directed by Robert Stromberg
(Walt Disney, 2014)

The rebooting of so many familiar stories probably made this version of the Sleeping Beauty myth inevitable. Maleficent takes a two-dimensional wicked faerie queen and makes her over into a fully realized, complex being with incredibly human motivations and feelings. There are the usual CGI special effects. There is a lot of charm and an attempt to retell the story from an angle from that creates sympathy for the bad guy, and mostly it's all there.

While the rest of the movie struggles to live up to a grand premise, Angelina Jolie's performance in the role she was born to play salvages enough to make a quite enjoyable movie, as long as you turn your mind off. It's delicious and campy and not meant to be much more than that. It's also a movie that could not have been more tailor-made for its lead, and the outfit itself has to be the absolute greatest of all drag queen get-ups. It's totally Jolie's ride.

Maleficent is the protector of a thriving faerie kingdom. The neighboring kingdom occasionally invades in the form of wandering humans searching for the wonders in faerie. This is how Maleficent meets Stefan (Sharlto Copley), an impoverished orphan who stumbles into her world, fascinating her. As they mature into adults, so does their relationship, or so it seems during Stefan's many visits through the years. Although Stefan gives her the gift of love's first kiss, his overpowering ambition makes him brutal. In an act of treachery, the devious Stefan, who has become a servant of the king, takes Maleficent's wings as a punishment for defeating the king in battle.

The theft of her wings swings Maleficent to the dark side. When Stefan becomes king himself and dutifully produces an heir in the form of an only daughter, Aurora (Elle Fanning), Maleficent takes her revenge on the child's christening day, cursing the infant with death-like sleep when she pricks her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel on her 16th birthday, to be broken only when true love's kiss awakens her. She's quite confident that this curse will be permanent because she knows the secret: there's no such thing as true love.

The movie isn't just beautiful, it's utterly gorgeous, so much that it covers the weak plotting almost perfectly. The movie is meant to play up modern morals and attitudes, and the effort does shine through. It's aimed at kids so things are meant to be a bit simpler. It works best when it's having fun with itself and paying with evil and naughtiness in its lovingly campy, very hedonistic way. It's visually luscious, a dazzling feast for the eyes in real storybook-come-to-life fashion. And since it's meant to be a fairy tale, it's OK for it to explore a bit of the darker/alternative side of fantasy. The variation on the original material is interesting enough. Enjoyed for what it is, Maleficent is magnificent.

review by
Mary Harvey

30 August 2014

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