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MALEFICENT – Review
May 28, 2014
Disney sequels are generally direct-to-video (or DVD if you are not old enough to know what a VHS tape is) to avoid reminding its audience that the original is far greater, however Maleficent is not only a prequel on the big screen, it is also an re-imagining of the classic tale Sleeping Beauty which still enchants boys and girls 55 years on. This puts a lot of pressure on the project, especially as the film was entrusted to first-time director Robert Stromberg who was (Oscar winning) production designer for Alice in Wonderland and Oz the Great and Powerful; this works to his advantage creating spectacular designs for both Maleficent and the magical world around her. Starting with a young Maleficent who is wide-eyed and brave, we finally get to see what makes a good fairy bad in this enchanting retelling, with Angelina Jolie killing it in the title role. Unfortunately fans of the animated tale may be more than a little displeased with the liberty it takes in regard to the original, especially the ending.
We are introduced to Maleficent as a young fairy (Isobelle Molloy and later Ella Purnell), though for some inexplicable reason she is the only one who is of a normal height, unlike the other fairies that go on to be ignored and have their roles diminished from the original. Maleficent is destined to protect the magical land of the Moors which sits next to the Kingdom that envies and fears the magic it holds. One of the Kingdom’s citizens is Stefan (Tony Regbo and Sharlto Copley as young and old Stefan respectively) who befriends Maleficent. Together they share in their secrets and ambitions as they explore the moors; Stefan has his eye on the throne but has no way of achieving this as he is a peasant boy.
The years pass and Maleficent defends the Moors against King Philip’s army in a vicious battle scene whilst Stefan rises amongst the ranks, before claiming the throne for his own in a power move that backstabs Maleficent so violently even Littlefinger from Game of Thrones would be shocked. The rage and heartlessness forces Maleficent into such bloodcurdling wails that only Angelina Jolie can bring respectability to; the attack from such a close friend causes her to go into a deep depression and we can only sympathise with her. Unfortunately in regard to Stefan we’re a little perplexed as to his motives: we are told through narration he is greedy but never truly see it – the film is a victim of its own narration. The narration may be a nod to the style of the original and most fairy tales but it goes on to tell rather than show the story, which may make it simpler for younger audience members but made the film less compelling for myself.
This is not only true of Stefan but also the rest of the cast who are left a bit thin and are never given their own screen time. By focusing on Maleficent we are denied seeing the other characters early on in the film and only in the latter half she interacts with them including very amusing encounters with Princess Aurora (Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, Eleanor Worthington Cox and Elle Fanning). These are disarmingly funny because it mixes Aurora’s innocent queries with deadpan rebuttals. We even see (briefly) King Stefan descend into madness after the curse is made. These scenes are so good that I was annoyed that we didn’t see more of the other characters too; I will certainly be looking for an extended DVD cut later on. Angelina Jolie is superb, she fits the role so well you feel like she was born to play it, filling out the long black robe and matching staff perfectly, though the inclusion of a cat-suit at the end of the film’s climactic battle was slightly distracting – even as an evil malevolent fairy Angelina Jolie is still stunning.
The film casts Maleficent as both victim and villain, the curse inflicted on Aurora is now somewhat justified but it also makes her into a sympathetic character, interestingly as she watches Aurora grow up she starts to become attached. She even goes to the trouble of looking after her when it seems that the original three fairy godmothers, who have been entrusted with raising Aurora are totally inept at doing so. This may seem like major detraction from the original but it is the ending which many may feel cheats the simplicity of the animated classic.
I watched this film in 3D but it’s one of those cases where nothing is truly enhanced by its effect and you won’t lose anything by seeing it in 2D. Maleficent makes good use of its history and even builds on it by including a Fairy’s weakness to iron from folklore; neither does it let the original dictate how it should end – for better or worse. It does fail to flesh out its supporting cast, especially King Stefan considering his role in her life and even Prince Charming is given about 5 minutes of screen time: men are portrayed as either evil or useless respectively. The only male character with any decency is Diaval (Sam Riley) who is just Maleficent’s anthropomorphised crow, providing an insight into her mind as her confidant. Maleficent entertains the kids and Jolie’s performance made me enjoy it so much more than I thought I would, but it also disappointed me when I knew it could have gone a lot further.
Maleficent is out in UK cinemas on May 28th