Directed by Robert Stromberg
Written by Linda Woolverton, Charles Perrault
Starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley
Can you muck about with sixty years of cinematic history? Well if you’re Disney, it seems you can. Okay, granted Disney may well have introduced the titular Maleficent to the adoring masses to begin with, yet twiddling with her canon seems potentially foolhardy. You could argue that maybe they have left it long enough, perhaps. For those that would like to remember Maleficent as devilishy evil, however, you might want to give this ‘truth-telling’ a wider berth.
There can be little dispute that this Sleeping Beauty reboot is impressive, but maybe not for the reasons we might have hoped. Hovering like a harbinger or guardian angel, depending on your point of view, is Angelina Jolie’s performance as the dark faerie responsible for the curse that strikes Aurora on her sixteenth birthday, threatening a permanent death-like sleep.
Expanding the story’s universe was necessary to fill out the ninety-seven minute running time and the addition of fleshed out characters (and the invention of new ones) is welcome if not totally inspiring. Sharlto Copley is mostly impressive (his Scottish accent slipping only rarely) as King Stefan, although like the rest of the cast, he is a mere bit player to Jolie’s imagined nightmare updated.
Gently leading the viewer by the hand into a mystical fantasy world of faeries (more so) and dragons (less so), the audience is bottle-fed the story that should be familiar to everyone that has taken the trouble to turn up and watch. At this stage, it’s a pretty safe bet you’re either a fan of Disney, Jolie or sparkly princesses and all of these types of viewer will be catered for. Our own audience would not have been particularly unusual and they were aged 8-80. Dividing this fantasy world into the Kingdom of Men (cities, architecture, hierarchy, monarchy) and the land of Faeries (fauna, flora, freedom, equality) is no doubt Disney’s rose-tinted backhander at a society that has served it so well as consumer, but it is abundantly clear where the animation studio would rather spend their time given the choice.
Maleficent, above all, is a wonderfully realised fantasy, brimming with wonders and jaw-dropping visuals. The cinematic purists can take something from the sheer beauty of the films’ presentation, the rendering of the Moor, its inhabitants and attention to detail of the Disney Imagineers. Sometimes, it does threaten to become a little too Labyrinth or Fraggle Rock, but is it thankfully pulled back from that precipice in good time. The narrative is no more questionable than the original story, if we’re honest, but without any prior knowledge, it may be a little surprising and dare we say it, a little frustrating, if you’re of a more sinister persuasion.
The script is occasionally cringe-worthy, but understandable given the extremely wide audience appeal the film will muster, and it does well to keep both adults and children alike entertained sufficiently well. The short running time also does the project no harm in this respect, keeping the film moving, not allowing the audience time for dwelling on a story that has little patience for dawdling too often. Pretty it may very well be, but it has a job to do, and like Maleficent herself, the film is focused enough on the job at hand.
And ultimately, this either stands or falls on the Jolie’s performance. Views on the film itself have been varied, with most reacting well to the idea of providing Maleficent with a back-story of her own, even if the narrative of that tale is thought by some as a little too twee and sweet. Questions will abound with regard to whether the Maleficent of the origin story would ever become what she was if events transpired as they do here which make this tale a little difficult to accept in such circumstances.
If you were to disregard everything that went beforehand, which you really need to do if you are going to get the full effect of the story told here, then you can take a great deal of enjoyment from both story and performances. Uttered by some as ‘the role Jolie was born to play’ is probably a little too limiting for an actor of such range and ability and likely does her credibility a disservice if anything. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that whenever Jolie is on screen the film becomes considerably more interesting. Her portrayal of one of Disney’s most iconic characters, given the story, is practically flawless, particularly when she lets her darker side get the better of her. This is when Jolie shines and the malevolence burns, convincingly transforming her into a stormbringer of chaos and destruction.
Great fun for all ages, but this may not be Maleficent you’re looking for.