By Gary Murray
Starring Angelina Jolie, Ella Fanning and Sam Riley
Written by Linda Woolverton
Directed by Robert Stromberg
Running time 97 minutes
MPAA Rating PG
Selig Film Rating Matinee
Arguably, Angelina Jolie is the most famous actress on the planet. She is hunted down by paparazzi world-wide and her every move is chronicled on those afternoon entertainment shows. Some of her films over the years have been Salt, Wanted and Mr. & Mrs. Smith. She has won both an Oscar and the heart of Brad Pitt. Her latest film is a re-telling of the Sleeping Beauty tale Maleficent.
The story is of the classic children’s fairy tale Sleeping Beauty but told in a much different way. We are taken back to a time far ago and far away. Young Maleficent (Ella Purnell) is an orphaned fairy living in a kingdom of magical beasts. She befriends a young human boy Stefan (Jackson Bews) and they pledge young love to one another with true love’s kiss. Eventually, the kiss was not true love. They grow apart and loose track of one another.
Once Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) is a full grown woman, she has become the magical protector of the forest. The nearby King Henry wants all the riches of that land and decides to invade. In a battle that parallels Lord of the Rings, men and mythical creatures lock in mortal combat. It is truly one of the highpoint scenes of the work.
King Henry, on his death-bed, promises that whoever can slay Maleficent will become ruler of his kingdom. Through deceit, Stefan gets Maleficent to drop her guard and he cuts off her wings. He brings them back to Henry and eventually Stefan is crowned King Stefan.
Maleficent, with her wing removed, has lost her ability to fly. But, she does develop different magical powers and a bitter streak of revenge in her heart. On the birth of Princess Aurora, Maleficent curses the child to an eternal sleep if she is pricked by the needle of a spinning wheel. The curse can only be broken by the kiss of true love; something she does not believe is true.
King Stefan hides Aurora away in a cottage guarded by three fairies. Maleficent watches over the young girl as she grows, snarling at her while she still protects Aurora from danger. It is a complicated relationship.
As the same time, King Stefan goes madder and madder trying to protect what he has gained. As the day of the curse moves closer, the attitudes of the principles change.
The film eventually leads to the inevitable and the fulfillment of the curse. Eventually there is a giant confrontation between King Stefan and Maleficent that includes a dragon almost as cool as Smaug from The Hobbit.
This is singularly brilliant performance by Angelina Jolie. There is this giant range of emotions she has to generate within the confines of the film and she never misses a beat. She has to build conflicted and melancholy all in the same beat. Angelina also is able to handle all the special effects. She proves that ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.’
Young Elle Fanning is not required to do much as Princess Aurora. She has turned into a very pretty young woman but like most princess characters, she is more acted upon than a character with an agenda.
The true find of this film is Ella Purnell as the young Maleficent. Although she is only in the film for the first fifteen minutes or so, she makes an indelible impression. There is this sparkle in her reading that captures the heart as well as the imagination. She is one of the reasons that Angelina Jolie is as believable as an adult character.
The film has had a troubled birth, with many re-shoots. Director Robert Stromberg is an Oscar winning Visual Effects wizard who is getting his first time helming a film. There are many first-time director flaws.
Visually, this film is stunning. It is on par with some of the most successful special effects films of the last decade. The problem is that Stromberg does not direct people that well and has no sense of pace. Even though the film is barely 90 minutes it feels more like 2 hours.
It is estimated that Disney spent 200 million making this film. With all the special effects and other Disney magic, there is little doubt that all that money went into the production. This is one of the most stunning films to consume visually. Simply put, the palate of Maleficent is breathtaking. It is just that the final film is not so much. Basically put, it is not the sum of its parts.
Disney has been milking the idea of re-imaging the classic and near classic films for quite a while. 101 Dalmatians, Alice in Wonderland ad Oz, the Great & Powerful have all been re-imagined by The Mouse. The original Sleeping Beauty definitely falls into the near-classic category and by that standard, it is much better than the original. Out of those above listed films, Maleficent is a head above those entrees.
While the film is absolutely beautiful to look at, it does wear out its welcome eventually. There is just not enough story to keep all the elements afloat. It is more of decent summer entertainment and not a classic cinema experience.