The innovative and imaginative world of Maleficient, brimming with fantastical and whimsical creatures at every turn, provides a visual 3-D treat that really makes this film soar despite its relatively mellow story and plot.
Director Robert Stromberg presents the 1959 animated classic in the similar live-action style of we’ve come to expect from it’s Disney predecessors Alice in Wonderland and Oz, the Great and Powerful (both films Stromberg worked on as Production Designer). Yet while both of those films could be considered “dark re-imaginings,” thematically Stromberg’s film feels much more benevolent than “maleficent”. But that isn’t necessarily a negative, to the contrary, it’s actually one of the film’s greatest successes. For as much as one may love the Maleficent character for all her wickedness walking into the theater, they may find themselves loving her as equally for her kindness walking out.
This feat is achieved in no small part to the film’s star Angelina Jolie in a role that many have said she was born to play. And she does not disappoint. Expertly acted, Jolie’s Maleficent is regal, angelic, and surprisingly maternal. But hell hath no fury like a woman (or fairy) scorned which is precisely where the story takes off.
The film rushes through the childhood and teenage years of Maleficent, her relationship with Aurora’s father King Stephan (Sharlto Copley), and a world dividing war between the humans and the fantastical world of The Moors in the first half of the film. Riddled with too much exposition leads one to believe that much was left on the cutting room floor for the sake of runtime. It is not until the highly anticipated ‘christening scene’ where the film gains some traction, then continues along parallel to the original Sleepy Beauty story.
Sweetness, charm, and magic abound as we watch Aurora (Elle Fanning) grow from a newborn baby to a teenaged fairy tale princess all the while being watched over by her benevolent “Fairy Godmother.” The cutest of moments being a scene between Maleficent and a Baby Aurora which is made all the more precious when you know that said Baby Aurora is played by Jolie’s real-life daughter Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, pint-sized and incredibly adorable.
With three colorful fairies, played by Imelda Staunton, Leslie Manville, and Juno Temple, and a shape-shifting Raven named Diaval (Sam Riley) rounding out the cast and providing a nice sprinkling of humor, Stromberg creates a rich world that’s worth revealing in. Eager to return, there are so many auxiliary characters in the fantastical world of the The Moors whom I’d love to learn more about, particularly the impish-troll who early-on tips his toadstool hat to a young Maleficent.
With it’s delightfully simple story and visual feast for the eyes, Maleficent is a film full of extravagance and wonder that long before Aurora pricks her finger, you’ll already be under its spell.