BluRay/DVD Reviews

MALEFICENT(Disney Home Video) 2014

By • Nov 18th, 2014 •

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Having seen it, then thinking about it for a few weeks, and now writing about it, I still can’t shake the impression that MALEFICENT is an animated film. All those quintessentially Disney backgrounds, the CGI creatures populating the enchanted forest, and Rick Baker’s best make-up design of the year for the lead character, cast me into an animation spell. I know rationally there are real people in there somewhere, but the illusion remains unbreakable, like Maleficent’s curse.

And that’s neither a bad thing nor a good thing. But it is unique. Subtle decisions add to the cartoon aura – the 97-minute running length for example. That’s more of an animated feature film length. It compresses story, and streamlines characterization and movement, very much adhering to Chaplin’s expressed anxiety about cartoons being the only cinematic form whose perfection of movement he couldn’t equal. Even after the talkies arrived, he continued to film pantomime sequences at 12 frames per second rather than the standardized 24, to skim the fat off his performance and rise to Disney’s level of character animation.

MALEFICENT is a good film, which resolutely makes the effort to avoid clichés, and allows Ms. Jolie to exert her physical powers in a focused, highly visual performance. The department heads and director are not adverse to reaching back into the studio’s annals and appropriating images and lines, and even expressions, that subliminally recall the glory of films past. The shadowy, haunted ruins at 21:26 are clearly based on the ruins on top of Knocknasheega in DARBY O’GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE, Disney’s best live action feature of the 50s. Likewise, when the prince leans in toward the sleeping princess, and the three little fairies plead in unison “Kiss her!” (1:14:15), that’s also out of DARBY O’GILL, when Darby and King Brian watch as Michael (Sean Connery) considers kissing Katie O’Gill but hesitates. And there are moments, such as 47:38, where Elle Fanning is the spitting image of Janet Munro as Katie O’Gill.

There are lots of other loving homages to past Disney films contained within MALEFICENT, but that is the company’s province after all, and if they wish to mine it for subtextural connections, that’s their privilege.

Supplementals include a brief look at Jolie’s neck and headwear. And the featurette about shooting the film against green screens, with wire work, etc., is interesting because years ago an effects technician would have been explaining what all those doodads meant: now the younger generation is so accustomed to the CGI and effects work that they can just enjoy seeing the tricks revealed on a purely non-verbal level.

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