A shining world is surely created within this film and with the clearly set apart kingdoms of castle and moors there’s a divide that makes for easy storytelling between who is really good and evil but aside from Angelina Jolie’s interesting performance, the look of the movie and one great dark idea it boils down to a Disney feature that I can’t help feeling needn’t have been made. There lacks a motivation or justification for taking such a classic tale and reinventing it so much that it stomps badly all over the original.
This film reimagines the Sleeping Beauty story with a perspective on the villain (Angelina Jolie) and how her story plays out. We open with the contrast of the stony ruled castle against a bright magical land in the moors where a young Maleficent spends her days growing up until one day she rules over to protect the land. A case of lost and tragic love plagues the winged character and upon a truly harsh and heartbreaking act done to her she becomes the villain we expect where upon she sets a curse on the newborn baby, sleep, eternal, prick, spindle, true love, so on and so on but there is clearly more to this side as we discover just what Maleficent did in those years and who she really is.
To begin with the good points I must say that on the whole the film did look pretty stunning with it’s clever CGI designs of odd folk in the moors and the typically Disney set cottage that helped a twee and homely atmosphere balance the darker elements previously. This credit goes to Dean Semler for the cinematography aspect and for great dazzling design Dylan Cole & Gary Freeman need to be praised for their production design. The crew in general who helped lead the charge for set and costuming should be pleased with their work as it looks the part and specifically Maleficent’s appearance is on the money and lets Jolie completely inhabit the role.
One key moment that will probably stand out as a talking point for quite some time to come is a devastating event that sets the titular character on her villainous path. It is dark and it is unexpected for a Disney film of PG rating though for a character with true iconic baddy quality I was hoping for a mega dose of darkness in this film and luckily I got some though it perhaps is just a mild drop. The act involves the falsity of true love and the very core of what made Maleficent Maleficent. I’ve been reading that the moment itself is being described as a metaphor for rape and it’s doing well to comment on how prone we are to rape culture that seeing this in a kids movie will shock us. I kind of see it but maybe they’re pushing for an adult theme of rape recovery, though that doesn’t take away from it being the stand out scene from this film. It’s shocking, very sad and brilliantly shot and acted.
Possibly the main credit should really go to Angelina Jolie as the best positive for this film as she does get right under the skin of the good/bad fairy and acts with such villainy at times that you see glimmers of the dark character she is meant to be in ‘Sleeping Beauty’. She looks the part and her attractive nature helps this weak script get on side with her but thanks to Jolie we do see traces of Maleficent’s twisted evil and it’s in those moments that you cry out for more as if you’re at a pantomime which is honestly how this film sometimes comes across with such broad painted characters that it feels stagey. It truly is a one woman show with Jolie dominating and having fun as the horned and scorned character.
Now for the less than good points which are more frequent unfortunately. The script is flimsy and pulls apart the strong dynamic tale from the 1959 original so much that anything you think you know from that story is tossed out and remoulded into something worse in idea. The key problem is in making a retelling, it doesn’t need, I doubt anyone ever properly called out for a Sleeping Beauty reimagining and the sad thing is that Maleficent is one of the best villains of all time, not just in animation but film full stop so the course of character progression they set her upon in this film is just awful. They take all the giddy evil out of her and turn her into a soft and sad pale shadow of her former self, worse than that they twist the story so much to make her become some heroine, the true love thread throughout leads to one of the most predictable and frankly terrible decisions to befall a Disney story.
Then there’s the three fairies who annoy beyond belief and even ridding them of their short flighty image for a while as they’re turned into human sized aunties can’t make up for the fact at how dumb and boring they become. It’s a shame as the two of them that I recognised as Juno Temple and Imelda Staunton, are better than that and could have been more interesting. Also Aurora played by a graceful and beautiful Elle Fanning smiles and charms as the character to unify but she doesn’t do much else and wilts in the presence of Jolie. There could have been more of her story to be honest if they had to remake this and if the film had been lifted to at least a 12 or 12A then the focus could have been shifted to Aurora’s view, because Fanning would have been capable to lead a film and then Jolie could have revelled more in her villainous glory as the baddie she’s meant to be.
Overall this film is gorgeous in it’s vision but lost in it’s motive. It’s an unnecessary take on a story that only has it’s look and leading lady to keep it from failing fully, that and the fact it is better and more enjoyable than Disney’s last retelling story of ‘Oz: The Great and Powerful’. The sad thing is that this makes me wary and unbothered about future Disney stories that seem to be abundant in doing origins or reimaginings, such as Cinderella next year and that talked of Little Mermaid live action film.
A sometimes fun tale of Sleeping Beauty’s world led by Maleficent who blazes throughout thanks to Angelina Jolie. It has flashes of style and grace but aside from that there is no real magic thanks to a weak and needless story.