Sleeping Beauty Redux – A review of Maleficent

Maleficent stars Angelina Jolie as a fairie with an anger management issue after she's betrayed by a young man with lofty ambitions
Maleficent stars Angelina Jolie as a fairie with an anger management issue after she's betrayed by a young man with lofty ambitions

Title: Maleficent

Production Company: Disney

Run Time: 97 minutes

Rated: PG

Director: Robert Stromberg

Stars: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley

4 stars for Maleficent

Summary: Disney revisits the classic tale of Sleeping Beauty with this live action story that grew on me as I watched it. I thought the casting would be a distraction, but Jolie is well suited to the role.

Every once in a while, I am pleasantly surprised by a movie that I thought would not be as good turns out to be better than expected.

Such is the case with Maleficent, featuring Angelina Jolie who is still in fine form, both physically and performance-wise.

This is the classic tale of Sleeping Beauty, but it features elements that have been revised so the story won’t be as predictable as one would expect from a Disney movie.

We start out with the introduction to the world in which Maleficent was born. There are two kingdoms adjacent to one another, one that is ruled by humankind, complete with avaricious monarch intent on absorbing and conquering the bordering land.

The other kingdom is inhabited by fairie folk of all types. It is here that Maleficent is the defacto ruler more as a unifier than as an actually crowned monarch.

When a young boy stumbles into the fairie kingdom, he and Maleficent become friends. Unfortunately, as befalls many humans, Stefan is corrupted by ambition and he uses his friendship with Maleficent to advance that ambition to great heights.

Ambition comes with a price, however, and Maleficent curses Stefan’s child to an eternity of slumber at the point where she reaches her sixteenth birthday.

Over the course of the movie, though, events will unfurl causing every character to re-evaluate their decisions in life, both good and evil.

Now only Disney could take a character that is as dark as Maleficent and turn her demeanor into such that we, as the audience, will feel sympathetic towards her plight.

Sure, it’s been done before, most notably in recent years in the musical Wicked, featuring the wicked witch from the Wizard of Oz. This movie is unique in that it revolves almost entirely around the character and her transformation from misguided evil to tolerable good.

The catalyst for the change revolves around Aurora (Elle Fanning), the king’s daughter who is hidden in the woods for her protection by three fairies who take on human form to raise the young girl away from the trappings of royalty and potential harm.

The placement of the house where she is raised, however, puts Aurora in close proximity to her malevolent shadow. This creates the opportunity for the two characters to bond.

Jolie is marvelous to watch. Beneath her apparently evil exterior obviously beats a heart that was betrayed. But even broken hearts can mend and we see hers healing throughout the course of the story.

Elle Fanning is growing into quite a lovely young woman and her smile is nearly as wide as the screen. It’s easy to see how her demeanor could soften even the hardest of exteriors.

Copley brings just the right amount of edginess and menace to King Stefan. Even though his character strays from the path of sanity, you can still see the hints of the boy he once was in his eyes whenever he sees Maleficent.

While this doesn’t soften his character, we can still pity Stefan for the misguided path he chose. Unfortunately, though, what happens to him is as predictable as it is fitting.

Disney may be predictable in their penchant for happy endings, but the movie takes us on paths we don’t expect and through character redevelopments that we as movie-goers deserve.

There is, as is to be expected, a young prince who is unfortunately more eye candy than substantive plot fodder, but what tale of a beautiful princess would indeed be complete without him?

The movie is not without flaws, though. It’s darker than what we’re used to from Disney and younger children may not be able to handle the imagery as easily as older kids.

But for adults, the elements that we cherish in good story telling are strong and well defined. Love, anger, conflict and resolution make this a film well worth taking the time to experience.

I give Maleficent four out of five stars.

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