Director: Robert Stromberg.
Screenplay: Linda Woolverton.
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Sharlto Copley, Elle Fanning, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, Juno Temple, Isobelle Molloy, Michael Higgins, Kenneth Carnham, Vivienne Jolie-Pitt.
“I had wings once, and they were strong. But they were stolen from me“
Better known for his visual effects supervision on such films as “Life of Pi“, or more significantly, as production designer on “Oz: The Great And Powerful” and winning consecutive Oscars for “Avatar” and “Alice In Wonderland“, Robert Stromberg now delves into his first directorial outing with a reimagining of the classic fairy tale, “Sleeping Beauty“. Much like the aforementioned “Oz“, the characters from this well known children’s story are playfully recreated in a lush and involving fantasy and with Stromberg’s expertise who better to take us on that journey?!…
In a Kingdom halved by both fairies and humans, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) is a fairy who protects her half from human intruders. However, a childhood relationship she developed with a human named Stefan (Sharlto Copley) proves to be her undoing. Stefan has ambitions to be King one day and in achieving it, he betrays the trust of Maleficent. As a result, she curses his first born child, Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) to a sleep like death on her 16th birthday, that only true-love’s kiss can break.
Opening on a wondrous, enchanting land with fairies, nymphs and magical powers, we are introduced to the young Maleficant – the winged guardian of her idyllic, peaceful forest. From the outset we’re definitely back in the realm of the fairy tale where Maleficent wasn’t the evil villain with a grudge to bare but a caring fairy, pure of heart and who, quite frankly, got fucked over. And this is exactly where “Maleficent” succeeds. It twists what we’ve come to know and invents a whole new story by ditching the mysogynistic reveries of righteous King’s and handsome Prince’s who’s lip-locking charms can save a damsel in distress with a mere peck. This is more of a feminist revisioning as we get more of a backstory and focus on what is predominantly seen as the antagonist of this story. Much like Mila Kunis’ portrayal of the Wicked Witch in “Oz” and Julia Roberts’ Evil Queen from Snow White’s story in “Mirror Mirror” we learn that their motivations derived from being scorned or abandoned by the men in their lives, lending a welcome complexity to these female characters – which brings me to Angelina Jolie’s titular role. Throughout a film awash with CGI it’s her that shines the most. She brings the requisite emotional depth and her motivations are entirely clear and understandable when really they were skimmed over in the classic 1959 Disney animation. It’s hard to imagine anyone else being as perfectly suited to Maleficent as Jolie is and the film ultimately works on her committed, three-dimensional performance alone.
Although some may find it tonally uneven, I found Stromberg’s ability to combine both the light and the dark a welcome addition to the proceedings. His experience in the visual department is certainly on show and can be enjoyed by both adults and children alike but as much as Linda Woolverton’s script dares to venture into the emotional turmoil of Maleficent, it doesn’t bring much scope to the other characters. Fanning’s Princess Aurora is given little to do but looked perplexed in this magical land and Copley’s King Stefan has a slightly misplaced Scottish accent (see also his recent turn in “Oldboy“). As the title suggests, though, it isn’t really about anyone else other than Maleficent and on that front, both the character and Jolie’s performance, deliver the goods.
Despite it sagging slightly around the midway point this is, largely, an engaging and successful retelling that isn’t afraid to conjure up some darkness from it’s fantastical melting pot.
Trivia: Two characters called Queen Ulla and King Kinloch were the fairy queen and the fairy king of the Moors, and the aunt and uncle of Maleficent. Miranda Richardson and Peter Capaldi were cast and both shot their scenes, but they were edited entirely from the final cut of the film.