MALEFICENT // The rise of the anti-hero story continues with “Maleficent,” the retelling of the Disney animated classic “Sleeping Beauty,” this time focusing on the villain of that tale and her fall from grace origin story. Angelina Jolie steps into the role of Maleficent, bringing to the surface the conflicting emotions that make her such an interesting character. One of the biggest challenges of this live action film is bringing to life the animated version of the villain, in a natural way while paying homage to what makes this character such a classic. With expertly done costume design and makeup, Maleficent steps out of the animated world and into reality, with Jolie nailing the iconic moments associated with the character, like the wide gaping smile and evil laugh. The second biggest challenge was creating a version of Maleficent that was relatable enough to carry an entire film. The idea of a villain being the main character of a film is still a fairly new concept and to make that character dynamic enough to eventually have an anti-heroes story arc is not an easy element to master. However, leave it to Disney to completely revolutionize their own branding, opening an entirely new world for them to explore with all their previous animated classics.
Beginning the tale with Maleficent as a young fairy that falls in love with a human boy, her humble start gives way to her becoming the powerful protector of her forest home called the Moors. When the king of the humans attempts to take the Moors from her, he falls, opening the challenge to his people to bring him Maleficent dead. Stefan (Sharlto Copley), Maleficent’s young love now grown into a man, takes the challenge upon himself, using his connection with Maleficent to double cross her and to steal her wings, thus driving her to the dark side and creating the villain that cursed his first born child. Along with some amazing makeup and costume design, the production design of the film is a great blend of computer generated imagery and actual decorated sets. Reproducing some of the key scenes from “Sleeping Beauty,” matching the detail of those sets creates its own challenge, with those familiar with the classic film looking to be reminded of the film they first fell in love with. Trust that you will see most of these production elements nominated for some Academy Awards, with some of the best in the business being involved.
Elle Fanning leads the rest of the cast as Princess Aurora, the title character of “Sleeping Beauty”. Not quite commanding the presence one would expect from this role, her innocence is enough to counter the authority held by Jolie. Knowing that Fanning is such a talented young actress, it is a shame to see her talents wasted on a character whose main qualities are smiling and giggling, rather than having any sort of substantial dialogue or presence besides a conduit for the transformation of Maleficent. Copley enters nicely into the role of villain and proves to have a successful future as such, should he decide to take on more roles such as this. The unknown yet talented Sam Riley fills in the supporting cast quite nicely as Diaval, Maleficent’s iconic raven, who is a shapeshifter as well as one of Maleficent’s only confidants. Providing the classic Disney comedic relief is the trio of Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Lesley Manville as Knotgrass, Thristlewit, and Flittle, the fairies that look after Aurora. Their arguing and bumbling, though comedic, is aimed more at the kiddies that will set out to watch this film.
Proving that Disney may have their best days ahead of them, there is something pivotal in the production of “Maleficent,” in that exploring the origins behind their villains, who were originally evil for evil’s sake, may have more to them than meets the eye. Being able to produce stories about their entire catalog of villains could set the Disney company on some new and interesting paths that go beyond reproducing the stories that we already know and love. Much in the same vein as last year’s “Oz The Great And Powerful,” in which we not only got the origin story of Oz, but also got to see where the witches got their start, imagine getting to see updated stories behind other iconic Disney villains like Cruella de Vil (“101 Dalmations”), Ursula (“The Little Mermaid”), or Jafar (“Aladdin”). With “Maleficent” marking not just a revitalization for Disney, but also the return of Angelina Jolie to big screen, this live action fantasy carries much more weight had it starred some else in the title role. Jolie not just steps back in front of the camera, but becomes an icon in and of herself, making “Maleficent” an instant classic in its own right.
[Directed by Robert Stromberg] [PG] [97 min] [30 May 2014]