Audiences around the world have adored Disney’s classic, Sleeping Beauty since 1959 – the literal fairy tale of cursed princess Aurora, brought about by the mild slighting of the vindictively evil Maleficent. Sleeping Beauty is a classic that has stood the test of time, been passed down through generations, and adored by millions. Now comes Disney with Angelina Jolie, those wondrous cheekbones, and a little revisionist history to flip the script and show you Sleeping Beauty…from the villain’s point of view.
Maleficent stars Jolie as the titular character and the film follows her from childhood all the way through the storied events in the original film. As a young fairy, Maleficent becomes smitten with human Stefan (eventually played by the typically fascinating to watch Sharlto Copley). In order to secure his place as King, Stefan becomes mad with power and greed, ultimately betraying Maleficent in a truly vicious and horrendous manner.
As you can see, this is 15 minutes in and there already are changes aplenty. Once Maleficent recovers and some time flies by, she hears from her trusty indentured servant / raven, Diaval (Sam Riley), that the kingdom will be celebrating the arrival of King Stefan’s new daughter, Aurora. Maleficent and all of her spurned rage arrives at the gala just in time to curse the newly born Aurora to fall into permanent sleep on her 16th birthday.
This may seem somewhat familiar to you at this point, and this is the last time those feelings will occur. Maleficent is all about altering the story of Sleeping Beauty, creating sympathy for the devil in a manner of speaking. As Aurora is whisked into hiding by her three fairy godmothers, Maleficent secretly follows her ever year (including a touching scene with Jolie and her real-life daughter Vivienne), eventually presenting herself to Aurora (Elle Fanning, all smiles and puppy dog tails) and forging her first real relationship with a human since Stefan.
This movie is to say: Maleficent is not a petty, evil witch to an innocent child simply because of her name nor that she was not invited to a party. She is a petty, evil witch to an innocent child because that child’s daddy broke her heart.
How you feel about these story changes and Maleficent herself will tie directly into how beloved Sleeping Beauty is for you. Several major plot points differ, while many others are given a revisionist twist. For this reviewer, it was a refreshing ‘reimagining’ on a similar story told from another, much more interesting point-of-view. If you have never before seen or know little of Sleeping Beauty? Well, you might just have the easiest time enjoying the film.
Whatever your connection to Beauty, there is no denying that Jolie was the absolute perfect choice to play Maleficent. Rarely has an actor been this destined for a part, and Jolie manages to do what was not done in the original film: She eclipses the simplistic malice and infuses Maleficent with heart. From those piercing eyes to her calculated speech, Jolie brings more gravitas and warmth to a truly detestable character than previously thought possible. This woman curses a BABY for all time and forces that child into seclusion, and we still root for her. We feel for her, relate to her. Jolie is the sole reason for this, and is simply the glue that holds this entire film together.
Without Jolie, this is just another generic fantasy spectacle with a familiar fairy tale lording over it. Both Aurora and her charming Prince Phillip’s stories have been effectively muted and bear little to no resemblance to the original film and therefore have minimal consequence other than functioning as plot proponents. The fairyland creatures also more often resemble CGI test shots than beings with any characterization that would actually reside in this mythical backdrop. There simply in no one of dire interest throughout the entire film other than Maleficent herself.
None of the other actors involved (not even Fanning nor Copley) do much to elevate first-time director Robert Stromberg’s whimsical tale above what you have seen 100 times before. Yes, it is a beautifully imagined world and the original film is brought vividly to life. Several shots of the original film have been lovingly recreated, specifically the celebratory gala with Maleficent’s familiar green fog hauntingly shrouding the surroundings. In a cinematic landscape already filled with more hobbits and heroes than legally allowed, we need more than just another visual splendor to engage in…and Jolie more than fills that void.
Maleficent changes the story you know, there is simply no getting around that. It also manages to give us a spiteful but well-rounded villain to understand. Is she petty or just misunderstood? Do you accept or reject the changes to your beloved Sleeping Beauty? Are Jolie’s cheekbones carved by Zeus himself? These are the questions brought to you throughout this reimagining. And all one has to do is look deep into the hypnotic eyes of Jolie herself for the answers you seek, for she truly becomes…Maleficent.
3 out of 5 stars.