The new Disney release “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” (2019) starring Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning continues the retelling of the classic Disney animation “Sleeping Beauty” (1959). Director Joachim Rønning expands on Maleficent‘s complex backstory as a misunderstood villain who is wrongfully scorned by the humans. In this new film, Maleficent must make peace with the humans who had hurt her in the past as she grapples with Aurora‘s engagement to Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson). After Queen Ingrith accuses Maleficent of wounding King Henry and she is exiled from the kingdom, she ventures out to learn that there are other beings like her who have also been forced to hide from the humans.
While the movie has interesting subplots and excellent cinematography, the lack of direction with many of the characters and the overly complicated storylines ultimately make “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” an overambitious movie with far too big a budget — a.k.a, your average Disney remake.
Considering how well-received the first “Maleficent” (2014) movie was, many had high expectations for the sequel. The first movie has an interesting angle of retelling a classic fairy tale to make the villain sympathetic. The sequel, on the other hand, does not have the same advantage, as Maleficent’s true character is already known to the audience. This causes the second movie to overextend the storyline, creating an overly intricate divide between the two sectors of the society (the humans and the Moors).
A major consequence of this was the addition of many new, underdeveloped characters that have one or two lines and a limited part in the final battle scene. An example of this is the character Lickspittle, played by Warwick Davis. Though he initially works for Queen Ingrith against the Moors, Aurora convinces him to change sides when she discovers that the Queen cut off his wings. His entire change of heart happens in less than five minutes and has virtually no effect on the plot, making his character unnecessary to the development of the story. Underdeveloped characters like these ultimately drew away from the main characters and plot of the film. Had the time devoted to new side characters been spent on creating detailed and dynamic returning characters, the film would have been far more notable.
In addition to the new characters, the high-budgeted special effects also take away from the plot’s development. Like with many high-budget Disney remakes, the cinematography and special effects in “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” are stunning. These effects truly come to light in the scenes where Maleficent flies and when the scenery of the Moor kingdom is shown. The beautiful scenes created by the high-tech effects make the mysticism of the film appear almost realistic.
However, while the effects are a strength of the film, the time devoted to creating beautiful scenes takes away from the development of the plot. Rather than have meaningful exchange between characters that would propel the plot forward, Rønning allots much more time in the movie to displaying the high-budgeted effects. While beautiful, the effects did little to add anything to the plot of the film. In this regard, the sequel to “Maleficent” resembles the other disappointing Disney remakes that have been released over the past few years.
While many elements of the film are lacking, Jolie’s performance as Maleficent is excellent, as she captures the persona of a misunderstood outcast in society. Jolie keeps some of the parts of the original Maleficent that we all know and love: the classic wicked laugh and her outspoken demeanor. However, through Maleficent’s emotional discovery of others like her and her affection for Aurora, Jolie creates a sympathetic character with an emotional pull. This makes Maleficent’s character arc of learning to trust the humans and Aurora‘s decisions compelling and powerful.
Ultimately, the success of the first “Maleficent” movie is not reflected in the sequel. While the movie has its strengths, its overcomplicated plot and lack of developed characters — apart from Maleficent — made for an unmemorable movie.