“Let us tell an old story anew,” begins Maleficent, Disney’s live-action re-telling of their 1959 animated classic Sleeping Beauty. And boy do they ever.
In this version of events, Maleficent is not purely evil – as in the original – but rather a good fairy gone bad, spurned by her childhood love and forced to use her magical powers for sinister purposes. When her human lover not only ditches her but maliciously cuts off her wings, all in the name of becoming king, Maleficent embraces her dark side on a quest for revenge, eventually placing an unbreakable curse upon the king’s newborn daughter Aurora.
On her 16th birthday Aurora will fall into a deep sleep, dictates the curse – a sleep which can only be broken by true love’s kiss. Sound familiar? Well yea, it should. But don’t get too comfortable.
Maleficent gets a whole lot right, and perhaps the biggest strong suit of the film is how many liberties are taken with the beloved source material. Of course, there will always be those who bitch and moan about filmmakers trying new things and straying from what’s been established in the past, but this re-telling of the classic fairytale is all about relaying the story from a bit of a different point of view – that of the title character – and it’s a bold choice that pays off big time.
Both an origin story and a highly surprising modern day ‘remake’ rolled into one supremely entertaining package, Maleficent succeeds admirably in both humanizing and totally re-imagining one of the most iconic villains in the history of cinema. I will of course refrain from pointing out the differences and particular liberties taken, because doing so would spoil much of the fun, but let’s just say that Maleficent tells the story of Sleeping Beauty like it’s never quite been told before.
If you think you know it… well, you get the idea.
One of the other major strong suits of the film is that it’s presented very much like an old fashioned fairytale adventure film, in the sense that the characters and story are put front and center, rather than the ‘look at how much money we spent on this!!’ visual effects. While Maleficent is loaded with CGI, bringing both the landscapes and various different creatures to life, the story never takes a backseat to those effects, allowing for the film to be both visually stunning and genuinely enthralling.
When I say that Maleficent isn’t at all what I expected it to be, I mean that as one hell of a compliment, because I went into the film expecting it to be another lifeless computer generated action spectacle, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that it’s actually quite the opposite. Much of the film centers on developing the various characters and also on showing us how Maleficent is dealing with the repercussions of her actions, with very few action sequences in between. In fact, there are only two of them throughout, which was another pleasant surprise.
Yea, a big budget summer film from a major studio that doesn’t rely on unnecessary CGI and action sequences to distract you from the lack of any real semblance of a story… go figure!
The star of the show here is of course Angelina Jolie as the villainous Maleficent, who totally embodies and absolutely nails the juxtaposition between good and evil that’s required of this interpretation of the character. Utterly charming when she wants to be and deliciously evil when she needs to be, her portrayal of the woman with the most sinister shadow since Nosferatu is never anything short of thoroughly enjoyable to watch, serving as a much needed reminder that Jolie is an actress (and a damn good one) first, and a public personality second.
Unfortunately, the media often makes us forget how truly talented modern day movie stars are, instead clouding our minds and judgements with silly personal drama and endless negativity – Tom Cruise, anyone? In Jolie’s first live-action role in four years, she effectively makes you forget about her relationship with Brad Pitt and her status as a ‘Hollywood home wrecker,’ and reminds you why she became a star in the first place. Maleficent is undoubtedly one of Jolie’s best roles to date, and I shudder to think of how much less enjoyable the movie would’ve been without her.
I really don’t have anything bad to say about Maleficent, aside from the fact that I can’t help but wish there were a few more scenes of Jolie channeling her evil side. You can just tell she has so much fun playing evil and it’s hard not to want more of that, even though it’s admittedly for the best that they keep her villainous outbursts to a minimum. Again, this is a far different depiction of Maleficent than we’ve seen in the past, and if my only issue with that depiction is wanting more, then that’s a pretty good issue to have.
Aside from that, it wouldn’t have hurt for the character of King Stefan (played by Sharlto Copley) to be developed a little bit more, as he essentially comes off like a generic ‘evil king’ character we’ve seen a thousand times before, in a thousand other movies. I suppose it’s a minor complaint, given the movie is after all Jolie’s, but a few important aspects of the film would’ve been a whole lot stronger had some more time been spent on developing the character.
Maleficent is a fresh and boldly original take on an iconic story, bolstered by a wickedly strong lead performance from Angelina Jolie as well as a creative screenplay that has a whole lot of fun playing around with the source material, and flipping it on its proverbial ass. Sure-to entertain both children and adults alike, Maleficent is a real treat, and a reminder that old stories can indeed be refreshingly told anew.