Movie Review: Maleficent

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A retelling of the Disney film Sleeping Beauty from the point of view of the wicked fairy Maleficent.

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Robert Stromberg, 2014

In the fantasy moors of a distant land there lives a young fairy. Her name is Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy), and she’s the most powerful of the fairy folk who live in the moors. In the neighbouring kingdom, the humans grow resentful of the fairies and their magic. A young boy comes to the moors to steal, but when young Stefan (Michael Higgins) meets Maleficent, he is taken with her. They form a friendship that turns into love, but eventually the ambitious Stefan drifts away from Maleficent, now the powerful protector of the Moors. A war begins and the adult Stefan (Sharlto Copley) betrays Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), cutting off her wings to prove his worth and inheriting the kingdom. Soon his daughter Aurora is born, and Maleficent, in her anger over his betrayal, curses the child to fall into a deep and endless sleep when she turns 16. As the princess grows up, Maleficent, now an angry and violent queen, finds herself torn between the good fairy she was and the villain she’s become.

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This is an interesting movie that does much the same thing for the original Sleeping Beauty as the brilliant book & musical Wicked did for The Wizard of Oz; it’s a feminist retelling of the story from a point of view sympathetic to the villain. While Maleficent is less successful than Wicked on this front, the goal is still a noble and important one; recontextualising stories to tell the stories of strong women with agency, which the originals were sorely lacking in. The world-building here is intriguing, though it raises almost as many questions as it seeks to answer from the original story. It looks stunning, directed as it is by former special effects guy Robert Stromberg. The makeup team does a gorgeous job, particularly on Maleficent, making her human and otherworldly at the same time (and her eyes are cool). Stromberg’s command of story and actors seems to be not quite as strong as his visuals, though, and this lets the film down. There’s some violence that seems like an ill fit for the audience this film is pitched at, too. Fortunately, the story begins and ends with the fantastic Maleficent, who, through force of personality, lifts this movie to be more than the sum of its parts.

Angelina Jolie is magnificent as Maleficent. The scene when she curses the baby is a gift, all hard eyes and wicked giggles, the mask of cruelty on her pointed face hiding the hurt beneath. Every little motion is flawless, every word calculated. Maleficent and her minion Diaval, who turns from a crow to a man to whatever animal Maleficent needs him to be, make a fun and snappy team. Sam Riley’s Diaval acts as Maleficent’s conscience, and is delightful. Sharlto Copley makes Stefan’s journey believable and frightening with an impressive Scottish accent. Elle Fanning doesn’t fare as well – she’s been good in previous efforts, but here she’s overwhelmed by the older actors. Brenton Thwaites plays teen dream Prince Philip, with Harry Styles hair and a perfect white smile, who is appropriately incidental to the story here. The three fairies from the original are renamed, but seem more or less the same to me – utterly, hopelessly incompetent, only in this one it’s pointed out. Ultimately the movie has a fantastic message, especially for young girls – this and Frozen show a real improvement in how Disney handles female characters and stories – and Maleficent is an extraordinary protagonist, showing how bad and good can exist in the same person. It’s an enjoyable watch, good for tweens in particular.

Maleficent on IMDb
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