would assume I hate these movies for what they are, remakes, but in truth I do think a lot of these stories should be revisited, after all Disney didn’t make the first version, nor will they ever make the final take of any of the fairytales they adapt. If Disney chose to tell a story again from a new perspective, understanding and place, I could see the remakes as something endearing, which is a shame that they often cop out from that. At their worst, Disney remakes just recreate the classics, while adding “fixes” no one asked for, but every now and then they do try doing new things, often they seem to fail, but occasionally we get something like Maleficent. While still lesser to it’s animated counterpart Sleeping Beauty, this remake managed to tell a nice, interesting new story for most of it’s runtime that updated the material and provided interesting new approaches. Essentially asking the audience if it was fair to accuse Maleficent of being pure evil once we have her side of the story, the movie may not have been perfect but it was a welcomed update, now we have a sequel.
Upfront, Maleficent:Mistress Of Evil is better than most of the Disney remakes for at least providing a new angle, but it’s also lesser to it’s previous iteration. This time we get to see Maleficent struggle with the idea of Aurora finding love with prince Philip. As the film begins the narrator awkwardly admits that for “some reason” Maleficent is still viewed as evil. It’s not an entirely bad set up as she’s been viewed as evil for years, but within the opening minutes it reads more like a sitcom than Disney actually tackling a racism metaphor. We’re introduced to Philip’s parents, the king who wants peace between lands and the Queen who clearly doesn’t, she’s played by Michelle Pfeiffer who is clearly just hamming it up. Maleficent gets framed for cursing the king, Aurora feels betrayed, Maleficent feels betrayed and the Queen calculates the murder of magic creatures. Along the way of Maleficent’s exile, she encounters her race of people and suddenly we’re all in for a race war. Lessons are learned, good triumphs and we once again see a happily ever after.
While the prior film isn’t anything I’d call great, I would argue it had ambition with its angle. Sure seeing the bad guy be a good guy is nothing new, especially in recent years as we begin to question fiction’s approach to villainy based on real world understandings, Maleficent was working from an iconic movie and essentially calling it false. Even the good Disney remakes, of which there are fewer than there are bad, are normally working safe angles that cherish the original and only question small aspects, not the whole story, which I imagine is a major reason why Maleficent worked as much as it did for most audiences. Yes, Sleeping Beauty is the superior feature, but looking at the film from a modern view, understanding that Maleficent’s reason for villainy was being snubbed for a birthday party and expanding on that, asking if there was something deeper, was interesting. So where can a sequel go? Well what was once a pretty ambitious story telling us the classic fairy tale is wrong, one that was a pretty clear metaphor for rape victims, is now another fantasy tale... hooray.
There’s nothing essentially wrong with going full on fantasy for the sequel, it’s neat seeing more characters like Maleficent and further understanding the bigotry in humanity. The reason this feels like a stumble is that it can’t feel as fresh or mature as that first feature did, we’ve seen hidden societies (I quickly thought of Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon) and while bigotry is certainly no laughing matter, the last film tackled it and we’ve seen so many other stories do it as well in recent memory. What then is left for this feature? The comedy which early on feels very much like a sitcom with parents meeting each other after a proposal, some neat effects and Michelle Pfeiffer hamming it up, all worthwhile things, but the sum of it is fun but shallow.
Despite how shallow this film ends up being, I can’t help but feel more Disney remakes should be like this, confident and all in with their own absurd choices. Is Maleficent gonna awkwardly come in to dinner with an awkward smile? She does and you will enjoy Angelina Jolie putting the effort to make you believe she’s evil but trying hard to be confused. Imagine if we saw Gaston just be a bumbling “nice guy” or Beast just be a bossy jerk that Belle somehow falls in love with... but the film was aware that’s what was happening, that’s what it feels like here. We know cartoon Maleficent is an awful lady who loves being cruel, but I also enjoy seeing Maleficent trying to be this evil person because it’s the easiest way to cover that she’s lonely and mad at others, that’s what we get more of here and it’s why I still enjoyed this, despite clearly being a slightly lazy retread, it’s confident in just being this fantasy story rather than nervous about audiences understanding what is logical behind it.
If the first movie was decent popcorn entertainment with something interesting at it's core, this is best described as that, but lacking the interesting core. It's by no means a bad viewing experience you get some fun performances and action set pieces, it's just not gonna bring something new to think about or relate to. I appreciate that unlike most Disney remakes it's not a retread unnecessarily correcting aspects of the original film, it's just continuing the story of the prior film and having fun with the silly fantasy. It's by no means a great time, let alone a good time, but I enjoyed what I saw most of the time and would recommend a watch, at least for those who enjoyed the first movie, otherwise Maleficent: Mistress Of Evil is something you can skip without missing much.
Written By Octaviano Macias
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