The fairy-tale-from-the-point-of-view-of-the-witch thing is clearly not something everyone enjoys judging by many reviews of Maleficent. For me however, the film represents an intriguing, if not one hundred percent successful attempt by Disney to at least try something a little different.
After a slightly shaky first few minutes Maleficent hits its stride well, with the story beginning long before the famous opening of the animated Sleeping Beauty. Angelina Jolie excels in the lead, and her performance really is the main reason to see this film. She has good support from Sam Riley, who plays her henchman – a bird who becomes human and is then turned into various other creatures throughout the course of the film. Elsewhere Sharlto Copley makes a convincing slide into greed, corruption and madness as King Stefan, and Juno Temple, Imelda Staunton and Lesley Manville are hit and miss as the three fairies assigned to look after Elle Fanning’s Aurora (aka Sleeping Beauty). Fanning incidentally is merely passable in the role – a shame considering how good she was in, say, Super 8. Oh, and Brenton Thwaites plays a fairly nondescript Prince Phillip, whose kiss will supposedly awaken Aurora from that pesky enchanted sleep.
Visually the film looks great, with director Robert Stromberg wisely borrowing heavily both from the look of the Disney classic and from grittier, more recent pictures such as Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings (with one shot in particular being a direct lift from the third film in that trilogy). The creature design, special effects, art direction and such are also first rate. If you suspect this will be on a par with the criminally bland Snow White and the Huntsman, fear not. Maleficent is a far more satisfying concoction, despite unevenness and the fact that towards the end a small but definite part of me really wanted a proper villain to boo and hiss, instead of being bludgeoned with touchy-feeling, there’s-two-sides-to-every-story three-dimensional characters. That said, the resolution was agreeably subversive, even though Frozen pulled a similar trick half a year ago.
Some Christian reviewers have claimed the lack of clear cut heroes and villains is problematic for children, but I beg to differ. Maleficent demonstrates clearly the lure of greed and power, and the consequences of moral compromise in that area. Furthermore, it also shows the results of bitterness, rash words and the power of forgiveness. All of this is admirable, even though I admit it might be slightly trickier to explain to very young children.
One final thing – if you do see it, make sure you stay for Lana Del Ray’s absolutely sublime new version of the classic song Once upon a Dream during the end credits.