Who would have thought? Disney’s recycling of another inhouse animation classic into a liveaction cash cow is a pleasant surprise. Maleficent dusts off 1959’s fusty Sleeping Beauty and remixes it as a fresh tale of redemption and, yes, female empowerment. The Mickey Mouse folks have been pushing for stronger female leads as of late, but never so deliberately and delightfully cheeky as here.
Jolie stars as the eponymous fairy godmother who condemns a newborn princess to a spindletriggered coma – but the focus lies on the Why and on what happens between hexing the baby and the pubertal pricked finger. Seasoned writer Linda Woolverton (The Beauty and the Beast) and first-time director Stromberg took a page out of Hayao Miyazaki’s playbook, blurring rigid hero-villain dichotomies and rationalising evil into a circumstantial affect of weakness.
The unorthodox plot structure generates pace problems at first, but after Maleficent’s comic-villainesque origins peak in an overblown coronation in the magical forest, all wickedly sulking and scowling, the narration chugs along quite nicely.
In fact, Maleficent’s only major drawback is its standardising blockbuster onus, with overbearing/underwhelming CGI and a score that piles on the epic too early and often. At least the inescapable 3D has its moments.
Maleficent | Directed Robert Stromberg (USA 2014) with Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley. Starts May 29
Originally published in issue #128, June 2014