Disney milks a cash cow with Maleficent

Roxane Hudon reviews the new retelling of Sleeping Beauty and predicts how the studio will regurgitate its old ideas next.

Angelina Jolie in Maleficent

Disney follows in the revisionist footsteps of Wicked to reimagine the backstory of one of its villains, the horned, green-skinned mean lady who curses a sweet little baby to die in Sleeping Beauty. If, like me, you sometimes enjoy the odd Disney film on a hangover Sunday (by Sunday, I mean Tuesday) and you’ve also watched an entire season of that stupid show Once Upon a Time — you know the one where Snow White and Rumpelstiltskin are cursed to live in the “real world” — you might enjoy this. Basically, if you’re a bit old, drink too much, still like princess stories and need to get a life, or, alternatively and more logically, if you have kids, you’ll be amused.

posterIn this version, we learn that Maleficent is actually a nice little fairy with huge wings who grows up in a magical kingdom full of other fairies, fat elephant-type sea creatures and magical mushroom people. As a young girl, she falls in love with a human named Stefan and takes him on magical adventures during which they promise to love each other forever. However, as these things go, Maleficent grows up to become Angelina Jolie and Stefan evolves into a Scottish dickhead who just wants to be king. In order to do so, he has to kill the most powerful fairy, i.e. his beloved Maleficent. Unable to kill his freak fairy lover, he drugs her and cuts off her wings. You can guess what happens next: hell hath no fury, shit hits the fan, etc. She yells a lot, finds a pet crow and curses Stefan’s newborn baby to fall asleep forever, or until “true love’s kiss” finds her.

mal3Director Robert Stromberg continues fiddling about with fairytale history, and turns Maleficent into a …nice person. Instead of retiring to a giant decrepit castle on a mountain somewhere to cackle to the sky a lot, she spends her time watching over the baby and making sure three dimwitted fairies are raising her properly, thus forging a secret bond with the child, and when Aurora (Elle Fanning) turns 16, Maleficent regrets cursing her. Oh blah! In the end, Maleficent is just a poor fairy with a broken heart who wants to play mommy. With Stromberg’s extensive special effects credentials, including an Oscar for his work on Avatar, expect a lot of jazzy 3D magic flying in your face, as well as impressive giant tree men and, of course, a dragon. Dragons are hot right now.

mal2Disney has hit a real big cash cow with this idea, considering the endless list of entertaining villains they could also possibly turn into bland good guys with sad but fantastical backstories. Next up, they’ll be turning Cruella Deville into a vegan animal rights activist who catches her vegan animal rights activist boyfriend cheating on her and swears revenge on all puppies, but then feels bad. Ursula will be the product of bullying, after the beautiful mer-people mock her for being, well, a fat octopus trying to rock a faux-hawk. Scar will be a young intellectual, but his stupid jock of a brother always stole the spotlight and beat him up for being a stuck-up British nerd. I can go on — from Gaston, the secret gay and Captain Hook, the disabled drag queen with a heart of gold, to that guy from Pocahontas with the pigtails and the pug who is probably gay too and just accidentally horribly racist. Once they’re done with the villains, they’ll move on to all the countless, affable sidekicks (the bunny from Alice in Wonderland comes from a broken home, Pumbaa is a farty Holocaust survivor, Abu is a product of incest) and live happily ever after until they run out of likeable characters and they’re trying to market Mater, the live-action film based on the redneck pick-up truck from Cars, starring Larry the Cable Guy as a redneck who just drives around a lot…in 3D. ■

Maleficent opens today