In the original Walt Disney Animated Classic “Sleeping Beauty” you get the feeling that the evil fairy Maleficent was more than just slighted at not getting an invite to Aurora’s christening. Instead, Maleficent was driven to the evil she became by some prior act. The new live-action version of that story, “Maleficent,” takes that idea and runs with it.
In the new film, movie-goers are entreated to learn another version of that story. One that flips the version you know and love on its head. A story of love, power, and misplaced trust that leads to betrayal of the deepest sort. The kind of betrayal that will cause one to do unspeakable things. Finally there is vengeance and the madness that comes from knowing you are the cause of your own sadness and loss.
As you can tell, these are some adult themes for a PG movie. The film never quite strikes the balance between telling a complicated story and presenting a movie the whole family can love. As such, it can seem a bit muddled at times. But it is a story that begs to be told and it features wonderful characters that we already know and are getting to learn more about. Aside from a few intense battle scenes, there is nothing in this film a family with mature 6 or 7 year olds, cannot enjoy together.
Angelina Jolie was great as Maleficent. It’s hard to imagine another actor in the role. However, for a film called Maleficent, there was surprisingly little of the character in it. Oh, she was in the film a lot, but always lurking around the edges.
I also enjoyed Elle Fanning’s performance as Aurora. She brought plenty of grace and beauty to the role and managed to make her thoughtful and independent too. Sam Riley as the shapeshifting crow Diaval was also wonderful and sadly a bit under used.
Others in the film include the three smaller fairies who care for Aurora as she grows, Imelda Staunton (Knotgrass), Juno Temple (Thistlewit), and Lesley Manville (Flittle) provide a lot of the film’s comic relief Three Stooges style.
Lastly, Sharlto Copley as Stefan (eventually King Stefan) was I felt, even before seeing the movie, the weak point of the cast. As I watched the movie, nothing really persuaded me otherwise. The role of Stefan would have been better with a bit more Shakespearean gravitas that provided some inkling of why he was on the quest for power and whether he ever felt regret for the actions he tool to get him there. As it is in the current movie, you have to just make the leap that Stefan is evil, mad or both and it’s never quite explained why or which.
Another highlight of the film for me were the character designs, especially of the fairy tale creatures in the Moors. I was immediately reminded of Jim Henson style characters (such as from The Dark Crystal), except these were computer generated, not puppets.
Except for the sometimes overly confusing action sequences, the art design and cinematography was excellent. Plenty of echos of the original animated film came through from the iconic shots to the color palettes used throughout the film. The soundtrack was also magical, despite having no songs or any hint of the Sleeping Beauty ballet that is features prominently in the original movie.
So, I’ve been beating around the thorned vines long enough. Is this or isn’t this a good movie? I still don’t have a good answer. The second act dragged a lot and I felt that a lot of character development was left on the cutting room floor. But the second half of the film, once Aurora left for her cottage in the countryside, had a lot going for it. Angelina Jolie’s performance is quite good as Maleficent and she succeeds in taking a Villain and showing how something as simple as love can break down roles and reverse them.
Robert Stromberg was a first time feature film director and I feel he could have gotten more from Linda Woolverton’s script and from Copley. But as a PG Disney film, it is good and at times great. I give Disney’s Maleficent three out of five stars, unless you’re a Disney fan, then I would tell you to see it anyway so you can enjoy the retelling of the story we all know and love.