2-Disc Blu-ray l DVD l Digital HD
Directed by Robert Stromberg
Starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley, Brenton Thwaites
Walt Disney Home Entertainment
Release Date: Nov 4, 2014
Disney’s unexpected summer blockbuster that grossed more than $750 million worldwide arrives for its home release. Maleficent, the live-action retelling of the Sleeping Beauty tale from the perspective of the evil fairy, may offer more visual spectacle than storytelling substance, but it’s far from cursed. The Blu-ray debut of Maleficent soars as an overall presentation, albeit blighted when evaluating its individual parts.
Though I shared some brief thoughts in this analysis of Maleficent following its theatrical release, I did not quite dive into its many facets. Watching any of Disney’s recent fantasy-inspired features (say Alice in Wonderland or Oz The Great and Powerful) suggests the type of film you can expect in Maleficent, directed by Robert Stromberg, responsible for the production design of both Alice and Oz. By chance, while clunky narratives tainted those two features, Maleficent does not suffer from as many story issues, even with similar Alice pedigree, such as producer Joe Roth and writer Linda Woolverton. But the scars on the titular character’s back are not the only marks that can be found in this film. Thankfully, star Angelina Jolie makes up for some of the missteps.
As the exemplary Disney villain – who we grow to learn is simply misunderstood – Jolie embraces the role and gives it her all. While Jolie may not score an Oscar nomination for playing this complex character, she seizes the screen with an effortless magnetism, much like Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks. How are Jolie and Thompson, who depicted a real-life version of an animated Disney personality and a fictionalized portrayal of a real-life author, respectively, similar? Brilliant casting. Many recent (great) Disney films have featured A-list actors and actresses in appropriate performances. Jolie does the character justice, but even more so, helps the overall film. She lends gravitas and depth to a character we see evolve from spirited (in her youth) to vindictive (after having her wings torn off) to merciful (when interacting with young Aurora). Go Jolie!
Likewise, Elle Fanning, who plays 16-year-old Aurora (a.k.a. Sleeping Beauty), was a smart choice for the role. Fanning is a bright and wonderful performer. Regrettably, the writers do not give Fanning much to do here, other than play with odd creatures inhabiting Maleficent’s kingdom, flirt with a dull prince, and brood over the revelation of Maleficent’s curse on the teenager. If the writing team’s mission was to replicate the flatness of the 1959 animated character in a 2014 live-action character, they succeeded. How disappointing.
Sharlto Copley‘s ruthless King Stefan and Sam Riley‘s teasing human-raven hybrid Diavel are provided more interesting material. While the colorful pixies played by Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Lesley Manville add some welcomed merriment to the dark storyline of revenge and regret, the characters only hit a few notes. Additionally, the somewhat creepy CGI work does not work to Maleficent‘s favor.
I appreciate the film’s message of empowerment and forgiveness, matched by the influence of Maleficent’s and Aurora’s relationship, but the storyline feels choppy a little too often. One moment we’re being persuaded to admonish Maleficent’s harsh actions, but in the next scene we are asked to see a different side to her. We realize her complications, though it comes across forcefully. Similarly, and perhaps this movie’s release following Frozen hurts its conclusion, but the endings appear quite alike and somewhat heavy-handed. Sometimes poor timing can impact our response. In this case that proves very true.
Story struggles aside, viewing Maleficent from the lens of wanting to feel immersed in an intricate world, its Blu-ray presentation offers just that most magnificently. Disney’s recent productions, when coming to home video, are five-star quality through and through. Maleficent does not break the trend. Each frame looks clean and vibrant. Maleficent’s Moors kingdom appears ravishing, if not unlike areas of Avatar‘s Pandora. The radiance contrasts the shadowy castle environment. Nice visual transfer, Disney. Correspondingly, Maleficent sounds as powerful as the fairy herself. The crispness comes across most apparently during the fighting scenes and even the quainter moments of Aurora’s youth. James Newton Howard‘s solid score matches the film material well and enters our awareness most finely during the scene when Maleficent flies toward the clouds.
“Aurora: Becoming a Beauty” follows the bubbly Fanning’s journey of landing the coveted princess role and bringing her own take to the character. Fanning said she watched the original film again to identify any mannerisms she could lend to Aurora. “She is just sunshine,” Jolie said in describing Fanning. Remaining still for those iconic sleeping scenes proved difficult. The five-minute featurette gives more context to the character than the actual film.
“From Fairy Tale to Feature Film” chronicles translating the classic to modern audiences in a different format, though contained to an all-too brief eight-minute featurette. “I realized there was an enormous challenge in how to make someone who could be that cruel and that evil into someone who we could care about,” Woolverton said. Jolie said she was moved by the script, especially in how Maleficent possesses another side to her here compared to the animated film. The filmmakers aimed to stay loyal to the 1959 movie’s major scenes, including the christening. The most amusing moment comes when Jolie describes how her daughter Vivienne was cast as young Aurora, as she was not frightened by the actress in full villain garb. For any Brad Pitt fans, he makes a brief appearance during the filming footage.
“Building an Epic Battle” showcases the massive scale of the field-set confrontation. Assembling a scene involving dozens and dozens of performers is no easy tasks, especially when stunts enter the mix. The six-minute piece could have spent more time on the cool flying elements, but instead opts for highlighting the crowds and some awkward slow-motion portions. The possibilities of exploring the various facets are sadly reduced to nothing different from what you could find on most any action film’s similar type of bonus feature.
“Classic Couture” shifts the attention to Maleficent’s look, such as the headpiece with horns. It’s just around one minute long, extremely brief, considering the set-up appears as if it would explore the design in more depth.
“Maleficent Revealed” carries over some of Janet McTeer’s narration from the movie to introduce the production set pieces at various stages of filming. This five-minute segment merely compiles film footage, some of the shoots, and special effects. It feels completely unnecessary, mainly because we do not learn anything new about the movie itself.
Additionally, “Deleted Scenes” features five brief scenes omitted from the final product. “Stefan In King’s Chamber” shows the young man entering the king’s royal bedroom and pretending to serve the role through trying out the crown, later conversing with King Henry. “Pixies Seek Asylum” would have occurred when Stefan ascended to his new role. Meanwhile, “Pixie Idiots,” at less than 15 seconds long, shows Maleficent’s response to hearing that these pixies were raising Aurora. “Diaval Asks About The Curse” would have preceded Maleficent’s attempt to reverse the horrible curse. “Suitor” shows the Pixies’ attempt to find the proper gentleman to awake Aurora from her eternal slumber. Save for the first deleted scene, all of these come across as rightfully deleted.
Bonus Features: C+
Overall Grade: B
Maleficent may not strike you as one of Disney’s finest fantasy films, but as an improvement to both Alice and Oz, it indicates that perhaps these filmmakers are finding their groove in this genre. The Blu-ray release supplies limited and merely adequate bonus features — an unfortunate trend in many Disney home releases over the past several years — though the strong overall presentation covers some of the flaws. If you have already seen Maleficent in the theaters and enjoyed it, a purchase comes as no surprise. For anyone seeking a brisk 97-minute film with a unique leading performance, beautiful visuals, and some clever banter, Maleficent also warrants a watch. It’s not a spellbinding film, nor is the complete Blu-ray package amazing, but the moments of enchantment and entrancement make Maleficent mighty good fun.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom.