Red flags should fly with the relaunch of anything as notable—and bankable—as a Disney brand, but the anomaly of Maleficent seems to lie in its spot-on casting, as Angelina Jolie, beyond being one of our few bona fide female headliners, looks wickedly appropriate as Sleeping Beauty’s horned villainess. Aside from the usual handful of leaked set photos, the world got its first peek at Jolie in character last June, and attendees of Disney’s D23 Expo caught a glimpse of the film, and Jolie in person, this past August. Yesterday, an official poster was finally released, showing Jolie in full, dark-magic regalia, and proving once again that, when it comes to modernized costumes, you can’t go wrong with black leather. The ad also features Jolie rocking green peepers, enhanced cheekbones a la Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” phase, and “lips red as the rose,” to quote the Mistress of All Evil herself. Jolie’s aesthetic impact alone boded well for this pseudo-prequel even before its teaser trailer premiered this morning.
In its official release, Walt Disney Pictures describes Maleficent like so: “Maleficent is the untold story of Disney’s most iconic villain from the 1959 classic Sleeping Beauty. A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman, Maleficent has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land’s fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal…an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces an epic battle with the invading king’s successor and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Maleficent realizes that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom, and perhaps to Maleficent’s true happiness as well.”
If you ask me, that synopsis sounds a little square, and a little too much like the Wizard of Oz lead-ups (such as Wicked and Oz the Great and Powerful), which yielded mixed results. Nothing could be worse for this film than the forced and phony nastification of its star, saddling her with the kind of soap-opera scorn that made Mila Kunis painful to watch in Oz the Great and Powerful. The trailer seems to tell a different story than the release—that is, the story of Sleeping Beauty. Instead of addressing even a sliver of Maleficent’s former innocence, the clip merely follows a young Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) through a dark kingdom of Avatar-lite bioluminescent beings, before confronting her nemesis, a woman she knows has “followed” her, in the shadows. There’s virtually nothing in the narrative that doesn’t mirror that of the animated classic.
Assuming you don’t find the thunderous eruption of T-Rex-sized thornbushes to be particularly showy, this trailer is a rather restrained affair, offering merely a tease of what Disney is touting as an era-spanning epic. And since Jolie looks just as good in motion as she does in air-brushed, one-sheet form, it’s safe to assume she will remain the most compelling visual effect. But since Disney was also responsible for Oz the Great and Powerful, and seems to be operating in a similar mode here, it’s best to tread carefully and focus on Jolie’s scant few lines. “...Be afraid.” Be very afraid.
Directed by first-timer Robert Stromberg, and co-starring Sharlto Copley, Juno Temple, Sam Riley, and Imelda Staunton, Maleficent opens on May 30, 2014. Watch the trailer here: