Though Joachim Rønning didn’t direct the first film, he made sure to build on its world for Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. The movie, which opens on October 18th, incorporates the events and aesthetics of its predecessor before expanding those horizons beyond even Aurora’s imaginings. The director spoke with Screen Rant about what elements the felt were most important to maintain, as well as what was most challenging about exploring the world of Dark Fae in addition to the well-traveled Moors.
Congratulations on this film. I thought it was a lot of fun, but it has a great meaning behind it – at least for me. At the heart of the film is a misguided conflict between humans and fae. What themes or subtext do you hope families absorb when they come to see Mistress of Evil?
Joachim Rønning: What grabs me with this universe, and what grabbed me while watching the first film and surprised me a lot was how strong the emotional bond was between Maleficent and Aurora, and how much I could relate to that. Even though it's a fairy tale and spectacle, and all that craziness, it was still about a mother and a child. I'm a parent myself, and it was just interesting to see. That really caught me and grabbed me.
And so, for me, it was very important – if not the most important – to continue their story and to further explore their relationship now that Aurora is becoming a woman. She's moving out; Maleficent has to adjust to that and is realizing she’s afraid of losing her daughter, basically.
I think a huge part of the success of this franchise is that, at the end of the day. And I think families watching it, it grabs them. And then of course, there's parallels to today's society in Queen Ingrith and all that. We can talk about that, if you want. But I think the love of these characters is so tremendous.
In the first movie Maleficent proves that she's not bad to the bone. What's the significance of the Mistress of Evil subtitle in the second?
Joachim Rønning: Today, actually, somebody asked me if it was Ingrith who was the mistress of evil. I feel that it’s not.
But once again, what's so interesting about Maleficent as a character is that she has a little bit of everything. She's good and evil; there's kind of like a gray area. She can fly around, she has magic she can kill people with, and she says exactly what she feels all the time. She's wicked and all of that, and I think that appeals to people. Everybody thinks that, at some point, you want to be a little bit like that. And then at the same time, she has a big heart. So, it's that duality that everybody loves, I think.
You came from another huge franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean. Is there anything that you learned from doing that film which helped you during Maleficent?
Joachim Rønning: Yeah. I mean, every movie is different and the same in a way. But before Pirates, I did smaller films where you do more things yourself. And it’s not about some people doing more or working less, it's just that you don't have the money. You have to do it yourself. Like on Kon-Tiki, I made the posters. It was on that level.
I think on Pirates, I learned that I have to delegate more and to trust the people around me, because they are the best in the world at what they do and much better than me doing what they do. So, I think I learned to pick my battles a little bit.
And then on this film, that was a much more fluid feeling for me. I had, again, a tremendous crew around me and I don't have to make my own posters. There's 1000 people at Disneyland who make them so much better. It's fun.
This is a new, unique property in Disney's growing animated live action Renaissance, because it's both a prequel and a sequel, rather than a straight adaptation of the cartoon. What kind of creative freedom or leeway were you given to create with these characters?
Joachim Rønning: To a certain degree, we have complete freedom. But for Maleficent, Angelina Jolie is the keeper of the flame in that department. I trust her 100%. She knows Maleficent better than anyone, and it’s so fun to work with her. I can suggest something, and she does exactly the opposite – because I'm a human and she's a fae. She’s very much in character.
But then at the same time, this is an original story. We're not redoing Sleeping Beauty or anything like that. Of course, I want to pay respect to the franchise and pay homage, but this is completely expanding the universe of these characters.
I want to talk about the Fae world a little bit, because it's so vibrant and beautiful yet different. Going in, did you think that was going to be the biggest challenge for you to execute?
Joachim Rønning: Yeah. Two things in the film were challenging: creating the dark fae; their nest and the design of that, and the logistics of how to shoot that stuff. And then, of course, the battle at the end there with so many storylines and characters and journeys going on at the same time.
And in a way, I'm the only one that has the whole film in my head, and it keeps changing by the hour. So, it is really a bit daunting. But at the same time, it's also great fun to create two worlds. That's what we're doing, you know? And that's why I'm also gravitating towards these kinds of films. They are truly world-creating, and they remind me of the family adventure movies that I grew up with, which made me want to become a filmmaker in the first place. So, it is also great fun.
Harris Dickinson told me earlier that there was a scene of dancing that got cut from the film that he was really proud of, because he said he practiced a lot for it. Is there anything in the film that didn't quite make it to the final version, that you wish could have?
Joachim Rønning: I think the dance was also one of my favorites, actually. But at the end of the day, it's all about what works in the movie as a whole. The dancing, not to get too technical, was kind of in the middle of the movie where you want things to kind of move forward. Not to be too calculated, but the pacing is actually very important.
These are the things you see in editing. You think a week earlier, “No way that scene can ever be cut.” I love that scene, that's like, “Over my dead body,” you know? Then a week later, it’s out. And it's such a relief to see the film suddenly move.
I'm really happy you brought that up, because I feel like a title that's underserved is the editor. The pacing of this film is pretty perfect in the way that everything is laid out and keeps the story moving. So, I completely agree with you.
Joachim Rønning: It is really a fun process and a long process. Because that's where you rediscover the movie.
Last question is: what other movies did you take inspiration from for Mistress of Evil, if at all?
Joachim Rønning: The first film. And at the same time, wanting to create something new and original and expanding the universe, for sure. I think creating some sort of dark fairy tale was always up there on my dream list, and I got to do it.
Well, great job doing it. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you.
- Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019) release date: Oct 18, 2019