By John H. Foote
While watching, no enduring, this nightmare of a film, an exercise in CINEMATIC torture, I found myself wondering, who wanted this film made in the first place? That it was made by Disney speaks volumes.
Greed governs Disney, pure covetous greed. Money is on their mind with every film they make, how much they can make at the box office, how they can merchandise the film for more money, how the can make further millions on Blu Ray, money, money, money. And it works, that cannot be denied. With their ownership of Marvel, Lucasfilm, Fox, and partnership with Pixar, Disney is wealthy beyond their wildest dreams, more money than Walt Disney ever thought possible, but at what cost? They are known for paying their stars and directors a pittance, and were taken to court and publicly humiliated when they refused to pay Robin Williams what he was owed for his work in Aladdin (1992) a massive success, which Williams certainly had something to do with. When they purchased Lucasfilm, they did so knowing they were going to reboot the Star Wars franchise, and have done just that, to the detriment of the series. It wraps this December with the third in the final trilogy, but Disney has already announced plans for more. As long as they make money it will never stop, ever.
In recent years they came up with the brainstorm of remaking all their animated classics into live-action films, and for the last ten years, we have had a glut of such films, some very good, some dreadful, all obscenely successful. Since 2010 we have had live action remakes of Alice in Wonderland (2010), Maleficent (2014), Cinderella (2015), The Jungle Book (2016), Beauty and the Beast (2017), and this year alone, Dumbo (2019), Aladdin (2019), The Lion King (2019), this new Maleficent film, and yet to come in November, Lady and the Tramp (2019). Combining the box office take with that of the Marvel Universe films, Avengers: Endgame (2019) in particular, Captain Marvel (2019) as well, Disney has made more than seven BILLION dollars at the box office alone for these films. That is not factoring in Blu Ray or DVD sales, merchandising of the toys, clothing or action figures, that number is strictly for tickets purchased to see the films in a movie theatre.
The breakdown is quite telling. Avengers: Endgame is the highest grossing film of all time at 2.8 billion, The Lion King has made 1.7 billion, Captain Marvel 1.2 billion, Toy Story 4 just over 1.1 billion and Aladdin just over 1 billion dollars. Further back in the year, Dumbo maade 3.6 million, and still to come is Lady and the Tramp, as well as many more in the years to come. What happens when they run out of animated classics to make into live action films? Do they go back and remake them as animated films or as they have done with this film, create inferior sequels that should never have been made?
Again I ask, why was this film made? Was there a massive audience clamouring for the sequel? Were young pre-teen girls writing letters in crayon begging for a sequel? The more likely story is that DIsney executives smelled money in a sequel, any sequel, good or bad, and believe me this is bad. Dreadful, terrible, El Stinko.
Why, why, why are Angelina Jolie, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Elle Fanning associated in any way with this mess? Are they not being offered anything better? Did they enjoy making a fairy tale so much they just had to do it all again, or were they truly interested in working with each other? That might be understandable if the film were the least bit interesting or involving. Chances are the payday was to big to turn down.
Maleficent (2014) was a successful live action remake of Sleeping Beauty (1959) with more emphasis on the villain, the title character than Princess Aurora. It was watchable, not terrible, with Fanning delightful and Jolie a powerhouse.
When Princess Aurora is preparing to marry, a royal dinner is held and her in-laws invite Maleficent. This at once creates tension between the formidable Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer) who dislikes Maleficent, and sees a chance to take over the entire kingdom. When the two women clash, Ingrith puts in motion a plot that will ruin Maleficent and allow her to be absolute ruler of the kingdom. Of course war comes, which we can see coming from a mile away, and the makers let loose with a light show of computer-generated visual effects. In fact the computer effects so dominate the film, one wonders whether or not it should be considered an animated film?
Jolie is fun to watch in a virtually silent performance where she often conveys more with a baleful gaze than pages of script. That said she has very little to do except pose and deal out gazes meant to be menacing but because we long ago figured out she is not really the villain, they become redundant and unnecessary.
There was a time Michelle Pfeiffer was among the finest actresses in American film, making film after film in which she gave remarkable performances. Her courage as an actress rivalled that of Streep, and it seemed year by year she was Oscar bound. Dangerous Liasons (1988), Married to the Mob (1988), The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), The Russia House (1990), Frankie and Johnny (1991), Love Field (1991), Batman Returns (1992) and best of all The Age of Innocence (1993) saw the actress deliver dazzling performances that thrilled audiences and critics. Yes she was beautiful, but this was a character actress with movie star good looks who chose to look for roles that challenged her. She rebounded after a long drought as a murderous mother in White Oleander (2002), an unsettling, frightening performance, which she followed as the evil queen in Stardust (2007) and the bitchy station manager in Hairspray (2007). While it is always great to see her on the screen, I question why she would choose something like this in which she is little more than a cardboard cut out figure.
Not even the light and airy presence of Elle Fanning, a lovely actress can bring any life to this dead on arrival mess of a movie. Directed with no inspiration by Joachim Ronning, who gave us the superb adventure epic Kon Tiki (2012), this is a dud.
It opens firmly as one the years worst films, and among the most unnecessary of the decade. A better example of the greed that governs Disney you will not see. I wonder when I see something like this if they truly hold their audience in contempt for daring to like their films? Why else would they torture us in making it?
It seems so.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.