Starring: Angelina Jolie, Sharlto Copley, Elle Fanning, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Lesley Manville
Director: Robert Stromberg
Tagline: Evil has a beginning.
Over the decades, Disney has seen both critical and commercial success of its princess movies, many of which have become timeless hits, leaving a lasting cultural imprint. It is one of these classics that the studio is now revisiting in the form of Maleficent, a revisionist retelling of the 1959 animated film Sleeping Beauty from the viewpoint of the story’s arch-villainess, who has been transformed into a heartbroken anti-heroine.
We begin in a land divided by age-old hatred between humans and fairies. Despite the animosity between men and the magical folk, a powerful young fairy with a good heart, confusingly named Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) — which literally meaning evil — befriends a human boy, Stefan (Sharlto Copley). She falls for him, while he is enticed by power and ambition, eventually betraying her to become king.
Hell hath no fury like a fairy scorned, and so Maleficent retaliates by placing a curse on King Stefan’s infant daughter Aurora (Elle Fanning), destining her to eternal slumber that can only be broken by true love’s kiss. The king entrusts the princess to three fairies (Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Lesley Manville), who turn out to be inept dimwits, incapable of raising a child. Maleficent lurks in the background with her shape-shifting raven, Diaval, helping the princess when her guardians falter, growing fond of the young girl in the process.
In their attempt to tell an old story anew, the filmmakers wander so far from the 1959 animation that they end up losing its essence. The moments of familiarity during Aurora’s christening highlight how entertaining it could have been to revisit some of the original material. Similarly, not using any of the iconic Sleeping Beauty scores feels like a missed opportunity.
The changes to some of the characters cast them as extreme. To acquit Maleficent, King Stefan is framed as the outright villain in this retelling, transformed into a one-dimensional opportunist. The three good fairies share almost no characteristics with their animated counterparts and are mostly redundant in the story. Princess Aurora is underwritten and passive to the point of being uninteresting.
There is one person, however, who inarguably shines throughout the movie: Angelina Jolie. In her first film appearance in nearly four years, the actor delivers a stunning performance, embodying Maleficent with elegance and poise, despite it lacking the nuances of a well-written character.
The film also incorporates beautiful visuals but lacks attention to detail in every other department. You can tell the director — first-timer Robert Stromberg — comes from a special effects background. But he clearly wasn’t the best choice to lead this picture as he lacks the skill to manage the pacing and tone, or to iron out the inconsistencies in the narratives.
On the whole, this visually gorgeous reimagining of a Disney classic is not as fluid or refined as it should be. Its feminist angle isn’t entirely forceful, and the film ends up treading some of the same ground that Frozen did with much more gusto just a few months ago. Still, Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent is a sight to behold and her strong performance is probably the most memorable aspect of this project.
Rating: 3 out of 5
- By Sameen Amer
Sunday Magazine, The Express Tribune - 29th June, 2014 *