People went out in droves this weekend and even stood in line for hours to see the reincarnation of one of Disney’s darkest and most feared villains, Maleficent. The film raked in over $170.6 million during it’s opening, proving that its star, Angelina Jolie, still retains her global appeal despite having been absent from the silver screen since 2010’s The Tourist. The film seeks to tell the recycled untold story of the classic fable Sleeping Beauty and its antagonist, Maleficent -- a miscreant so wicked she curses newborn baby Aurora at her christening. Directed by Avatar’s production designer Robert Stromberg, the film seeks to immerse you so deep into the fairy tale that you forget that it’s live action and begin to think that the world of magic and pixies is real. But does it succeed?
I checked out the film over the weekend hoping to see a modern and mature version (a la Ever After – which I loved) of a movie that scared the crap out of me when I was little. Disney is known for their candy coated narratives for kids but the pure evil antihero, dark undertones and haunting melodies of the original Sleeping Beauty were more in line with the stories of The Brothers Grimm and their Little Briar Rose which the film was based on. I predicted from all of the marketing (heavy on the Angelia, with no explanation of why we needed a new version of this classic) that the movie was going to be 97 minutes of her perfectly arched eyebrow and cold sneer but wondered if she could really carry it. The final verdict? She didn’t need to. The wonderland created by Stomberg steals the show in the first half of the film as Jolie slowly gets her bearings (maybe she was rusty?). We are introduced to the fairyland of “the moors” where all the magical creatures live and are left wondering, “how did they do that?” The marriage between live action and the artistry of CGI suck you in and the story is well on its way before you realize that… “hey, there are other people in this movie besides Angelia Jolie?!”
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Yes, yes there were… but just barely. Elle Fanning plays Aurora, more pawn in the battle between Maleficent and King Stefan (Sharlto Copley) than a real player in the story. Copley as the King was a little over the top, and the storyline didn’t do much to save him. After spending his childhood with her, and seemingly falling in love, young Stefan betrays Maleficent by drugging her and cutting off her wings in order to become king. When Maleficent retaliates by delivering her deadly curse on his newborn daughter, Aurora, King Stefan descends into a ridiculous obsessive state of vengefulness. So much so, that he can’t even go to his dying wife’s bedside because he must sit and have imaginary conversations with Maleficent. He sends his daughter away to be cared for by three pixies (Fittle, Thistlewit and Knotgrass—fun right?) until her sixteenth birthday, hoping that his nemesis will never find her. But no one is more cunning than Angelina… I mean Maleficent and she immediately goes to the cottage where young Aurora lives in hiding.
In act two, we see something that was definitely not in the cartoon version of Sleeping Beauty. What starts out as the fairy queen spying on Aurora turns into Maleficent looking over her. Maleficent’s merciless demeanor and spine tingling cackle are slowly melted away by Aurora’s burgeoning charm. The cutest scene is when toddler Aurora (played by Jolie’s daughter Vivienne Jolie-Pitt) waddles up to Maleficient who says, “I don’t like children.” Some irony there coming from Jolie, mother of seven. Maleficent picks up Aurora and holds her for a second before she sends her back to the cottage. Still holding on to her hatred of King Stefan, Maleficent almost sends 8-year-old Aurora over a cliff. But the once lighthearted fairy queen can’t go through with it. And when Aurora finally visits the moors, the merciless Maleficent is completely won over by her wide-eyed wonder. “I have a plan,” Aurora says. “When I get a little older, I’ll come and live here with you. We can take care of each other.” “Why don’t you live here now?” Maleficent says.
The evil queen and the young princess chillin’ together? This isn’t the sleeping beauty I remember! The story seems even more unfamiliar as Aurora pricks her finger as foretold in the curse and falls into a death-like sleep but the kiss from cute Prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaites) doesn’t wake her up. Say what? Isn’t this true love’s kiss? The story ends and we find that true love isn’t always romantic. Aurora and Maleficent have to team up to help each other defeat the crazed King Stefan and the story is suddenly more Thelma and Louise than the romantic Disney fairy tale we all remember. Overall, I thought the story was a bit choppy and the performances could have been stronger but I wasn’t mad at the effort. Really though, what was disappointing was the lack of maturity in the story. This may be a modern retelling but it’s still one for the kiddies. Should you see it? Sure, but bring your little cousins too.