Friday, June 6, 2014

Maleficent (2014): On Love, Child Welfare, and Awkward -nomics

6th June 2014 marks the day where I finally worked up the courage to pay money to watch a Disney movie in a cinema. Actually that's a lie, since I did pay to watch Iron Man 3 and The Avengers. I've been somewhat biased against Disney movies for years- I am of the impression that Disney films are mostly Western Bollywood musicals with fluffy and happy (throughout or eventually) plots. For a recent and popular example, let's take a short peek at Frozen. I considered watching it (briefly), but was put off by the constant singing and the fact that there's a little ugly talking snowman in it- call me racist (or speciesist?) but I'm not a big fan of snowmen, the only exception being the twisted ones in Calvin & Hobbes. I wasn't even interested in listening to the hit song Let it Go- something about it grates my nerves (though I've yet to listen to the entire song- so color me biased). Heck, the only thing I somewhat enjoy about the movie Frozen is that every time I do a "Which Frozen Character Are You Quiz", I get Elsa. Enough of that however- chew on my thoughts on Disney's Sleeping Beauty remake/retelling, Maleficent.

#01. Magnificent Point Form! I jest. I've gotten used to how cinema operates- there's about 10-15 minutes of commercials and trailers before the movie actually starts. If a little black hole should materialize at seats H10 and H11, it's probably my fault for arriving late and yet early, unintentionally creating a time paradox

#02. That had absolutely nothing to do with the movie. Neither does this second point. I grow increasingly irritated by how loud and piercing the commercials are. At the moment I believe that the worst offenders are the KFC-World Cup ad starring Cristiano Ronaldo, and one particularly annoying ad by the cinema itself, made worse by using a guy with a annoying, enthusiastic hyped up squealing voice. If I ever have to talk to someone like that in person, my fists would have a severe itch.

#03. [spoiler, perhaps?] The movie starts, eventually. We are introduced to a kid fairy. Apparently she's Maleficent- this is a surprise. Then again, I don't think I've watched the original Disney animated film, nor can I claim to have read the original version by Grimm- I always thought that Maleficent was just an evil witch. Interesting surprise, though I cringed at the thought of possibly having to watch through Maleficent's entire life story... at least we were spared the story of her birth and baby-hood.

#04. Fancy CGI time. I don't care one whit- I felt that it was a waste of time. All it did was show us a glimpse of Maleficent's world, but without giving any real sense of wonder. Maleficent did some magic (no mention as to why that should be significant), flew around, talked to some twits, caught a thief... I was also left feeling that this particular introductory scene was either done specially for 3D and/or IMAX, and not optimized for 2D. Much of it went by in a blur, and I don't think it was an artistic choice. Of course, it could just be that the cinema needs to buy new equipment.

#05. Maleficent stops a thief (the future King Stefan), and they become friends. The narrator says something along the lines of "the unlikely pair soon became fast friends, and naturally this blossomed into love". Let me be clear on this. I am not sure as to the actual wording, but there you have it. Love is ridiculously easy to come by in their world, apparently. Once you become friends, you're on the fast track to the Love Boat... yeah right.

#06. Time skip. We are introduced to a silly old fart of a king who promised his people that he would "conquer every corner of the land" (including the enchanted moor where Maleficent lives). That's politics for you- making promises that they can't keep, and when they can't do it within their lifetime (legal term), they pass the buck on to their successor.

#07. [major spoiler?] Let's talk about Stefan for a bit. He really doesn't have any redeeming qualities, but let's not go there. I'm most curious about one point: he was crowned king by the previous guy on the throne, for exacting vengeance on Maleficent (who had humiliated him on the battlefield earlier on). The problem is that I believe that the old king wanted Maleficent dead. Stefan betrayed Maleficent by taking her wings from her, and telling the old king that he had avenged him. When Maleficent appeared before Stefan's court later in the film, wouldn't her continued existence invalidate the very deed that put him on the throne? Surely someone who survived the earlier battle would have protested, and don't tell me that Stefan would worm his way out of this spot by a technicality (exacting vengeance doesn't mean that he had to kill her, after all).

#08. Speaking of Stefan, I have some issues with how he tried to counter Maleficent's curse on princess Aurora. I'm not going to debate on how the curse was physically impossible to avert and how everyone seemed to forget about that- after all it's only human nature to do your best to save yourself from danger, no matter how dire the situation (though I suppose this is especially true if you have no idea how grim the situation really is). There wouldn't have been much of a story if everyone had just gave up, either. First of all, he gathered up all the spindles in the kingdom and destroyed them, set them on fire, and locked the remains up in a room in his castle. Firstly, what effect would that have on their economy. They would either have had to import their clothes from overseas, just wear old clothes until Aurora turns 16, or go around naked. Secondly, why burn the spindles if they have already been destroyed? It sounds a lot like burning ash (though I guess I'll accept that maybe they just aren't cut out for destroying things). Finally, why keep the remains in your own palace? Why not just sell them to a neighboring country with recycling facilities for a profit?

#09. [minor spoiler] He could have just let Aurora do whatever she wanted, and have her wear iron gloves on her 16th birthday. Or lock her in an Iron Maiden. Much simpler, but nooo... instead he entrusted her to three idiot fairies for 16 years. He doesn't really care for Aurora, does he?

#10. [I give up- spoilers abound] Maleficent takes interest (and concern) in Aurora's upbringing, and grows attached to her. Her reasoning is that there's not much point in letting Aurora die before the curse can take effect. I would go so far as to hypothesize that Aurora is practically immortal until the curse comes into effect, due to Maleficent's clear cut wording- though I suppose that's not a theory she was willing to test. Aurora returns Maleficent's affection as well.

#11. Aurora encounters Prince Phillip. They literally bump into each other, and this bumping seems to trigger an explosion of emotional awkwardness between the two. They are in love, or almost in love. I think the people in this kingdom fall into love more often than they fall into holes.

#12. Speaking of Prince Phillip, I'm genuinely surprised that a prince travels alone without an armed guard. The world they live in must be rather safe. Completely unrelated and uncalled for, but the first thing that came to mind when I heard his name was "Phillips Light Bulb". Sorry about that, kid.

#13. Maleficent loses her wings. Her magic, however, is shown to be most powerful. She cannot, or does not want to use this magic to fly. Um.

#14. After the movie, I was told that Angelina Jolie's (Malefient) young daughter had a bit part in the movie as toddler Aurora. I immediately retorted by asking if her adopted children were instead given cameo roles as peasants. A rather mean spirited joke, I suppose, but hey, wit is currency when it comes to writing and conversation. Now if only I could get paid for it.

#15. Not to brag, but I predicted how Aurora's curse would be lifted ages before the scene itself. I'm glad it happened the way it did- it was a heartwarming scene with full points from me.

Fifteen points is more than enough, I suppose (it's also 1.30am and I'm out of energy). To wrap things up- Maleficent isn't bad, but isn't a work of art either. It's just average. In hindsight I'd rather not have paid full price to watch it while it's still fresh in Malaysian cinemas though. It seems that many reviewers are putting it down though, calling it a disgrace and a disappointment compared to the original animated Sleeping Beauty. I can't help but feel that these reviewers are angry for the sake of being angry. If you don't like it, go and watch the original instead. The existence of a 'Maleficent' movie really does no harm to 'Sleeping Beauty' in any way, no more than the harm Roland Emmerich's pregnant Godzilla could have done to the original guy in a rubber lizard suit (i.e. none whatsoever).

I do have an issue to pick with one argument, though. One reviewer called  the raven turned human character Diaval 'a truly sad attempt to capture the female demographic'. Speaking for myself- I'm not going to bother about the writer's broad assumption on behalf of the entire female audience- I was quite pleased with Diaval's character. I'm operating under the assumption that Diaval did not exist in either the original Grimm tale or the animated film, but I like how he was worked into the story. If anything, I feel that Diaval wasn't used enough in one aspect: his relationship with Maleficent.

I was hoping for a Maleficent x Diaval pairing at the end, and I can't be the only one who feels that way. Who's up for a sequel focusing purely on their lovey-dovey raveney relationship?

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