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Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
Album Cover Art
Composed and Produced by:
Geoff Zanelli

Additional Music by:
Phill Boucher
Zak McNeil

Conducted by:
Nick Glennie-Smith

Orchestrated by:
Keven Kaska
Jon A. Kull
Jeremy Lvey
Jason Livesay
Nolan Livesay
John Ashton Thomas
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Walt Disney Records
(October 18th, 2019)
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Regular commercial download release only.
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Decorative Nonsense
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   Availability | Viewer Ratings | Comments | Track Listings | Notes
Buy it... if you loved James Newton Howard's score for Maleficent, for you will be relieved by the care with which Geoff Zanelli adapts and advances Howard's themes and style to impressive new heights.

Avoid it... if you expect to hear some of the score's highlights on the inadequate album arrangement, Disney also failing to provide this deserving recording with necessary lossless availability.
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WRITTEN 8/23/20
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Maleficent: Mistress of Evil: (Geoff Zanelli/Various) Although it annoyed film critics with its underlying commentary on rape and capitalism, 2014's Sleeping Beauty spin-off, Maleficent, was a hit with audiences. Turning the classic film's villain into the protagonist was a twist well worth exploration, and 2019's direct sequel, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, further explores the relationship between Queen Aurora and Prince Phillip that proved to be the red herring of the prior story. As Aurora's adopted mother, Maleficent must reconcile that the two youngsters are to be married, and the mother-in-law in this case is more than a handful. With most of the cast returning despite a changeover in crew for Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Michelle Pfeiffer steals the show as Prince Phillip's conniving mother, Queen Ingrith, a truly evil bitch of epic proportions who plans to use her kingdom of Ulstead to destroy the fairies despite the marriage of her son to the queen of the Moors. All-out war ensues, and Maleficent leads a band of hidden "dark fey," her kindred, against Ulstead to save themselves and the fairies of the Moors. The film allows Angelina Jolie to expand the expressiveness of her titular character, though the visuals suffer from poor continuity in their major effects sequences. With the arrival of director Joachim Ronning to this franchise, his collaborators from 2017's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales were brought to the table, and one of these was the highly capable composer, Geoff Zanelli. The score for Maleficent by James Newton Howard was a classic success, among the best of its year and containing some of that composer's most outstanding melodic passages of the 2010's. There is no indication that Howard was even asked to return for Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Zanelli hired to do what he has done for countless Hans Zimmer and John Powell scores since the 1990s: write music in someone else's shoes. Although Zanelli had won an Emmy award for his own musical voice by this point in his career, his paychecks had definitely been earned by adapting others' styles into additional music for blockbuster films. Such is the case once again with the Maleficent franchise, and his talent, as well as that of co-writers Phill Boucher and Zak McNeil, is reflected in the surprising quality of his score for the second film.

When James Newton Howard is in top fantasy and adventure form, few composers can compete with his output. Zanelli has somehow managed the near-impossible by writing not only in Howard's voice for much of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil but also expanding upon that base with compelling new identities and instrumentation for the continuing story. It's challenging enough to emulate Howard in any circumstance, but to do so in the context of a sequel requiring a blend of old themes and new is even more daunting. A novice listener would not be able to tell the difference between Zanelli's output here and Howard's prior entry, Zanelli's phrasing, orchestration, and choral usage all masterfully emulating Howard at every turn. There are hints of other influences at times, but they are never distracting enough to merit worry. The composer and director decided early on to reprise the usage of Howard's themes from the first film, and at least seven of them do return. More impressively, though, is the addition of seven all-new themes, making Maleficent: Mistress of Evil a melodically complex and satisfying tapestry with a clear and compelling musical narrative. The base instrumentation employed by Zanelli is comparable to Howard, the full and vibrant orchestra joined by a diverse percussion section and seemingly omnipresent choir. Key solos for piano and woodwinds exist throughout, though Howard's solo boy vocals are dropped. Zanelli approached the instrumentation with zealous over-achievement, addressing the characters of the story with sounds sensible to their culture. The "dark fey" species of Maleficent's heritage is, of course, adverse to iron and can be destroyed by it. Zanelli thus constructs his dark fey themes and supplemental underscore without any metallic percussion aside from inevitable light chimes used as always for a sense of magic. (Expect some beefy brass to still convey the fey theme; it would have been interesting to hear Zanelli do without even that.) For these characters, Zanelli brings a range of exotic woodwinds, duduk, and drums into the equation for a primal feeling. Conversely, the Queen Ingrith and Ulstead material is heavily metallic in its percussive applications, a dulcimer aiding in the abrasive sheen of that realm. Meanwhile, the fantasy element is addressed by a Howard-like adult choir in a typically supporting role, expressing frequent whole-note accompaniment rather than chanting at the forefront.

The emotional range of Zanelli's music for Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is perhaps more impressive than Howard's preceding work, the humor and daintiness of early character interactions a highlight of the sequel. In cues like "What is Going on Here?" and "Etiquette Lessons," Zanelli allows the score some jubilant interludes with the innocence of Joel McNeely's flighty Tinker Bell scores. On the other hand, Zanelli never does express the massively melodramatic monstrosity of Howard's most powerful sequences, particularly his monumental "Maleficent Suite," and listeners will likely find this sequel a step behind its inspiration because of that diminishment alone. But Maleficent: Mistress of Evil has more than enough force of will to stand well on its own, mostly because of its intense loyalty to the themes by both Howard and Zanelli. Howard's assignment of themes in Maleficent was always up for debate, especially in the squishiness of melodies applied to both Maleficent and Aurora, and Zanelli offers some clarification (or re-interpretation) in the sequel by applying Howard's more nebulous, lighter character ideas a bit differently or outright replacing them with similarly structured but more cohesive alternatives. Returning are both the primary and auxiliary curse themes, the main one going so far as to keenly inform the new Queen Ingrith theme. Also to be heard are Maleficent's main theme and her motif of evil, the former barely touched upon before the finale but the latter expressed liberally throughout. The romantic material for Aurora and Maleficent's softer identity returns, though these themes are stated in somewhat counterintuitive placements until you accept that Zanelli has sought to give them different meaning here. More prevalent in the work are new themes for the dark fey, including a main idea and a secondary war motif, and dual identities for Ulstead and Queen Ingrith, the latter eventually usurping the former as one might expect. Her scientific goblin, Lickspittle, receives a little motif of ominous mischief. Anchoring the score, however, are the fresh themes for Aurora, a new one for her and the Moors finally consolidating her musical identity into what could be considered this sequel's main theme. And, of course, after Howard intentionally left Maleficent without a love theme for Aurora and Phillip, Zanelli supplies one as appropriate now, culminating in the obligatory statements of romantic drama for both the proposal and wedding scenes.

Before proceeding with discussion about the themes from Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, a complaint must be made against Disney's album for the score, as the thematic narrative is hindered considerably by its omissions. Only 69 of 105 minutes of music in the film is released, leaving out a huge portion from the first third of the work (all of the Ulstead arrival, banquet, and king curse scenes). Both the Maleficent and curse themes are thus underrepresented on the album. The curse theme by Howard was made up of two parts, first the hypnotic series of two note phrases in a choral crescendo and secondly in the dramatic motif for the casting of the spell itself as heard at the end of "The Christening" in the prior score. Both are applied by Zanelli here and not always as expected. The primary curse theme is co-opted by Ingrith's character for her theme, a clever acknowledgement of connected plotlines, and at 2:18 into "Ulstead" and 1:21 into "All He Wanted Was Peace," you get the two ideas clearly merged. The latter statement is especially sly. The most obvious use of the curse theme in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is during the banquet scene, and this pivotal sequence, although relying heavily on Howard's arrangements, is absent from the album. After a cameo in suspense mode at 1:41 into "Protecting Our Kind," the idea gets a full airing during the resurrection scene at 1:48 into "The Phoenix," Zanelli adding a snare drum to the rhythm for additional militaristic implications. The secondary casting of the spell motif is heard during the protagonists' first, rather unconventional arrival at Ulstead (not on the album), during the banquet curse scene (as another red herring), and to herald the Ingrith/Maleficent confrontation at the outset of "The Phoenix." As Maleficent lightens up at the wedding, Zanelli responds with some brief humor for the curse theme at 1:35 into "Time to Come Home." From the same origins of the curse material is Maleficent's theme of evil, and this idea gets ample representation here, starting with the scene in which Maleficent flies to confront Aurora about Phillip's proposal and the aforementioned banquet scene. (Neither cue is on the album.) By "Maleficent Returns," the theme is in full battle mode (0:58, 1:21, 4:29, and 4:49), and its rhythm extends to 4:12 into "The Phoenix." Zanelli includes the theme at 0:27 into "Mistress of Evil," the opening sequence to the end credits score suite. A touch of humor also graces this theme at 0:31 into "Etiquette Lessons," as Maleficent grimly practices her smile.

Ratings Icon
Average: 3.73 Stars
***** 55 5 Stars
**** 35 4 Stars
*** 27 3 Stars
** 18 2 Stars
* 10 1 Stars
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Why no James Newton Howard   Expand >>
B - October 14, 2020, at 10:14 p.m.
2 comments  (151 views)
Newest: October 30, 2020, at 7:51 a.m. by
Edmund Meinerts

Track Listings Icon
Total Time: 71:55
• 1. Mistress of Evil (1:33)
• 2. Poachers on the Moors (4:24)
• 3. What is Going on Here? (4:31)
• 4. Ulstead (2:39)
• 5. Etiquette Lessons (2:05)
• 6. All He Wanted Was Peace (4:50)
• 7. We Have Her (3:49)
• 8. We're Dark Fey (3:53)
• 9. Pinto's Recon Mission (1:52)
• 10. It is Love That Will Heal You (2:07)
• 11. Origin Story (2:30)
• 12. You Don't Have to Change (2:01)
• 13. The Dance of the Fey (2:11)
• 14. Back to the Moors (1:14)
• 15. Our Fight Begins Now! (1:45)
• 16. Your Majesty, They're Coming from the Sea (2:16)
• 17. I've Made My Choice, You'll Have to Make Yours (3:33)
• 18. Protecting Our Kind (2:42)
• 19. Maleficent Returns (5:09)
• 20. The Phoenix (4:41)
• 21. Hello, Beastie! (3:42)
• 22. Time to Come Home (5:49)
• 23. You Can't Stop the Girl* (2:39)
* Performed by Bebe Rexha

Notes Icon
There exists no official packaging for this album.
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The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten
or redistributed without the prior written authority of Christian Clemmensen at Filmtracks Publications. All artwork and sound clips from Maleficent: Mistress of Evil are Copyright © 2019, Walt Disney Records and cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 8/23/20 (and not updated significantly since).
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