The fairy tale sequel is tracking for a $50 million opening weekend.
Angelina Jolie returns in the title role of this week’s Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. The Disney release is a sequel to the 2014 original that had her playing the Sleeping Beauty villain in her early, more sympathetic years.
The new movie picks up five years after the events of the first movie. Maleficent has been acting as the protector of Aurora (Elle Fanning) as well as the kingdom her family rules over. An uneasy truce between humans and fairies, which Maleficent leads, is tested when Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) proposes marriage to Aurora and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfieffer) sees it as an opportunity to cause further division.
It’s part of Disney’s trend of breathing new life into classic animated characters by adapting them into live-action, albeit with the twist here that the focus is on the antagonist. That’s something the studio will revisit with next year’s Cruella.
For now, though, the popularity of the original film necessitated a sequel and Disney was happy to oblige. The marketing for the second installment has been full-throated, but the message has been shallow, hoping that sheer spectacle will make up for what seem to be crudely-constructed characters whose motivations remain unclear.
The teaser poster (by marketing agency BOND) released in early March offered the first real good look at the movie, showing Jolie as the title character bathed in darkness and looking more than a little evil.
Two months later a triptych was released with Maleficent in the middle while Queen Ingrith and Princess Aurora flank her, each set against a background that’s in keeping with the character. Individual posters breaking out each character were released shortly thereafter.
Another widescreen promotional image was released when the movie was being touted at D23 in August.
In August the theatrical poster was released showing Maleficent looming in the background while all the other characters are off to the side. More character posters (by marketing agency eclipse) followed later in the month offering closer looks at Aurora, Ingrith and Conall.
It’s a very dark, fairy tale image used on the IMAX poster, with Maleficent spreading her wings to their full terrifying breadth as thorny vines spread all around her, a green ring’s glow providing the only source of light. Similarly, the RealD 3D poster has her hovering in the sky as feathers fly from her wings. The Dolby Cinemas poster looks almost like a Rorschach drawing, with Maleficent’s face and headdress appearing as light, feathery, detailed brushstrokes.
The first teaser (6.1 million views on YouTube)from mid-March promises “this is no fairy tale” as we see Maleficent threatening royalty and causing all sorts of other chaos. Her motivations are unclear and not much of the story is offered to viewers as this is all about promising the character is returning and looks fabulous in her various costumes.
There’s more of the story in the second trailer (11.8 million views on YouTube) from early July as we see Aurora has grown and is engaged to be married. That news is going to ruin Maleficent’s morning. Even worse, Queen Ingrith has decided this is the moment to reclaim motherhood of Aurora, prompting Maleficent to declare the wedding will not happen. So begins a battle between the two women for Aurora’s soul and future, one filled with all the creatures and settings you’d expect to find in a fairy tale land.
Online and Social
In addition to trailers and a story synopsis, Disney’s official website for the film has some character descriptions but not much else. I’m surprised to find there aren’t a number of promotional partners listed here.
A movie-themed collection of stickers could be accessed by iMessage users to add some zing to their messages.
Users of the site/app PicsArt could add their own photo and enhance it with Maleficent’s headdress and other paraphernalia, the finished product then available to share with others.
Advertising and Publicity
The first waves for the movie were made when the expanded cast list was confirmed by the cast themselves via social media. Months later in April Disney shared footage from the movie as part of its CinemaCon pitch to exhibitors, promising a spooky story for audiences to enjoy.
A more audience-centric appeal was taken at Essence Fest in early July as a photo booth featuring images from the movie was part of the studio’s presence at that convention.
Early August brought the first TV spot, which shows the kind of fairy tale action and drama audiences can expect from the film.
Later that month the movie was part of Disney’s D23 Fan Expo, with Jolie appearing on stage along with the rest of the cast to promote the film to attendees. Costumes from the movie were on display on the show floor.
Disneyland hosted a sneak preview of the film for guests at the part, with Fanning stopping by to give fans a treat in late September.
Jolie was praised by her costars in a short featurette released in early September that emphasized how incredibly she inhabits the role. Another featurette focused on how time had passed in the story and where all the characters are when we see them again.
Disney released a “Back in Black” time lapse video of Jolie having her makeup applied. The event of advance tickets going on sale was marked with a new TV spot promising the return of everyone’s favorite villain. That was followed by a longer commercial that showed off more of the characters and conflict from the movie. Additional commercials hit similar themes, showing the dark nature of the story and the fantasy-based action it contains.
Promotional partners for the movie include:
- Kohler, which ran co-branded commercials promoting its high-tech mirrors that come equipped with voice controls, something that’s very on-brand for the movie’s subject matter.
The first clip was released by Disney in late December showing Maleficent confronting the King and Queen about problems in the woods.
Beginning earlier this month Disney released videos from the movie’s worldwide premiere events, including Japan, Rome, Tokyo and London. There was also a stop in Moscow. A short sizzle reel recapping all those and other global stops came out days before release.
Additional TV and online video spots hit various aspects of the story, always coming back to the visuals of Maleficent exercising her full power to threaten the humans she’s been betrayed by. An extended “Special Look” came out just days before the movie came to theaters that promised audiences a story that may not have a happy ending for all involved.
An LA building wall was transformed into a movie mural thanks to a local artist.
The three leads sat down for a conversation about the story and characters, agreeing that Maleficent isn’t actually evil, just wild and a little misunderstood.
A partnership with YouTube influencer Promise Phan promoted the availability of an augmented reality tool allowing people to add effects that transformed themselves into the title character.
Media and Promotions
In August Jolie wrote an essay on the issue of women’s rights and gender equality that was part of a cover story she was featured in.
A feature on Fanning focused on her fashion choices and how she’s become more comfortable with expressing herself through clothes and more.
The members of the cast showed up on various morning and late night talk shows to promote the film.
Jolie is being positioned here as an almost Beyonce-like figure, someone who immediately dominates any room she enters by virtue of her strange, otherworldly energy. That’s the message conveyed by the videos shared from D23 and the global premieres, including all those spots showing her putting on makeup and preparing for those events. It’s one that’s in line with the character she plays, someone who literally descends from the heavens to inspire or terrify those around her.
But that’s the only message the campaign really has for audiences. The story itself is never more than hinted at or alluded to in the trailers or TV spots. And the interviews with the cast include lots of discussion about how Maleficent isn’t bad, she’s just acting within the confines of her nature when she threatens humanity, making it clear it was humanity that betrayed her first.
In that regard it’s much like many of the other recent campaigns from Disney for their various franchises. It knows the story isn’t what will convince people to pop for IMAX tickets, so it just shows larger-than-life characters in large-scale set pieces to act as the primary value proposition.