In a typically Disney-esque land, two kingdoms sit uneasily next to each other. The land of the humans, and the magical forest of the Moors, home to the once peppy and curious fairy Maleficent. After being taught a lesson about the fickle and uncaring capacity of men’s hearts, Maleficent takes a turn for the dark and witchy, with her first port of call being to curse the newly born princess of the human world, Aurora (well, we’ve all been there…). Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Aurora is doomed to prick her finger on a spinning wheel on her 16th birthday and fall into a “sleep-like death,” with her only chance of reawakening being true love’s kiss. In a deliciously cynical delivery Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) reveals she chose the loophole because of its utter ridiculousness, such a thing just doesn’t exist.
And therein lies the tone of Disney’s reimaging of 1959’s Sleeping Beauty. Veteran Disney screenwriter Linda Woolverton (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King) does a commendable job of balancing the expectations of fans of the kids’ classic with the desire to throw Maleficent’s splendid flavour of scorn over the proceedings. Not that Maleficent is all doom and gloom. The film’s middle act dedicates itself to our queen of evil watching over Aurora as she matures in scenes largely played for laughs. “Go away, I don’t like children” Maleficent deadpans as young Aurora (played by Angelina’s own daughter, Vivienne Jolie-Pitt) tries valiantly to disarm her with adorableness. It’s a charmingly played scene that roused laughter in our screening.
The film falters however when it’s restricted to the original mythology. The presence of Prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaites) as a One Direction-esque love interest with the potential to offset Aurora’s (Elle Fanning) curse is an awkward inclusion and does nothing but stall the plot and show the influence of the Twilight school of flirting. Additionally, Aurora’s story is the most boring element of the film and Fanning is tragically given nothing more to do than smile and play with leaves. Mercifully her curse becomes the least important plot line, because let’s face it, kissing someone when they’re asleep is beyond disgusting.
But this is Jolie’s film. And she absolutely revels in it. Watch how in the cursing scene, Maleficent’s monologue is almost lifted line for line from the original cartoon. And yet in Jolie’s hands it becomes something new, something more sinister and yet more enjoyable. Jolie clearly enjoys and basks in the film, she simply is Maleficent, unlike say, James Franco in Oz The Great and Powerful who gave the distinct impression he was sleepwalking his way to a pay cheque.
Maleficent is a flawed film, no doubt. It lacks the universality of Frozen and first time director Robert Stromberg gets a little too influenced by his special effects background (Aurora’s three Aunts’ pixie form comes across as especially unnecessary). But another subversive Disney film is to be warmly welcomed, especially one which rests on the shoulders of such a delightfully flawed protagonist who is destined to become the Halloween costume of choice for a lot of its core audience. Oh, and special mention has to go to that Lana Del Rey cover of Once Upon A Dream. All together now, I know you…