Starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, Juno Temple, Brenton Thwaites, Sam Riley, Ella Purnell, Sarah Flind, Hannah New, Isobelle Molloy, Michael Higgins, Jackson Bews, Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, Eleanor Worthington-Cox and the voice of Janet McTeer.
Screenplay by Linda Woolverton.
Directed by Robert Stromberg.
Distributed by Walt Disney Films. 97 minutes. Rated PG.
It has become sport in recent years for films (and plays) to offer revisionist looks on classic fairy tales. Hell, there have been at least four Snow White rewrites alone, plus interesting fare like Wicked (a Broadway musical telling the story of The Wizard of Oz from the perspective of the wicked witch) as well as crap like Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters and Jack the Giant Slayer.
Maleficent turns out to be one of the best of the genre. A look at the story of Sleeping Beauty as told by the “evil” witch, it takes what could be an awkward retread (see Mirror, Mirror, the similar version of Snow White) and adds a whole new level to the classic story.
In Maleficent, despite having a name that suggests that she is by definition “doing evil or harm; harmfully malicious,” it turns out that the gaunt, horned witch is simply misunderstood and was wronged by the evil king.
We meet Maleficent when she is still a young fairy, played in early scenes by Isobelle Molloy. She is fun-loving, friendly, empathetic and fair. She is the protector of the magical fairy world, a world full of color, magic and odd-but-benign creatures.
As a young girl, she meets a young boy from the neighboring town. Stefan (played as a child by Michael Higgins) is somewhat untrustworthy (he is originally caught trying to steal a gem), but nonetheless he and Maleficent become friends. Soon the friendship blooms into puppy love.
Through the years, they grow into Angelina Jolie and Sharlto Copeley. Maleficent and Stefan have drifted apart. She has become the fiercest protector of the fairy world. He is a member of the King’s court in the neighboring kingdom, with his eye on taking over when the sonless King dies.
Their paths cross again then the King decides that he wants to conquer fairyland. Maleficent gravely injures the King in defending her home. The King promises on his deathbed that the person who kills Maleficent will marry his daughter and become the ruler of the kingdom.
Stefan goes to Maleficent – purportedly to warn her – but instead drugs her. Stefan finds that he cannot kill his old friend, but he betrays her in a way that is nearly as awful to her. Maleficent becomes bitter and hate-filled, and when Stefan’s first daughter is born, she casts a spell that after the girl’s 16th birthday, she will fall into an endless sleep like death.
As it goes on, Maleficent gets into some all too common fantasy clichés – the huge battle sequences and you’re just waiting for the dragon to show up – but the film still works surprisingly well because it subverts a lot of the audience’s expectations.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2014 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: November 4, 2014.