The marvellous, jolie Maleficent

Maleficent

It’s not quite the 'happy ever after' fairy tale of The Sleeping Beauty, but Angelina Jolie mixes magnificence and malevolence in proper measure for this retelling.

This is a Disney film which gives credit to the classic 1950s animation film, Sleeping Beauty, as  well as to the fairytale by Charles Perrault.

But, this story of the wicked witch who cursed Sleeping Beauty does not unfold in the way that we might have anticipated.

The film could well have been made as animation, and very effective at that. The imaginative talent here has worked on quite extraordinary production design, especially the interiors of the Palace, of the huge wall of trees and thorns which separate two kingdoms, and the general backgrounds of good and happiness as well as of evil.

A lot of attention has been given to costume design as well as make up. The film looks quite striking.

The name… Maleficent has overtones of evil. However, to our surprise, Maleficent is seen initially as a little girl, a fairy in the land of fairies. She is bright, vivacious, and though there are no rules in this wonderful land, she is seen as a leader by the animated creatures.

One day she encounters a little boy, Stefan, who is stealing from the kingdom. However, the two become friends, talking, exploring, enjoying each other’s company.

When Maleficent grows up, she is an imposing presence because she is played by Angelina Jolie at her most commanding, beautiful, with a seemingly sculpted face (and prominent cheekbones), with extraordinary large and powerful wings. Once more, she encounters Stefan, and, after a long time, the friendship is renewed.

In the meantime, there is a narrative, recounting the events in the fairy tale style. It is spoken by Janet McTeer. She indicates that all will not be well.

The way that it is explained is that Stefan is ambitious (or, once a thief, always a thief). The old King, so aggressive against the beautiful land of the fairies, wanted to incorporate it into his own kingdom goes to war with the fairies, but now he is dying.

There are candidates for the throne – and Stefan wants to be the successor. In a way that you will have to see with a cruel and deceitful manoeuvre, he does become King at the expense of Maleficent.

This means that he has made himself a mighty enemy. For the rest of the film, the enmity is dramatised, Maleficent becoming truly maleficent. 

In the way familiar from the fairytale, she curses Stefan’s daughter. She is to live to the age of 16 and then to go into a deep sleep, only to be awakened by a kiss of true love, Maleficent remembering that Stefan’s kiss was not true love at all.

The Princess, Aurora, is entrusted to three small fairies who come to human life (played by Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Leslie Manville) and who care for her until she comes of age. As she grows up, she is played delightfully by Elle Fanning.

Maleficent always keeps an eye on Aurora, getting to know her, talking with her, still seemingly so stern but her heart mellowing – and Aurora calls her her fairy godmother. This is certainly a variation from the original story but so is the solution.

Indeed, Prince Charming (Brenton Thwaites) arrives, searching for the castle and is dismayed to see the young woman whom he had encountered in the woods transformed into the deep sleep.

There is a nice surprise at the kiss of true love. But, there has to be a final confrontation between King Stefan and Maleficent, a battle of wits, suffering and pain, the defeat of evil, an act of heroism on the part of Aurora, and a happy ending that we would not quite have anticipated. Which means that Maleficent is good to look at, imaginative, quite an entertaining film, a surprising film, a film that is tantalising to watch – with the overall presence of the imposing Angelina Jolie.

- Reviewed by Fr Peter Malone MSC, an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Leslie Manville, Brenton Thwaites. Directed by Robert Stromberg.  Rated M (Fantasy themes and violence). 97 minutes. Disney. Now showing.

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