“The darkest Disney will go” says Angelina Jolie about ‘Maleficent.’ It’s a modern live action re-imagining of Walt Disney’s classic animated film ‘Sleeping Beauty.’ The target audience is girls 10 and up but young boys will also enjoy the epic battle scenes and excellent special effects. The film is the directorial debut of visual effects artist Robert Stromberg (Avatar, Alice in Wonderland, Oz the Great and Powerful, Life of Pi). Despite a few missteps with the tone of the story, it’s an impressive freshman effort. Stromberg went to great lengths to woo Jolie for the leading role and she delivers a majestic performance. The moment she appears on screen with her high cheekbones, terrifying horns and magnificent wingspan are a sight to behold.
Stromberg creates the magical world of the Moors. Maleficent soars around this small paradise filled with talking trees, pixies and toad-like creatures that hurl mud for fun. The only fears they have are from the warmongering humans that reside in the not-too-distant kingdom. As children, Maleficent meets and falls in love with the peasant Stefan whose ambition to become king ultimately betrays her. Once Stefan (Sharlito Copley) takes the throne and has a daughter, Maleficent shows up uninvited to the celebration of the princess’ birth to cast a spell on her. Feeling scorned, Maleficent curses the girl to eternal sleep on her sixteenth birthday if she pricks her finger with a sewing needle. Princess Aurora can only break the spell by receiving a true love’s kiss.
King Stefan allows three fairies – Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), Thistletwit (Juno Temple) and Flittle (Lesley Manville) to hide away and take care of Aurora until she turns 16 and a day to avoid the curse. There are some comical moments as the fairies have no idea how to care for a baby. Maleficent secretly takes the role as fairy godmother and watches over Aurora as she grows up. When Aurora (Elle Fanning) grows into a beautiful young woman, she finally meets Maleficent and they form a bond that can potentially stop the feud between the two kingdoms. Sam Riley (Control, On the Road) plays a loyal henchman named Diaval to Maleficent. He is terrific in the role and in actuality would have made a better king than Sharlito Copley. The subservient character Diaval has fun banter with Maleficent as he is changed into different creatures to battle the king’s evil forces.
As Stromberg comments in a recent interview about Jolie in the leading role, “I love that it is a strong female character in this film and there is a strength to who she is in real life and as Maleficent.” It is apparent Jolie has fun with the role. She finds the right balance as she plays with the character’s evilness. It is the very reason kids will walk out of the theater without parents worrying about them having nightmares. The screenplay by Linda Woolverton (The Lion King, Alice in Wonderland) is smart. She gives depth to Maleficent. Although based on a classic tale, this film is a powerful message of female empowerment and solidarity for women. It makes a statement that blatantly shows the prince is no longer the panacea but for girls to find the strength from within to overcome life’s challenges.
The film is a technological marvel. Every scene that Jolie encompasses is a true spectacle. She is truly one of the few movie actresses that has ability to pull off such a major role. Throughout the fairytale, it is captivating to watch her performance as the powerful female ant-hero. With Jolie busily serving as a goodwill ambassador and stepping behind the camera as a director, it is nice to see her acting once again. It reminds us how gifted she is as the top movie actress in Hollywood. Check out the official ‘Maleficent’ trailer http://youtu.be/_pgmFAOgm5E.