Good evening (or day, depending on when and where you are reading this) all. Continuing in my ever-present quest to get caught up on films initially missed while on vacation, it was a trip to the local cineplex to catch a very interesting re-imagining of a classic childhood fairy tale, “Sleeping Beauty” This time, it is a tale told that offers a decidedly different overall perspective on the story, through the eyes of the villain……or was she? And so I give you “Maleficent”.
Presented to us by the masters of fairy tale story telling, Disney, and brought to life by visual effects artist, and now first time director, Robert Stromberg, “Maleficent” begins as many tales of this nature do…with an opening introduction/narration by an unknown party taking us to a fantasy land where two kingdoms share a hesitant and stormy relationship: one is the humans in their castle ruled by an overly ambitious king, and the other The Moors, a naturally beautiful place inhabited by fantastical creatures and the Faeries, one of whom is particularly focused upon….a young female of the race named Maleficent (in this form played by a very striking Isobelle Molloy), who would appear to be the primary “leader” of the Moors, keeping watch over her homeland despite her young age. It is only when an unexpected intruder enters her world in the form of a young boy, Stefan (Michael Higgins), that she first experiences the pangs of attraction to another, even one outside of her race. As time passes, their time together and affection grows as teens (Ella Purnell & Jackson Bews), and soon it appears their future is set. Sadly, circumstances occur and lessons in human ambition take their initial toll on the pairing. But Maleficent, pushing aside her broken heart, grows up into the true protector of The Moors as an adult (the superb Angelina Jolie). Even as the reigning human king, Henry (Kenneth Cranham), decides it is time to take The Moors once and for all, Maleficent’s might cannot be denied. In the aftermath, a desperate decree Henry sets forth to his potential successor to the throne sets in motion a series of events involving a choice made by the now-adult Stefan (Sharlto Copley), who in reuniting with his lost love rekindles their connection, but to what ends and what cost? And it is THIS event that casts a severe pall over both kingdoms as Maleficent’s intents turn dark in her anger and pain.
Still, the new king soon has a child, and thanks to the information gathering of her newly created minion Diaval (Sam Riley), Maleficent decides to pay a visit to Stefan’s court. Three representatives of the Faerie kingdom, the playful and constantly squabbling trio Flittle (Leslie Manville), Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), and Thistlewit (Juno Temple) are present to bestow blessings on the newborn and to ideally foster peace between the kingdoms, but Maleficent has other plans for the king’s daughter, and places a curse on her, in effect on Aurora’s 16th birthday, that would haunt her for life and can only be broken by ONE thing…..true love’s kiss. Stefan, fearing for Aurora’s safety, places her in the care of the Fae trio who take her away to a spot in the woods to raise her, little beknownst to them their every move is watched over the years, even to the point of Maleficent interjecting her own guidance along the way. Ultimately when Aurora approaches her mid-teens (now played by the wonderful Elle Fanning), she is introduced to the Faerie world and to Maleficent, whom Aurora believes is her actual fairy godmother! But, as her interactions with Maleficent become more and more frequent, and Aurora’s desire to STAY in the Faerie kingdom also develops, this is when we start to diverge from everything we have come to think about Maleficent’s nature, as she opens up to accepting and loving Aurora as only a mother could, and it is THIS dynamic that then creates the path and tone for the rest of the story, with secrets revealed, choices made, regrets harbored, anger and revenge brought to bear…all of which affect those touched by the tale. This also briefly introduces us to Prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaites) as well, even though his part in this story is not what you think, as with so much of the traditional tale we grew up with is not what is portrayed. At this point, we come to the inevitable place of any more details would have spoilers, and thus ends the main review itself per usual.
For my money, this film surprised me to levels I didn’t expect in almost all of its aspects. For a first time director, Stromberg impresses. There was emotional connection and pathos for me in the story right from the outset and it honestly lasted through the entirety of the movie. Now I freely admit I am a soft heart when it comes to these types of fantasy stories, as I do love getting swept away in the amazing worlds created by them. And Maleficent’s character was so dynamic in this telling, it really trumped the one we’ve always known about from the traditional story. The visual lushness of The Moors, to the creatures that inhabit it, and even Maleficent’s wings are SO realistically portrayed, you almost cannot help but be drawn into the landscape of this telling. Jolie is an absolute PERFECT choice to play her as well, able to capture every possible nuance in the myriad of moods and places she is required to go. Tender to a fault yet just as equally menacing as well, Jolie simply WAS Maleficent. It really felt like Jolie relished getting to play this role. The makeup and costuming greatly aid in this transformation, too. Sam Riley was a solid addition to the proceedings as the ever-changing (though not always at HIS bidding) servant to his mistress. Elle Fanning is a gem, not necessarily because her acting per se is THAT extraordinary as much as she brings the essential blend of innocence and wonder to Aurora that fits for this version of the tale. Her playful smile and awe of the Faerie world was genuine in the character for me, and that helped. Sharlto Copley is always trustworthy when it comes to playing anyone who’s unhinged, and his King Stefan is no exception to this. The Fae trio of Manville, Staunton, and Temple delights for some needed laughs and, frankly, simple silliness. Top it all off with a solid score by fantasy film staple James Newton Howard and Disney has once again found a way to take what has been done before and create something new and fresh with it to tug at the heartstrings and provide a fun Summer film.
As always, this is all for YOUR consideration and comment. Until next time, thank you for reading!