The first line of dialogue in this terrific horror-fantasy film from Disney is “Let us tell an old story anew.” It’s not the first time Disney has dug into its archive and remade one of its own. There have been updated versions of “The Parent Trap,” “The Shaggy Dog,” and “The Absent-Minded Professor.” And Disney’s animated gems “101 Dalmations” and “Alice in Wonderland” have crossed over into the realm of live-action movies.
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The title character in “Maleficent” is the iconic villain who first appeared in the 1959 animated classic “Sleeping Beauty.” So here we’ve got “Sleeping Beauty” told anew, and in state-of-the-art, visual effects-filled live action. It’s reminiscent of the story we knew as kids, but definitely goes in different directions. But it easily stands on its own as a fresh story for new generations who don’t know the original.
The film first introduces us to two kingdoms that couldn’t be any more different. One is populated by humans, the other by fairies. The two races do not have anything to do with one another. Until, that is, the ordinary young human Stefan wanders into the fairy kingdom, meets young Maleficent, who, with her big wings, curled horns, pointed ears, green eyes and bright red lips is anything but ordinary. They become friends, they grow a little older, there’s some puppy love … but, as a narrator tells us, “It was not to be.”
Time really zips by in this film, and we soon find that the adult Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) has become her kingdom’s protector, but Stefan has gone back to his ordinary world and has become greedy as, we’re told, humans do.
In a sequence that might be too violent for the youngest of viewers, the human leader, old King Henry, leads his troops on an attack of the fairy kingdom. But Maleficent, now a fierce warrior, swoops through the skies and calls up her own army of tree creatures to fight them off. It’s an amazing, dizzying sequence. I won’t give away the exact results, but they lead to the nasty king, his tail tucked between his legs, later vowing that whoever kills the winged creature will someday be named king in his place.
When the adult Stefan (Sharlto Copley) hears of this, even though he and Maleficent have been apart for some time, he returns to warn her. Well, no, he’s a human, after all, and according to all things fairy, is greedy. He commits a treacherous act, then returns home, convincing the king that he killed her, when what he really did was break her, both physically and emotionally. She still has magical powers, but she’s a shell of her former self.
There’s some wrenching stuff going on here, but it’s buffered by the comic relief of a servant Maleficent takes on, a crow that she turns into a man named Diaval (Sam Riley) who she regularly turns back into a crow, as well as into a variety of other animals.
The story starts to become familiar when Maleficent later learns of the birth of Aurora to King Stefan (yeah, he made the cut) and his queen. This news results in a revenge-fueled curse that Maleficent puts on the baby, involving a sleep of death from which she can only be awakened by “true love’s kiss.” Alas, in the mind of seemingly everyone in the story, there’s no such thing as true love.
The script by Linda Woolverton has a few plot holes in it, and sometimes breezes over situations that probably should have been more complicated, but that part of it is never really bothersome. She gives some of the comic relief duties to three pixies who watch over young Aurora, and she makes it clear that the evil Stefan is going to pay dearly for his wrongdoing. But as the story’s years keeping flying by, this is all counterbalanced with the sweet innocence emanating from the almost-16-year-old Aurora (Elle Fanning), who shows off one of the screen’s most winning smiles.
Though scary situations and images (along with absolutely gorgeous images and funny moments) continue, the film eventually turns into a study of the relationship that develops between Aurora and Maleficent. There are some strange and unexpected twists that come across as wonderful surprises, Jolie eats up her part to just the right degree of overdoing it (glowering and all) and, not to worry, good triumphs over evil.
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by Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
Written by Linda Woolverton; directed by Robert Stromberg
With Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley