Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning make for a winning team in Disney’s “Maleficent.” It’s just too bad that despite their enjoyable work,the movie feels flat. Directed by Robert Stromberg and written by Linda Woolverton,” Maleficent” is based on three other works—”La Belle au bois dormant,” “Little Briar Rose” and the 1959 motion picture, “Sleeping Beauty.” How did Sleeping Beauty come to be? “Maleficent” has the answers.
Much of the film is devoted to Maleficent’s (Angelina Jolie) back story as a young girl, then a teen and finally as an adult. The movie explains that the land was once divided into two kingdoms—one kingdom ruled by a weasily king and the other—the land of the Moors, which was ruled by no one. The Moors were instead inhabited by faeries and other creatures. Maleficent was a faerie. As a child she soared through the air like a huge eagle. In her youth she meets Stefan, a human boy about her age who’s wandered over into the Moors. He tells Maleficent that he is ambitious…he wants to make something of his life in the service of the king. The two hit it off and quickly become friends. Over the years they see less and less of one another until they eventually lose contact. As Maleficent grows older she becomes a protector of the Moors and when the king goes to battle against the Moors to assume more power, it is she who ensures his defeat. Extremely bitter, the king declares that he wants Maleficent killed. By now, an older Stefan is a member of the king’s court. No one knows of his former relationship with Maleficent and he definitely has conflicting emotions about what his next move should be. Stefan goes to visit Maleficent and their reunion is a joyous one until his ambition leads to a betrayal of the worse kind. This results in the curse an angry Maleficent issues several years later…his first born child (Aurora) will fall under a deep sleep when she is 16 and only the kiss of her one true love will awaken her. To keep the child safe, Stefan sends Aurora deep into the woods under the care of three pixies. But they are not very good at their job and Maleficent discovers Aurora. In spite of her feelings for Stefan, Maleficent worries about the girl, watches over her from a distance and when the two finally meet, comes to love her as her own. But what will happen when Aurora turns 16?
Woman rule in “Maleficent.” The two female leads—Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning ( as the teen-age Aurora)—could not be better. They do all they can with this movie and more. Jolie’s Maleficent is perfectly drawn. Because the film gives us so much of Maleficent’s early history, we understand how she came to be the way she is. Jolie is a great actress and her beauty and skills merge spectacularly. She’s capable of showing so many emotions and her own natural cheekbones, enhanced by prosthetics, just serve to give her more depth. It’s as if she was born to play this role. But once Fanning is on the scene, she matches Jolie step for step. As Aurora, Fanning gives her the real joy and joie de vie of a 16-year-old. She lights up every scene in which she is in. She’s just terrific and one can’t wait to see what she does next. Adding to the women’s side of things are the three pixies played by the fabulous British actresses Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton and Juno Temple. Yes, their parts are silly, but the trio seem to revel in their roles and add a bit of fun to what is otherwise a pretty dark story. It wouldn’t be a Disney movie without a loveable sidekick and so we have one in Sam Riley‘s Diaval. Diaval is a raven who, “thanks” to Maleficent, is able to turn into a man, bird or other animal. As Maleficent’s confidante, Riley does him full Disney justice. He’s the one male actor that actually has some pizzazz to his acting. Sharlto Copley as Stefan, Jackson Bews as teen Stefan, Brenton Thwaites as Prince Phillip and Kenneth Cranham as King Henry are all deadly dull and are just not worthy of Jolie, Fanning or the characters they portray.
The film has some special effects, but while they add to the story-telling, they are not worth the extra money to see them or the film in 3-D. It should be noted that multi-Oscar winning Rick Baker is responsible for the special makeup effects and Roz Abery for the prosthetic makeup. What is a nice touch at the movie’s end is Lana Del Rey singing Once Upon a Dream, from the 1959 “Sleeping Beauty.”
My audience was full of 12-year-old girls and they seemed to enjoy the movie a great deal. For anyone else over the age of 15, there just isn’t enough there there. And the lack of strong male acting doesn’t help.