“Let us tell you an old tale anew….”
And so Maleficent begins; a magical, dark and twisting fairy tale with love in its heart. Maleficent does for Sleeping Beauty what Wicked did for The Wizard of Oz– it takes a character we have always identified as a villain and tells us their back story, blurring those lines between good and evil.
Maleficent, we learn at the start of the film, is a happy young fairy, who loves nothing more than flying about the moors, watching over the magical kingdom in which she resides. This kingdom is, at times, a little too fantastical for me; an almost overload of the senses which detracts from the main story. The CGI animation is also a little too CGI, if you know what I mean, and the woodland nymphs and sprites seem to jar with the simple beauty of Maleficent with her horns and wings.
A boy stumbles upon the kingdom one day, and he and Maleficent strike up a sweet natured friendship which grows over the years. I won’t reveal too much now, because you really need to watch for yourself, but the young boy grows up to become King Stefan, and the betrayal Maleficent suffers at his hands is cruel beyond belief.
Fuelled by a need for vengeance, Maleficent, along with her pet crow, Diaval, arrive at the castle for the christening of King Stefan’s baby daughter, Aurora. The curse scene is replayed almost word for word from the Disney Classic, all swirling green mist and devilment from Jolie, who is a sharp as her cheekbones in this movie. Then we see the fearful King entrust the care of his daughter to the three good fairies, who are loveable but completely hopeless at childcare, and don’t seem to know or care where Aurora is for much of the movie. Pet peeve: the names of the fairies have been changed from the Sleeping Beauty originals, and there is really no good reason why.
So Maleficent watches on as Aurora grows, and gradually she and Diaval start to interact with her more and more. Watch out for an unmistakeable Vivienne Joile-Pitt as the young Aurora in a little scene which will make your heart melt. By the time Aurora is fifteen, nearly that all important sixteen, she calls Maleficent her Fairy Godmother, and wishes she could spend the rest of her days living in the forest with her. Maleficent tries desperately to undo the curse, but no power on earth can change it, and she knows she must do all she can to keep Aurora safe.
Meanwhile back at the castle, King Stefan is going steadily insane, locked in a mental torment and trying to come to terms with the fact that ultimately, his greed and thirst for power has made all this happen. When Aurora is told by the fairies of her true heritage, she returns to the castle to an oddly uncaring Father, where she pricks her finger and falls into a slumber.
Now, this is where the movie, for me, has its biggest triumph, which is also its biggest failing. Again, I don’t want to spoil, so I won’t, but suffice to say Prince Philip proves entirely useless in the whole “True Love’s Kiss” thing, and it seems a shame that certain tricks have already been used in other films- to which Maleficent simply cannot compare.
The final battle scene, with Diaval morphed into a Dragon and Maleficent a winged wonder once more, is epically thrilling, and also quite frightening. The film might be rated PG, but I certainly wouldn’t think it suitable for my children, the eldest being nine.
Ultimately, the storyline here is strong enough, but it is Jolie who really makes the film for me. She is every bit as good as I thought she would be and more. She seems to revel in the part and adds just the right touch of both pantomime villain and pure fright, yet also gives her character heart. Elle Fanning is okay as Aurora. A bit of a lame adjective but there’s really nothing bad and equally nothing awe inspiring about her acting either. Sharlto Copley as King Stefan is strong, and becomes more unlikeable as the film progresses. His descent into madness is well acted and though I found his cold indifference to Aurora oddly startling, this is clearly a directing decision rather than an acting mistake. Special mention must go to Sam Riley as Diaval. He’s not really been mentioned much in the promotion for this film, and yet he is one of the most important parts. His devotion to Maleficent turns into a deep friendship and respect for each other, and Riley acts the part beautifully. He also has some great comic moments, which are so elegantly understated they are a pleasure to behold.
The film gets four out of five stars for me. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but it’s not a Frozen, where I went back time and again to watch. That film was always going to be a tough act to follow for Disney, and while Maleficent is certainly going to be a crowd pleaser, it’s almost a shame that Frozen came first, because the impact is lost somewhat in this movie because of it.
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