Copyright © 2014 by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
In a fairy kingdom where Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) lives, she meets and falls in love with Stefan (Sharlto Copley), an orphan from the neighbouring human terrain. As time goes by, his visits become fewer until he learns that the current human King Henry (Kenneth Cranham) is bent on conquering Maleficent’s home. Determined to be his successor, Stefan pays Maleficent one final visit in an attempt to murder her. Unable to do so, he cuts off her beautiful wings and presents it to the king as proof the farmer has carried out the deed. Betrayed by her love, this once pure-hearted fairy becomes vengeful and declares herself queen of her land, oppressing all who live there. When Stefan holds a christening for his newborn child, Aurora, Maleficent arrives uninvited and places a curse that can only be broken by true love’s kiss. The baby is sent away into the woods to be cared by three pixies, Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), Thistlewit (Juno Temple) and Flittle (Lesley Manville) but is constantly watched over by the horned one herself. She grows fond of the child and begins a path to recovery on her broken heart.
It has been four years since Jolie last appeared on the big screen as the female equivalent of Jason Bourne in the similarly themed ‘Salt’ and what a triumphant return it is to one of the best performances of her three decade illustrious movie career. In the first glimpses of her majestic wings flying through her magical home, the Moors, Jolie’s ethereal beauty and persona dominates so incredibly fierce that you are bound to be captivated right to the end. Being one of the most memorable Disney villains in a plethora of hits, it is multi-faceted perfected by Mrs Pitt’s restrained but willful approach.
The layered characterisations of both female leads add to the ever growing list of strong and independent women courtesy from self-proclaimed feminist, Linda Woolverton whose most influential work to date remains the Golden Globe winner for ‘Best Musical or Comedy’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, incidentally another Disney feature with a feisty and intelligent heroine who does not need a Prince Charming to sweep her off her feet (or in this instance, Prince Phillip). Swoon-worthy for sure, Brenton Thwaites is not given much to do other than to look gorgeous and as a temporary distraction to our Sleeping Beauty.
Faring better than her boyfriend is the titular character in the 1959 release, Princess Aurora. Elle Fanning does her best to stay afloat but it is quite a tall order when her competition is a woman who gave the world crowd-pleasers such as ‘Tomb Raider’, ‘Mr & Mrs Smith’ and ‘Wanted’. A work of this scale should never be this slight with its appealing concept and surprising dense theme. A king driven to madness by an obsession to rid of a past love and its detrimental effects on the present always make for compelling drama, if only the angle has been given more depth.
Stefan’s quest for power and his descend into its dark clutches is barely scratched upon. It is made worse by an unconvincing performance from Copley who usually excels in roles like these. The parts that do work in the script’s inconsistencies are Woolverton’s articulate thoughts on familial issues via the negligence of Aurora’s fairy godmothers and the unexpected aid that is extended during their tenure as substitute parents. The bond of a mother and daughter is an essential component throughout the course of the film and the revelation at the end is a tad predictable but no less touching.
Without a doubt the visuals are a feast to the eyes (a staple in the fantasy genre), the hiring of Robert Stromberg, a former production designer for ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’ as his directorial debut for such a massive production is logical but not sound (his inexperience is apparent in the film’s more tender moments). Just like his peer, Joseph Kosinski of ‘Tron’ fame, he will only get better in time. For all its splendour and a magnificent turn from Jolie, it is a shame ‘Maleficent’ never soars higher than passable entertainment when there is so much talent at its disposal.
Rated PG for sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images