Monday, June 30, 2014

Sleeping Beauties: Sleeping Beauty '59 and Maleficent

The plan here was sort of to watch both Sleeping Beauty and Maleficent in close proximity, wrote them both up, and maybe do a bit of compare-and-contrast, how one evolved from the other stuff, like with the Oldboys or The Hunger Games and the like. It was mostly motivated by gap-filling, as the usual new release guy at eFilmCritic, Peter Sobczynski, didn't have time and/or inclination to give it a full write-up. But there were a few things that made me push in a different direction here.

I really don't know enough about the visual language of film in general and animation in particular to articulate what impressed me about Sleeping Beauty's design and which cues Maleficent took from it to write something that didn't sound fairly ignorant, and that's what most impressed me about the original. I'm sure that there are die-hard Disney fansites that have dissected it better than I could have.

Secondly, though, was that Maleficent just kept hanging around. I was still seeing banner ads for it on IMDB and other sites, and in a time when even big movies can seem to disappear within a month, it was quietly still hanging around theaters and even continuing to have more than a few 3D shows, even though the current practice seems to be to not bother with those after a week or two unless its a really 3D-centric movie like Gravity. I saw a tweet pointing out that, so far, it was looking like Maleficent would do better than The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Godzilla, How to Train Your Dragon 2, and Edge of Tomorrow, which isn't bad for something that seemed like an afterthought. I certainly groaned at the previews, and wondered why the heck you would move Godzilla out of the Imax theaters for it.

I don't think it was until I was sitting down and about midway through it that I started to wonder if I had been doing something I really don't like seeing others do: Discounting it because it's not for me, specifically - it's the rare summer blockbuster made with girls and women in mind. It's got a female writer, the majority of the important characters are women, and the material is very much relevant to that audience. It's amazing that we only seem to be a couple of years removed from Warner Brothers talking about not green-lighting movies with female leads now that we're seeing the likes of this and The Hunger Games and Gravity and Frozen, but every time a good movie with women in the lead does well, even/especially if it's in a sci-fi/fantasy genre where that hasn't traditionally been the case, everybody gets surprised all over again.

I've seen a few pieces about how awful the scene of the title character discovering that her wings have been cut off is, some finding it a metaphor for something even nastier than what I saw it as, and, yes, this is ugly material - but it's relevant to its audience, and I wonder how many people saying that are men who don't want to think about such things, even though women don't have a choice in the matter. I kind of hate that there's an argument for putting the idea that girls should be wary that even men they really like and trust could do something like this into their heads early on, but there is, and I'm kind of impressed that this movie does it relatively well.

How early on is appropriate? I do not know. I don't think I'd recommend that my two recently-turned-three Disney-princess-loving nieces check this out - although seeing how much they appear to love movies and animation, I may introduce them to the wonders of Hayao Miyazaki this Christmas, as you are never to love Totoro. Once you get up to their seven-year-old cousin's age, I don't know. Part of that is it's not a great movie, but I also kind of wonder if some of the things I'm seeing as weaknesses, like the less-than-great action, might not seem so bad to a little girl's eyes. Parents looking for adventure rather than violence might like the way this movie spends more time playing with strange creatures than fighting them.

I'm still not really a fan, all told, but I am glad it got me thinking about this, at least.

Sleeping Beauty

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 29 June 2014 in Jay's Living Room (see the original first, Blu-ray)

As much as I'm a fan of animation in general and Disney in particular, and have dutifully purchased Sleeping Beauty on VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray lest it disappear into the vault on me, it took not wanting to see Maleficent without watching this first to actually get it in front of my eyeballs for the first time since I was a kid (if I saw it then). There are bits of the story that don't necessarily hold up to grown-up scrutiny, but it's certainly one of the most stylish of the Disney classics.

There are many interpretations of the story; this one primarily draws from the Charles Perrault version and has the whole kingdom and dignitaries from neighboring ones attending the christening of Princess Aurora - except, that is, for Maleficent (voice of Eleanor Audley), the witch with the castle on the forbidden mountain, who takes the snub very personally indeed, cursing Aurora to prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die by nightfall on her sixteenth birthday. Fortunately, the third of the magical gifts that a trio of visiting fairies (voices of Verna Felton, Barbara Jo Allen, and Barbara Luddy) has not yet been bestowed, and it can mitigate things somewhat, to a sleep that can be broken by true love's kiss. Of course, everyone involved would rather it not come to that, so King Stefan (voice of Taylor Holmes) burns every the spinning wheels in the kingdom and has the fairies hide Aurora. She grows to a young woman (voice of Mary Costa) under the name Briar Rose, having no idea of her true identity or that the young man she meets days before her sixteenth birthday is Prince Philip (voice of Bill Shirley), to whom she was betrothed at birth.

There are a lot of bits of the script that don't make a whole lot of sense - despite there being over a half-dozen people credited with some variation of "story", it's amazing how completely they punt figuring out a reasonable way for Aurora to actually prick her finger on the spindle; the fairies seem to operate under some fairly arbitrary rules, too. But there are some impressive bits, too - the title character may only be on screen and active for about twenty of the movie's scant seventy-five minutes, but she actually becomes a surprisingly memorable character. It's a surprisingly effective job of getting Philip and Aurora/Rose up to "true love's kiss" potential without appealing to destiny or the like.

Full review at EFC


* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 29 June 2014 in AMC Boston Common #11 (first-run, Real-D)

It's odd to argue against making a character more nuanced and motivated, but Maleficent sometimes pushes one in that direction. After all, the title character is one of the all-time great cinematic villains; is trading that for a conflicted but less perfectly realized character a worthwhile transaction? In this case, it's at least one with occasionally interesting results, although the actual movie around it is occasionally a letdown.

In this version of the story, Maleficent and the future King Stefan met as children, when the latter trespassed into the fairy territories that the former protected. Though they grew closer as teenagers, they found themselves in opposition as adults, and the way Stefan (Sharlto Copley) becomes heir to the throne leads Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) to seal herself off and from humanity and effectively declare herself queen of a land that before had no ruler). The occasion of Stefan's daughter's birth brings her out, though, if only to set a curse upon the girl - one that she will find herself regretting as Aurora grows into a lovely and charming young woman (Elle Fanning).

The basic story arc that screenwriter Linda Woolverton grafts onto Disney's animated 1959 version of Sleeping Beauty is a good one, if dark; it positions Maleficent as a metaphorical date rape survivor who must balance her desire for retribution with how empty a life defined entirely by the memory of one's worst experience must be. It's a little heady for the kids in the audience, but there are layers to the onion: You can present it to kids as a story about not making someone suffer for the actions of their family or how, ultimately, one's love is more powerful than one's hate. Angelina Jolie is at her best when she gets to play close to these themes; there's something heartbreakingly true about the layer of envy she adds to the christening scene even though the dialog has changed very little from the previous version. When the story is just Maleficent learning how to live with herself and others, it's sharp and clever without being didactic, a fantasy with some heft to it.

Full review at EFC

1 comment:

Datenrettung said...

I would really like to see Maleficent