Director: Robert Stromberg
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Sam Reilly
Written by: Linda Woolverton, (based from the story “La Belle au bois dormant”) Charles Perrault, (based from the story “Little Briar Rose”) Jacob Grimm, Wilhelm Grimm, (based from the motion picture “Sleeping Beauty”, story adaptation) Erdman Penner, (based from the motion picture “Sleeping Beauty”, screenplay) Joe Rinaldi, Winston Hibler, Bill Peet, Ted Sears, Ralph Wright, Milt Banta.
Running Time: 97 mins
Release date: 28th May 2014
Once upon a time, the Disney corporation made an animated feature based on the classic tale, Sleeping Beauty. It’s one of the finest from the studio with incredible visuals and a very memorable villain in the evil fairy, Maleficent. Was that the full story, though? Disney have already given us variations of Alice In Wonderland and The Wizard Of Oz, so they have decided to turn their attention to that very nasty woman who put a princess to sleep. And they have Angelina Jolie on hand to bring her to life, which she does magnificently and thankfully because she is the saving grace in a muddled film indeed.
Maleficent is a winged fairy who lives in a wooded area that faces a kingdom with a ruler who wants the land for his own, except it is well protected by giant walking trees, elves and other mystical creatures. Maleficent meets a young boy, Stefan, and they become good friends, although over the years they fall in love and he gives her “true love’s kiss”. This love doesn’t last, as Stefan sees an opportunity to rise through the ranks and become king, he returns to the forest and removes her precious wings. Feeling cheated, Maleficent seeks revenge and when it’s announced that King Stefan has a daughter, she casts a spell that will make her sleep for eternity.
This is a visual delight throughout. Not surprising that first time director, Robert Stromberg, was the production designer on both the aforementioned Alice In Wonderland and Oz The Great And Powerful. He also was in charge of design for Avatar and you can see this, especially during the scenes in which Maleficent shows the princess Aurora, the beauty of the forest land. The production designs and special effects are breath-taking and quite magical. The battle sequences wouldn’t look out of place in The Lord Of The Rings, while there’s plenty of sparkle for the younger audiences to be in wonder of.
Where the problems lie are in the actual story. Starting off with plenty of promise, as we get to understand why she was so evil, it somewhat flanders during the middle section and as we find some quite laughable lines of dialogue (particularly when Prince Philip arrives, played by Brenton Thwaites, looking like a member of One Direction but sounding like Hugh Grant), it drags its feet as we wait for the inevitable pricking of the finger. Picking up pace once more for the finale act which looks more like The Hobbit than a fairy tale.
There’s also a game that can be played if bored: what movie! You can see different films that it has borrowed ideas from. Oh look, the king in his armour walking through flames could be from The Terminator. Another scenes is more like Die Hard, and so on. It does distract badly.
So down to the performances. Elle Fanning makes for a pretty Aurora, with her huge smile and glinting blue eyes but it’s nothing more than that. Sharlto Copley, as Stefan, grunts and scorns in a very dodgy Scottish accent and Sam Reilly gets nothing more to do but bow down to Maleficent as her sidekick, Diaval. Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, and Juno Temple make for a delightful group of good fairies but their screen time is limited.
So then we have Angelina and it has to be said, she rises to the occasion, taking the role fully in her hands and milking it for all its worth. She looks terrific, with her perfect skin, blood-red lips, predominant cheek bones and jewel-like eyes, she commands the screen every time she appears. She even manages to outdo the effects. It is hard to actually put down in words how good she really is and if it wasn’t for her, this would be a bland movie filled with effects. Her smile alone can send shivers down your spine. It’s like watching Joan Crawford rising from the grave.
The overall message of the film is that what was once good can turn evil and vice versa. It also tries to turn the fairy tale values on its head but this was done only recently in Disney’s Frozen, only this time it isn’t done half as well. There was also a puzzle. If Maleficent is so magical and all-powerful, surely she could conjure up new wings. Just a moot point.
For all its flaws, Maleficent is fun if empty fun at that and it doesn’t stamp all over Disney’s original animation, which is still one of the best but it is well worth seeing just for Angelina Jolie, who has proved she is one of the screen’s most hypnotic screen presences and shows that you can do more with a raised eyebrow than with a page and a half of dialogue.