If you’re looking for alternatives to this weekend’s big Disney release, we’ve got you covered.
While Maleficent, Mistress of Evil is more of an re-imagining than a remake, you could be forgiven for thinking it is yet another one of the Mouse’s live adaptations. It is the fourth live action film from Disney this year based on a beloved cartoon, and we’ve still got a “live” version of Lady and the Tramp ahead of us before 2020 arrives. So, if you’re looking for an excuse to skip Disney fare at the theater, we’ve lined up three alternatives for you.
Maleficent, Mistress of Evil (2019)
Five years after the first film, Aurora is Queen of the Moors, a magical land filled with fairy folk. Her upcoming nuptials to Prince Phillip, the heir to the human kingdom bordering the Moors, seems like a way to unite the two peoples peacefully. Unfortunately, Aurora’s new mother-in-law (Michelle Pfieffer) distrusts magical folk, especially Aurora’s fairy godmother, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie). Their animosity breaks out into open hostilities that threaten both kingdoms with war.
The Serious Pick: Maleficent (2014)
Maleficent (Jolie) has her faith in humans crushed when she falls for Stefan (Sharlto Copley), a commoner who betrays her in order to win the hand of a human princess. Maleficent’s anger boils when Stefan, now King, is set to christen his daughter, Aurora. She places the fateful curse on the princess: that she shall prick her finger on her 16th birthday and fall into an eternal sleep. Her vengeance is complicated by the fact that in the intervening years, fate conspires for her to come to love the little girl and act as her fairy godmother. Now she has to find a way to undo her own curse before Aurora is lost to her forever.
The first Maleficent movie is a deft retelling of Sleeping Beauty that deepens the character of one of Disney’s best villains. While it resembles a similar re imagining in the popular story Wicked, it doesn’t simply retcon the character as secretly the good guy. Maleficent, while nuanced, is still delightfully dark, and played with imperious pleasure by Jolie. Of all of the “turn a Disney princess story into an action epic” films that came out in the last decade, Maleficent best marries together the CG driven action with an interesting reworking of classic characters.
The Lighthearted Pick: Sleeping Beauty (1959)
Incensed that she was not invited to the christening of the royal family’s first born, an evil fairy named Maleficent curses the child to prick her finger on a spindle and die. Three good fairies soften the curse by altering the spell so she will sleep instead of die, and will awaken when she receives true love’s kiss.
It’s odd that Sleeping Beauty was the film that put Disney’s fairy tale adaptation machine to sleep for 30 years. The 16th feature film from Disney’s animation studio, I remember feeling that Sleeping Beauty was the company’s most polished fairy tale.
The animation practically glows, blending bright colors and natural tones. The songs are solid and include a few memorable classics like “Once Upon a Dream.” Aurora actually gets a courtship with Prince Philip, rather than relying on a creepy non-consensual romance like in Snow White. Maleficent is a fantastic movie villain; beautiful, gleefully cruel, and thoroughly intimidating – even when she’s not changed herself into a gorgeously realized dragon spewing green fire. Disney based the movements on live action, so the dancing and fighting really pop. All around, it’s an engaging gem from Disney’s golden age.
The Unconventional Pick: Kon-Tiki (2012)
Director Joachim Rønning may be best known for his big, flashy Disney sequels like Pirates of the Caribbean 5 and Maleficent 2, but he gained international attention with a historical adventure film, Kon-Tiki. The film adapts the story of Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl, who set about testing his theory that pre-Columbian South Americans could have made the sea voyage to populate islands such as Easter Island with ancient boats – by undertaking such a voyage himself.
The film elides much of the scholarship and technical elements of the undertaking. Instead, it favors gorgeous cinematography at sea and a rugged story of survival. Lost at sea movies are increasingly rare these days, and Rønning captures much of the ethos of classics in the genre. It may not reach the high adventure of Pirates or Maleficent, but it does satisfy with a gripping human drama and beautiful visuals.