<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Robert Stromberg. Starring Angelina Jolie, Sharlto Copley, Elle Fanning, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Miranda Richardson, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville, India Eisley
Disney is changing their fairy tales and unlike other franchise ‘reboots’ we’re not complaining.
Based on one of Disney’s popular fairy tale animated films – which is by the way, based on the stories by Charles Perrault (The Sleeping Beauty) and the Brothers Grimm (Little Briar Rose) – Maleficent tells the story from the point of view of the ‘wicked’ faery who is spurned by the king and seeks vengeance by casting a spell on his new-born daughter cursing her 16th birthday with the threat of being pricked on a spindle and cast in to a deep sleep forever.
New imaginings of fairy tales have followed the resurgence of fantasy films like Harry Potter and super hero films like… well all of Marvel’s super heroes. We’ve had Jack the Giant Slayer, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters and Snow White & the Huntsman (best of the lot). They’ve all tried to give a different spin and twist to the magical and scary stories we’ve all heard and loved as children. Some are predictable but still welcome.
Take Disney’s break out hit film Frozen for instance. Princes are out and women power is in. Disney trying to redeem themselves for years of making the woman helpless and the men with all the ‘sweeping-off-the-feet power’!
Little Maleficent (India Eisley) is part of the magical world of the Moors, where all sorts of magnificent creatures dwell and she flits around on her majestic fairy wings until she meets a boy who she takes a fancy to and who inevitably breaks her heart. But how he clips her wings is the true beginning of her journey to the dark side. That and of course human kind’s utter disrespect for anything different or incomprehensible to them. While the ‘beasts’ of the Moors lay peacefully in their homes, the real ‘evil’ hordes of King’s men ride to conquer that which they do not understand. Because men have always craved power.
Adult Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) defends her home but is betrayed and soon takes her vengeance on the new King whose new-born girl will have to live with a curse that no one on Earth can reverse. With a little help from her three pixie aunts and a faery Godmother, (princess) Aurora grows up to love her magical neighbours but fate has other plans.
Okay, so we all know Disney’s penchant for ‘love’s true kiss’ and they’ve played that card in Frozen as well. So you’ll know that the ‘prince charming’ (Brenton Thwaites) isn’t going to be the one to wake sleeping beauty from her slumber. While not surprising, this little twist is still effective in telling the story of Maleficent, who like so many others had to resort to evil to get back at those who brought her down. Also reminiscent of the musical Wicked, which tells the story of how the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz actually gets to be that way.
Jolie plays Maleficent with poise and restraint. She unleashes her wrath at points but is a creature of great mystery. Much love lurks behind those glowering eyes. And great sorrow behind those smiling red lips.
I still think Sharlto Copley’s accent is irritating but he plays his part well and so does Elle Fanning as Aurora. You may find Maleficent a tad slow but it is never boring. I like that it has a concerted pace to it that isn’t rushed. It follows the pace of the character, poised and dream-like.
Maleficent may not be for little kids actually but how many little kids read or watch fairy tales anymore? They don’t even play with toys. Still, Maleficent is a contemporary fairy tale that mirrors the world as it is: full of humans doing evil and creating more evil. We need more Angelina Jolies…
Listen to Lana Del Rey’s reimagining of the 1959 Disney animated film song ‘Once Upon A Dream’ that plays out in the end credits of Maleficent:
PS: Read our original feature Fairy Tale Films Are Back With A Vengeance