“Yet another retelling of a story we have all heard a million times”. That’s what I was thinking when I sat down to watch the screening of Maleficent. I was also thinking that if this is anything like Snow White and the Huntsman I’d walk out and pretend I was involved in some accident to get out of writing a review. Thankfully first-time director Robert Stromberg (who worked on projects such as Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, The Hunger Games and Pan’s Labyrinth) delivers a thoroughly entertaining if not a little too sentimental re-imagining of this classic fairy tale.
Oh, and Angelina Jolie will win your blackened heart over with her cheekbones.
I think a lot of damage to this genre was done by the surly performance of Kristen Stewart in the above mentioned travesty Snow White and the Huntsman, a movie that could have been a lot of fun had it not been for the ‘I want to slit my wrists when she is on the screen’ part, which is why the enigmatic and intense performance of Jolie is something that stands out. This ‘untold’ story of Sleeping Beauty at first appears rather contrived, an attempt to cash in on the grit that every director and writer seems to have under their nails these day but actually ends up being something far more individual and character driven than one would expect. It starts by examining the relationship between Maleficent and soon to become King, Stefan, played by the awesome Sharlto Copley (Elysium, District 9).
We find out that Stefan will do just about anything to gain this position and his betrayal of Maleficent sets the tone and main plot for the movie not to mention her fall into evil. Many elements remain true to the original tale. On the Christening of Princess Aurora (played by Super 8‘s Elle Fanning), Maleficent lays a curse that kicks in when the princess turns 16; the famous pricking her finger (very well done) which leads to her falling into a deep sleep. Of course this curse can be lifted by a kiss from one’s true love. The now rather mad king has all the looms in the kingdom burnt and his daughter sent, with her three rather eccentric fairy Godmothers (Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Lesley Manville), to live out a life of happy innocence in the country. Here the story starts to deviate from the original and allows us to watch the ever-changing nature of Maleficent herself and this is where the movie shines.
Did I say shines? I did indeed, I also meant sparkles, fizzes and visually blows your mind; it’s also one of the few movies where 3D actually works, especially during the flying scenes. Maleficent is a visual treat that will remind you of Avatar in the way it comes across as being very natural. I was also very happy that there was only one open field battle, something many movies like this tend to put at the end as the culmination of characters actions – in fact it’s in the first 15 minutes and lasts just a few!
Angelina Jolie is stunning as Maleficent, donning horns, wings and cheekbones that can cut silk. Her grace as an evil fairy is felt in her deliberate movement, her intense gaze and smile that are all the more pronounced by innocent Princess Aurora’s frivolous nature. I would also venture that many of Aurora’s scenes would work very well as an advert for a toothpaste company (if you happen to have polarized 3D glasses you may want to bring them) as she is often hidden behind the world’s largest (and loveliest) smile. Sadly this is all she is really utilised for as her main role is assigned to moving the story along with little character development.
This is where the movie falls a bit. The only three characters we take seriously are found in Maleficent, her sidekick crow Duval (Sam Riley) and mad Kind Stefan. Aurora is there to look lovely (and smile, oh so many smiles). Prince Phillip is there to… well, smile as well, oh and to pucker up and kiss of course and the three fairy godmothers are there for comic relief. This comic relief actually goes a little too far. At times it was like watching a Laurel and Hardy skit, let’s throw flour in your face, and yours, and now yours! We are all covered in flour! Oh the fun! Thankfully we have Maleficent (who actually watches over Aurora as she grows up as well) bring us back down to earth with some well-placed comments that will have you laughing as an adult. Indeed when she is on screen you will be mesmerised. Jolie manages to balance jealousy, guilt and remorse without straying into too many clichéd areas by being subtle. Not so subtle when she is kicking ass, and trust me along with her minion – who can turn pretty much into anything with just a touch – they kick many.
I think children are going to love this movie. It is nothing like the 1959 classic which, while being great for its time, is dated in regards to the expectations most overly stimulated children have these days. It will also appeal to adults, though more through Jolie’s carefully portrayed and deep Maleficent than through adult humour, something that is refreshing in a movie made for both generations. Visually you can see why Stromberg won an Oscar as production designer for Cameron’s Avatar, as the world of Maleficent is stunning, bright and explodes with magic, but then again that is what Disney is all about. That, coupled with some brilliant action scenes will keep you thoroughly entertained for a relatively short 97 minutes.
Last Updated: June 5, 2014