Maleficent is Sleeping Beauty reloaded for modern times. Much like Disney's mega-hit Frozen, Maleficent takes a classic tale and removes all the patriarchal garbage. It is extremely satisfying, especially for this critic, to see stories that empower girls to be more than the damsels in distress. It shows that a character long portrayed as a wicked villain, may have reason for her hatred and can suffer like everyone else. Angelina Jolie hams it up, but doesn't burn out her welcome as the titular character. Director Robert Stromberg deserves the lion's share of credit for creating a truly remarkable fantasy world. Maleficent was darker and more violent than expected, but the truth is most fables were twisted, cautionary tales. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this film. The folks at Disney will be printing money once again at the box office.
The story opens with two kingdoms side by side. One is the cruel human world, the other a magical world of faeries and fantastic creatures. We first meet Maleficent as a child. The most powerful faerie in The Moors, she watched over the forest and saw life with wonder. Completely naïve to human evils, she befriends a boy - Stefan, and falls in love with him. As their relationship grows over the years, Stefan becomes greedy and ambitious. Then as adults, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) is horribly betrayed and mutilated by Stefan (Sharlto Copley); who claims the human throne by vanquishing the faerie leader. He marries a princess and has a beautiful baby daughter - Aurora.
At Aurora's unveiling to the kingdom, Maleficent enters the castle and strikes back. She curses the girl to be damned forever to eternal sleep, if she is pricked by a sewing needle. There are two caveats. The girl will escape the spell if she reaches her sixteenth birthday without being pricked. No double entendres here, this is a family movieJ. And she can break the curse forever by receiving true love's kiss. Disguising themselves as human, three bumbling faeries (Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Leslie Manville) wisk Aurora away into the forest to protect her until her sixteenth year. Stefan, after destroying all the looms in the kingdom, descends into insanity. But a curious thing happens, the faeries have no idea how to raise a human child. Fearing the girl may die, Maleficent begins to watch over the 'beastly' creature. As Aurora(Elle Fanning) grows up, she loves Maleficent as her faerie godmother, unaware of the damnation that will befall her.
Disney spent their money well. Maleficent is an incredible visual experience. The production design, special effects, and costumes are amazing. Stromberg, who cut his teeth as a production designer and effects supervisor, shows his remarkable technical skill. The fantasy world portrayed in Maleficent is both beautiful and terrifying. I watch so many big budget films and wonder where the hell they spent their money. Here, it's obvious. Maleficent looks and sounds phenomenal. The filmmakers can really pat themselves on the back for excellent work.
The story is somewhat predictable, but I didn't find that a real issue. Jolie is never that wicked or evil. From the opening voice over, we understand that the story we've been told is not the truth. I like the idea that Maleficent was corrupted, wronged, but learns compassion again. That is a great lesson to teach children. Maleficent is also a female empowerment story. Aurora does meet a dashing prince, but as in all things, the initial reaction may not be what it really is. Maleficent is like Frozen in this regard.
Children will be captivated by this film. It's a bit scary in some places, incredibly violent in others, but then again so is life. Maleficent is not perfect, but it works as a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. Catch this one in the best theater possible, although it may cost a fortune to take a bunch of kids.