Like most of you, I grew up watching the classic Disney fairy tale movies. While at the time I probably couldn’t nail down an absolute favorite movie, looking back the one I continue to enjoy the most is Sleeping Beauty. The art is simply gorgeous, the use of Tchaikovsky’s ballet score is inspired and in many ways it’s the simplest story of the Disney animated films, which works to it’s advantage. But a big, big reason the film is still so enjoyable for me as an adult is the villain … Maleficent.
She was nameless in the original late 17th century story by Charles Perraul, but Maleficent’s motivations remained the same in Disney’s version. Namely, she wasn’t invited to a royal celebration and she is pissed off. But unlike other villains who would scream and rant in front of the party guests about her revenge, Maleficent keeps a crocodile smile, with the bitterness just under the surface and a very insincere friendliness oozing out of her voice. Eleanor Audley (who had previously voiced the wicked step-mother in Disney’s Cinderella) is absolutely perfect in this role. While the character is still enjoyable to watch in the later moments when she does lose control, Audley’s voice is best used in those calm, pseudo-friendly but actually mocking moments like the opening scene or when she’s captured the Prince and explains her 40 some-odd-year plan for him. In short, this is a very cool character to watch.
That is why I’m just not sure about Maleficent, Disney’s live-action movie focused on the antagonist (starring Angelina Jolie) coming out 2014. Jolie is an OK actress with the right script, but I just don’t see her comparing to Audley’s iconic performance. Because the new film is reportedly from the untold story of this mistress of darkness, me thinks Disney exes saw (or even read) Wicked and immediately saw dollar signs. Plus, fairy tales are in right now.
Mostly, I don’t like the idea that this is supposed to be taken from Disney’s version of the story. If you’ve ever seen Once Upon a Time (a show I really enjoy, for the record), you’ll know that ABC has made sure these fairy tale characters are named and are reminiscent of the Disney versions of each characters – prime examples are the names of the dwarves and Maleficent herself. Oh, and apparently Alice in Wonderland is a fairy tale? What I’m saying is, if this was a re-imagining that didn’t come from Disney, I’d actually be intrigued. The one thing you can say about the two Snow White movies from this year is that they’re both made separate from the Disney story. Both Snow White movies feel much more like a true re-imagining of the classic fairy tale instead of a re-imagining of an older movie.
In short, I would much rather see a live action Sleeping Beauty production that takes the Perraul story (or the ballet’s looser story) and work from that instead of a famous actress attempting to capture the magic that Audley brought to the role. Perhaps the only ray of light for me when it comes to this production is that Paul Dini, best known for creating some of the best Batman cartoons and writing arguably the best superhero video game series of all time. Fingers crossed Dini’s brought his own special brand of storytelling magic to this production.