The 2014 blockbuster Maleficent kicked off a slate of live-action remakes of Disney’s animated classics with its retelling of Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of the iconic antagonist, portrayed more sympathetically by Angelina Jolie. In the 2019 sequel, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, which arrives today on Blu-ray and DVD, the title character again confronts a threat to the magical forest realm, this time from the power-hungry Queen Ingrith, played by Michelle Pfeiffer.
Ahead of the film’s home release, director Joachim Rønning spoke with CBR about joining the Disney franchise, working with stars of the caliber of Jolie and Pfeiffer.
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“A huge part of the success of this franchise — especially the first film — is that it surprised the audience. It made audiences go ‘Oh, my God, this is a great angle. This is a fun ride,'” he said. “Of course, what Angelina Jolie did also, she really captured [Maleficent] so well and created a unique character. Although we thought we knew this character from the animated movie and the stories and all that, but then Jolie was able to go in there. … I think that was one of the most daunting things for me, going into making a continuation of that story. How can we capture that lightning in the bottle again? How can we continue to keep surprising the audience?”
To that end, Rønning decided to look further inward into the characters, even as the world around them continued to grow.
“It became very important for me to further explore the origin story of Maleficent and where she’s coming from, as well as the journey of Aurora and Maleficent,” he said. “Their relationship is the emotional core of the story and the most important thing for me. This is a fantastical fairy-tale with magical creatures, but that stuff’s not as important to me. That’s not what draws me into this. What draws me into this is the relationships between the characters in the story and the characters themselves.”
Rønning ended up finding a personal connection to the narrative and the characters. “For me, I have two daughters, I am a parent,” he said. “I think that story about Maleficent and Aurora and seeing their journey together, and how they develop and how Aurora is growing up into a woman and wanting to leave her mother behind… which is very natural and find her own way. For every parent, myself included, you kind of dread that day. You’re not the most important person in their life anymore. And that was what really drew me into this.”
That informed one of the most memorable sequences in the film: the tense dinner between the families of betrothed Aurora and Phillip. Maleficent attempts to appease her surrogate daughter’s future in-laws, and even hides her horns.
“As you always do when you’re trying to please a child as much as you can — in this case, she tries to change her character, to be more human,” Rønning said. “And she goes to the dinner and of course, it all backfires. At the end of the day, that’s where I see myself, and the emotional core of the story.”
That throughline was a key part of the story within Ingrith as well. The mother of Prince Phillip, she’s eventually revealed to have dark plans for the magical beings of the world. But, as Rønning explained, “She’s also a parent. It is is a story about two parents in a way, doing what they believe in, in order to protect their child. I think with Michelle Pfeiffer, it was a very interesting process with her because she’s the villain of the story on one side, but on the other side she needs come across as a loving mother for her son. That needs to be plausible, too, so it was a tricky balance.”
Working with two of the most famous actresses in the world, Rønning explained that, “[Pfeiffer] is so amazing, and you have that dinner scene between Maleficent and Ingrith. There are very few actors in the world that can go up against Maleficent like Michelle Pfeiffer did … Those were fun days. As a director, it’s such a privilege. It was daunting when you go in there, and these actors have been in some of your favorite movies of all time and at some point worked with some of the best directors in the world. So, of course, you stand there and pinch your arm a little bit, but at the end of the day, it’s such a privilege and luxury to be working with such talent. Because that’s what they are, huge talents. That’s why [Jolie and Pfeiffer] are huge stars, they’re amazing as actors. You put the cameras on them and start rolling, and it’s like being at the movies. I sit behind my monitor and I see them coming to life right there, and you feel so lucky as a filmmaker. Those days were fun.”
Directed by Joachim Rønning, Disney’s Maleficent: Mistress of Evil stars Angelina Jolie, Michelle Pfeiffer, Elle Fanning, Harris Dickinson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sam Riley, Ek Skrein, Juno Temple, Imedla Staunton and Lesley Manville. The film is available now on digital HD, Blu-ray and DVD.
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