Walt Disney Pictures took advantage of the 56th Annual Grammy Awards to debut a 90-second preview for Maleficent, featuring previously-unreleased footage and vocalist Lana Del Rey’s achingly somber rendition of the classic animated Sleeping Beauty tune “Once Upon a Dream,” which shall be featured in the end credits of the Mouse House’s upcoming live-action revisionist take on the Grimm fairy tale.
The Maleficent footage in the “Dream” trailer recalls the swords and sorcery featured in Snow White and the Huntsman, yet its ethereal color tones and texture bear a strong resemblance to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (minus the gloom of Burton’s vision) compared to either the morbid Snow White re-imagining or the lighter style of Bryan Singer’s Jack the Giant Slayer.
That’s appropriate, seeing how the Angelina Jolie vehicle was directed by FX/visual design guru Robert Stromberg, who secured an Oscar for his work on the Lewis Caroll re-imagining. If you recall, it was Burton’s Alice in Wonderland that kicked off Disney’s craze of reimagining intellectual properties to which it owns the screen rights and/or previously adapted into cartoon form; ergo, the iconic villain from the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale is getting her own sympathetic backstory (a.k.a. the Wicked treatment).
Maleficent was scripted by Alice in Wonderland screenwriter Linda Woolverton, but her narrative and themes for the re-examination of Sleeping Beauty may come through more coherently than they did on Burton’s Alice. Beyond that, it’s probably best to expect that this film will overall be the same competent (if unremarkable) storytelling as recent Disney live-action offerings, like Oz the Great and Powerful (ignoring rare gems like Saving Mr. Banks).
There are other IPs either owned or closely associated with the company scheduled to be released by Disney over the next few years, including the live-action Cinderella by director Kenneth Branagh (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) and The Jungle Book from Jon Favreau (Iron Man 1 & 2) in 2015, a year before James Bobin (Muppets Most Wanted) takes over for Burton on the Alice in Wonderland sequel, currently titled Through the Looking Glass.
Question is, will all of these products feel equally homogenized – coming from the Mouse House’s assembly line – and, if so, will general audiences mind? After all, a fair number of people enjoyed Alice in Wonderland and Oz the Great and Powerful, so you can’t really fault Disney for giving moviegoers more of what they (seemingly) want, from a business perspective anyway.
Maleficent opens in U.S. theaters on May 30th, 2014.