Disney’s 1959 animated classic Sleeping Beauty is Princess Aurora’s story, and it’s beloved by many. On May 30, however, that film’s villain, Maleficent, will have her say in how things really went down, as her story is brought to life by no less a talent than Angelina Jolie. Recent years have seen numerous attempts to recreate classic tales with varied degrees of success––Snow White and the Huntsman, Oz the Great and Powerful and Alice in Wonderland, to name a few––but with the arrival of Maleficent, we finally have something new capable of rivaling the original.
Maleficent begins earlier than Sleeping Beauty, but is ultimately an alternate version of the same events, told from Maleficent’s perspective, which sheds new light on what seemed so black and white in the former story, casting it in a shade that is decidedly gray.
Though Elle Fanning and Sam Riley (as Princess Aurora and Diaval––Maleficent’s sidekick) play off of Jolie’s titular character exceptionally well, and Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple are pure joy as the pixies charged with caring for young Aurora, there can be no mistake; this is Angie’s movie from the word go. Everything else from the stunning visuals to the voiceover and plush world is just there to serve Maleficent’s story, and we’re not complaining.
As such a larger-than-life figure in reality it can at times be difficult to look past Angelina Jolie as Angelina Jolie when she’s on screen, but at her best, the headline-snatching philanthropist fades away completely as character takes over. We’ve seen it in roles as varied as Lisa in Girl, Interrupted, Christine Collins in Changeling and Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, and now; cinephiles who have been waiting with baited breath since the first footage of Maleficent dropped months ago will be rewarded for their patience. Jolie is at the top of her form as Maleficent, managing to recreate an iconic character with a depth and humanity that’s rarely awarded to those characters deemed villainous. She is at turns electric, chilling, touching and humorous. In short: we’d be quite content just to watch Jolie run through the many modes of Maleficent against nothing but a white background.
The fun that comes with seeing an alternate version of the story so many remember from childhood and visuals that do the whimsy and beauty of classic fairy tales justice makes for an interesting story, but the real treat on display here is what Jolie is able to do when turned loose with this character.
*Bonus points for the Lana Del Rey cover of Once Upon a Dream, like her vocal contributions to The Great Gatsby, her take on the song is at once haunting and beautiful, not unlike Jolie's take on Maleficent herself.