The untold story of Disney's most iconic villain from the 1959 classic, Sleeping Beauty. A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman, Maleficent has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until, one day, an invading army threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land's fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal—an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces an epic battle with the invading king's successor and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant, Aurora. As the child grows, Maleficent realises that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom—and perhaps to Maleficent's true happiness as well.
What we thought:
Disney’s new trend of revamping their old classics is, in my opinion, extremely annoying and in my eyes a sleazy way to make money (Cinderella is soon on the way). However, I was a little impressed with how they changed the Sleeping Beauty story of love into an overhaul (nothing new) of the hero/villain themes, showing that behind every evil act, there is loss and betrayal.
In this new scenario, Maleficent is betrayed, loses her wings and in her rage takes it out on an infant, but ends up falling in love with the ‘beasty’s’ wonder of the world. Not all that original, but it did the job. Originally, the story was going to be quite different, with King Stefan (Sharlto Copley) being a fairy-human bastard and the inclusion of a fairy king and queen – uncle and aunt to Maleficent. Think this might have been a more interesting insight as we don’t know much about Maleficent’s family besides that they’re dead and would have given Stefan a little more gravitas.
The movie’s plot though was a bit lacking, and definitely does not outshine the animated classic, but the main reasons for giving Maleficent four stars is purely Angelina Jolie and Copley. Her acting was on a level we hadn’t seen from Jolie in a long time, and is definitely one of her best roles ever (barring Girl, Interrupted). The intensity of her stare, her quick wit, humour and anguish was exceptionally well acted and I don’t think anyone else could have done it with the same degree of flair. Maleficent’s countenance and grace was almost hypnotic and if they decided to make her fully evil, she would have been even more amazing.
I also liked the fact that they gave her crow friend a more tangible persona (continuously changing between a bird and a man) as it delved into the love the villain from the classic had for her pet and they built on that into what was played by Sam Riley. Still, no one could outshine Jolie with her cheekbones, except maybe for her counterpart, King Stefan.
Copley is fast becoming one of my favourite actors (proudly South African yo) and his role of Stefan was almost as awesome as his nemesis. I love what the screenwriters did with King Stefan, turning him from a protective father into a man whose greed had given him not only a crown, but also a guilt that slowly makes him go insane. Copley expertly portrayed this paranoia as the curse and his subjection to Maleficent’s wrath turns him into a cruel paranoid king. Performance outstanding and his English/Irish/Welsh? accent not too bad either.
As for the actual Sleeping Beauty, I wouldn’t really say she was good or bad. Elle Fanning I think played the role given to her, which was a wide-eyed princess impressed with everything in the world and just laughed all the time (well, until she fell into her sleep that is). A bit too sweet for my taste, but I don’t think we can completely blame Fanning for it. At least she grew out of playing the younger version of her sister, Dakota, in movies and is fast starting to outshine her sis.
As for design, the world of the Moors, where they fairies and magical creatures lived, was divine, with intricate detail and effort put into every being. Maleficent alone created to perfection, from her wings and horns to her gorgeous dresses. I do believe that the animators were the same as those from Lord of the Rings, as the movements of the woodland soldiers and beasts fighting the human army had a lot of similarity to that of the Orcs. Here and there the animation was a bit sloppy though, but you can get lost in the world Disney created and almost made up for some of the holes in the plot.
There were two other big complaints. One would be the fact that I wish Disney didn’t do the movie. There was so much room for an edgier, darker Maleficent that would have given the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale more teeth. At some points it was so darn soppy I hoped Jolie would at least char a few woodland creatures with her green lightning. A little more villain and a little less hero would have done the older version of the horned fairy’s malice more justice.
Secondly, I wanted more dragon. One of the coolest fight scenes in animation history was the dragon fight between the prince and the transformed Maleficent and I was ecstatic to see them recreate something similar (I love dragons okay). My expectations were dashed though with a very short dragon scene that wasn’t even our hero/villain and I was left feeling underwhelmed and sad at the lack of dragon rage. They did replace this climax with a different one, but still nothing beats the dragon from 1959.
3D is pointless so rather just save your bucks and I would maybe hold on taking your very young ones as it gets quite dark in some places and Jolie could be terrifying for a small mind. If Disney is not your thing, watch it purely just to see the lead actress in action. Her performance alone is worth the movie ticket and enduring the idiocy that is the three fairies.