Bringing beloved animated characters to life is not always the homerun Hollywood might hope for. Because for every Snow White And The Huntsman there’s a Popeye or Flintstones just waiting to mis-step and smudge a potential franchise like well placed white spirit on animation cells. But in reimagining Sleeping Beauty from the point of view of iconic villainess Maleficent and then casting the equally iconic Angelina Jolie in the title role Disney may have stumbled upon something quite special.
When a young fairy befriends a young human boy the pair strike up quite the friendship. But as the boy Stefan (Sharlto Copley) becomes a man so his ambitions grow and before long he has robbed a now grown-up fairy (Jolie) of her wings in order to cement his place on the human throne. Determined to take revenge Maleficent arrives at Stefan’s castle on the day of his daughter’s christening and curses her to eternal sleep on her sixteenth birthday. Retreating to the shadows Maleficent, now aided by her loyal crow, come dog, come horse, come servant Diaval (Sam Riley), watches the young Aurora (Elle Fanning) awaiting the day her revenge will be complete.
Maleficent’s tone flits this way and that from start to finish. One minute a light and airy fairy tale complete with cute woodland creatures, the next a gothic, dark and brooding story that could well be a little too sinister for it’s young target audience. Witnessing Maleficent one minute defend her land from onslaught before being reduced to a quivering wreck at the hands of a man sends out mixed messages. When it’s dark, it’s pitch black but the second half introduces a comedic element that, while hugely warm and offering some of the most memorable moments of the film, is not in keeping with what has gone before or after.
That said it is a visual delight with director Robert Stromberg, an Oscar winning visual effects man, conjuring sumptuous imagery that will leave an indelible mark on your mind for some time. So detailed and lavish are some of the vistas, a kind of Lord Of The Rings meets Snow White And The Huntsman, that you could freeze frame any number of moments within the film and sell them as posters.
Of course telling the story from the point of view of a previously feared and known villain can be muddy waters. Just ask Mr. Lucas and his attempt to tell us how Anakin became Darth Vader. But here, thanks almost exclusively to Jolie’s portrayal, there is something genuinely enchanting to behold. Early on Maleficent is spritely, buzzing around her woodland habitat like a humming bird on speed. But it is when things get dark that Maleficent takes flight. Perfectly juxtaposed by Elle Fanning’s cherub-like Aurora, Jolie is nothing short of magnificent. Her already stunning cheekbones heightened, her lips impossibly red she glides through her darkened forest with wonderfully evil grace. The scenes between Jolie and Riley, acting as an almost Jiminy Cricket-like conscience, in particular blister with a dark comedy with Jolie caressing her nickname to Aurora, “Beasty”, with nothing shy of seductive glee.
The end tries a little too hard to put a convenient Disney spin on things but it does not detract from an otherwise enjoyable romp. Thanks mainly to Angelina Jolie’s claw-curling brilliance Maleficent is an animation brought to delightful life.