Running Length: 97 minutes
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Sharlto Copley, Elle Fanning, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville
Directed by: Robert Stromberg
Screenplay by: Linda Woolverton
Cinematography: Dean Semler
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Jolie chews the scenery with obvious relish.
In essence, Maleficent is the hidden history behind the cause of six decades worth of childhood nightmares; the wicked fairy godmother of Sleeping Beauty (1959). What Disney’s original film didn’t tell its young, impressionable audience was that before Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) grew up into the gothic Bette Davis, she was a sweet, kind-hearted girl like any other. Granted, a girl with dragon’s wings and three foot high horns coming out the top of her head, but then everyone has issues.
As all good fairy tales do, it begins with the words, “once upon a time.” The young Maleficent lives in a sort of Avatar-lite utopian realm called the Moors, that lies on the edge of a kingdom of nasty, land-grabbing humans. One day, the future King Stefan (Sharlto Copley) wanders into the Moors, and strikes up a deep friendship with the young Maleficent. Over the years, their friendship turns to love, and on her 16th birthday Stefan gives her the special gift (steady now) of “love’s true kiss.” But adolescence is a bitch, and Stefan’s political ambition eventually surpasses his love. From his deathbed, the incumbent king promises his throne in exchange for Maleficent’s life, so Stefan returns to the Moor and clips her wings (not a metaphor). This betrayal is the root of her evolution into the villainous fairy queen, and the cause of the most obtuse, arbitrary curse ever thought up.
Exactly where the Moors are geographically located is a bit of a puzzler, as the dialect is all over the place – South African Copley’s King Stefan is Scottish; the English Sam Riley does his best begorrah brogue; and Jolie starts off in full-on Dick Van Dyke mode before settling into a deliciously-villainous clipped Oxbridge timbre. Perhaps somewhere near the Isle of Man, then. The three good fairies, played by Juno Temple, the wonderful Imelda Staunton and Mike Leigh alumna Lesley Manville, provide the type of pantomime comic relief that will only appeal to the very young (or the very old). Elle Fanning’s Aurora is as insipid and one dimensional as her animated counterpart, but these minor quibbles are offset by Jolie’s performance.
Maleficent is undeniably Jolie’s movie. She gets all the best lines and the biggest laughs as she chews the scenery with obvious relish. In the summer blockbuster season, Maleficent’s biggest selling point will be its broad appeal. As long as they can handle Disney’s animated original, then younger kids shouldn’t be too scared by anything in the movie. There’s also enough humour to ensure that parents won’t nod off. By giving Maleficent’s pain a past and a reason for her wickedness,the film upends the traditional Disney hero/villain role. Switching the focus from a male-centric influence and, instead, elevating the bond between Aurora and her fairy godmother is a refreshing change from the traditional Disney princess getting saved by a handsome prince, and conveys a positive message to its impressionable demographic.