Maleficent (2014): Review
Director: Robert Stromberg
Having shattered expectations with Frozen, Disney have realized that female-lead fairy tales based on women can be far more interesting that the formulaic male/female romantic story. This tactic has been used within Maleficent, the live action film based on the seminal 1959 classic Sleeping Beauty, with Angelina Jolie as the titular, and it has to be said much maligned, Disney villain and her relationship with Elle Fanning’s Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty).
Although the original tale would have audiences believe Maleficent to be a spiteful vengeful sorceress – bracketed alongside Cruella De Ville and the wicked Queen in Snow White – here Maleficent is painted in a more sympathetic light as we are shown the backstory of a fallen fairy whose motifs were not without reason. We learn that Maleficent and Aurora’s father King Stefan were childhood friends until he betrayed her in a horrendously cruel way. Years pass without contact until the day of Princess Aurora’s christening when the uninvited Maleficent gate-crashes the occasion in spectacular style – staff in hand, horns polished and cape trailing behind her – reigning a curse on the infant much like a family member excluded from the gathering of the decade. In a moment of pure theatricality straight out of it’s animated predecessor, Maleficent blazes a green inferno over the infant – cursing Aurora to prick her finger on her sixteenth Birthday – and causing the fearful King to entrust his daughter’s welfare to a trio of incompetent pixies (Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple). Yet as she watches over the child, Maleficent’s affection for Aurora grows with each passing year.
Although scenes in the woods and moors are visually enchanting as all fairy tales should be, first time director Robert Stromberg relies heavily on his past as production designer by using CGI to an almost distracting level. There are moments when the effects are overly noticeable: the trio of pixies look troll-like and the battle scenes recall Alice fighting the Jabberwocky in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (which Stromberg previously worked on). More distractingly, Sharlton Copley’s King Stefan has a Scottish accent so baffling it puts Mike Myer’s Shrek to shame. However none of this matters as Maleficent is all about Jolie who plays the part with such relish and glee that she resembles a cross between a pantomime villain and Angelica Huston’s Morticia Adams. With super-sharp prosthetic cheekbones, the work of Oscar winning special make-up effect artist Rick Baker, and with a cut-glass British accent (essential for all villains) Jolie’s trademark bewitching, gothic beauty is enhanced to it’s fullest with flawless make-up that incorporates a clever marketing strategy for the Maleficent make up range by MAC cosmetics.
Despite ‘redeeming’ their villain it remains to be seen whether Maleficent has the endurance of Sleeping Beauty or the phenomenal success of Frozen. Only time will tell but be warned: next Halloween girls will be fighting over each other to be the horned and misunderstood dark fairy. Who said being bad wasn’t fun?