Offering a new live-action take on Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of the original tale’s villain, Maleficent is a pleasant surprise that works better than either of the recent disappointments, Mirror Mirror or Snow White and the Huntsman, both of which failed while attempting a similar approach to the retelling of Snow White.
Not without its own issues, most of which can be traced back to film’s lethargic opening act explaining Maleficent’s (Angelina Jolie) past and the series of events which led to her inevitable heel turn, Maleficent works largely due to the performances of Jolie and Elle Fanning (as the girl who would become known as Sleeping Beauty) and the film’s impressive style and design. Jolie is perfect for the role, relishing every moment on-screen, although the movie doesn’t really start moving until after Stefan’s (Sharlto Copley) betrayal which leaves the most powerful member of the fairies hell-bent on revenge on the man who stole far more than her heart and ultimately choose power over love.
Taking one of Disney’s most iconic villains and transforming her a sympathetic character (while still having her act out her famous scenes) isn’t an easy task, but Jolie’s layered performance helps sell the idea and Linda Woolverton‘s screenplay offers an entertaining (if a bit predictable) arc for our leading lady. Fanning is exactly what’s needed for the bubbly Aurora whose infectious personality makes even our villain have second-thoughts her harsh actions.
The supporting characters help push the story along, but aren’t that memorable and only in place to allow the stars to shine. Copley is passable as the king whose guilt and paranoia eat away at him, and Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, and Juno Temple provide the kind of goofiness you’d expect from the three fairies tasked with looking after the babe (even if the three look a bit off in their fairy forms). The script’s choice on the fairies total inadequacy as parents is a nice touch offering the film to open up new possibilities for the eventual Maleficent/Aurora dynamic. Of the supporting cast only Sam Riley really stands out as Maleficent’s loyal servant, a raven turned human (or whatever else is called for to do his mistress’ bidding).
The CGI world presented in Maleficent, particularly that of the fairy lands, is impressive, but I did think the 3D effects blurred too many of these sequences. Although the effects work well in the bigger fight sequences, I’d suggest saving a couple of bucks and viewing the film in two, rather than three, dimensions. Either way, despite it’s slow opening, Maleficent works far better than either of the recent Snow White feature films or the amusing but flawed Jack the Giant Slayer and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Although very young viewers might find one or two sequences frightening (although no more so than the original Disney animated feature), the film delivers the fairy tale trappings and moral you’d expect for a PG Disney film while allowing its star to shine inhabiting a character who is not at all as wicked as the story of Sleeping Beauty would have you believe.