The witch is back in Disney’s sequel “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, and Michelle Pfeiffer. This convoluted dark mess with an unknown target audience continues the saga of Maleficent with misguidance and misdirection from the mega studio. While the story picks up and recaps the events from the first film, “Maleficent,” a much more benign and children-friendly film, this new rendition has only enough content to fill about 30 minutes of the nearly 2-hour running time.
“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” begins with the young Queen Aurora (Fanning), Maleficent’s human daughter, and Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson) from the neighboring and previously warring kingdom, planning their upcoming nuptials, much to both their mothers’ chagrin. Caught in the middle of trying to please her soon-to-be mother-in-law, Queen Ingrith (Pfeiffer), and persuading Mom to hide her horns and behave, she finds that there are evil ulterior motives lying beneath her new mom’s intentions.
Initially, the film has a few laughs, particularly with Maleficent’s commentary of the human race, but these snarky quips quickly fall to the way side to make room for disturbing content that will surely spark a few nightmares for little ones. Queen Ingrith begins to reveal her true colors showing that she may not possess the magical powers of Maleficent, but she does have the devil in her heart. As the story twists and turns, we see the tone of a Grimm’s Fairy Tale (“Little Briar Rose”) brought to everliving color, but even the Brothers Grimm might cringe with the disturbing darkness that Disney has ensnared.
Queen Ingrith has devised the means to complete the genocide of two races. She is threatened by them, seeking power, and misunderstanding them because they are different. While there are wonderful lessons to be learned about embracing others’ differences, this is not the way a children’s film should do it. Disturbingly, we witness a little fairy being turned to dust before our eyes using a chemical invented by the evil queen. We also watch as all the little creatures are lured into a church under false pretenses only to be slowly gassed to their death. There are also plenty of battle scenes and the body count is high.
The story does, predictably, push us to root for not only the young couple in love, but also for the Queen of Evil, Maleficent. She’s got a temper, but thanks to her human child, she has learned to love, dampening her roiling rage. Jolie beautifully exudes this inner conflict, sometimes with sarcasm, and we find ourselves more emotionally connected to her than to Aurora. Fanning’s forgettable performance illustrates a milk toast character that is undeniably flat—it’s a total disappointment in Disney pushing forward with female empowerment. Pairing perfectly with Fanning is the princely love interest who is equally dull. The culprit of these disappointing performances is most likely an unimaginative script. And unimaginatively, the film appears to have directly “borrowed” scenes from other films like “The Wizard of Oz” and “Lord of the Rings” to mention just a couple.
On the positive side, makeup, costuming and set design are incredible, but unfortunately, this cannot carry a film. Jolie’s sharply protruding cheek bones and clavicle which supports her talon-topped wings, and her sleekly silhouetted black garb, accentuating her strikingly strong physique, are simply mesmerizing. And Pfeiffer’s bejeweled and flattering royal dresses just might start a fashion trend.
“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” is a disappointing live-action sequel that lacks content, but more importantly, it is a distressing and disturbing film not intended for youngsters. We also have grown to expect Disney to entertain the adults as well as the kids, but this one doesn’t fit the bill in either category.