Maleficent is the third live-action re-imaging film on a classic tale by Walt Disney Pictures. The first two were 2010’s Alice in Wonderland and 2013’s Oz the Great and Powerful. Although the weakness to all of these films has been their bloated CGIs, the actors’ performances still are strong enough to carry each film. In 2010, it was Johnny Depp’s wit and charisma that helped carry Alice in Wonderland. In 2013, it was Rachael Weisz’s who out-shined James Franco, Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams as the vicious witch in Oz the Great and Powerful.
Now in 2014, it’s Jolie’s star power that upholds Maleficent. Everyone else in the film fades in her presence. What made Maleficent entertaining for me was Jolie’s re-imaging as the title role. She was fierce, magnetic, sly and strong. Jolie not only nails her performance but also has fun doing so. The story begins with an elderly narrator stating, “Let us tell you an old tale anew and see how well you know it.” This tells you upfront that the classic 1959 Sleeping Beauty that we all know of is not the whole story. This gives Disney the opportunity to add and make changes to the classic old tale. We are introduced to a young and powerful fairy, Maleficent, who lives in The Moors (a magical realm bordering a human kingdom). The creatures of The Moors and the humans do not get along. But Maleficent befriends a boy, Stefan, and grows a friendship with him.
Later in their years, Stefan (Sharlto Copley) becomes power hungry and betrays Maleficent to become king. Stefan ends up cutting off Maleficent’s wings to seal his right as the next king. In the end, Maleficent is scarred for life and will never believe in true love again. Of course, Disney had to sneak in their “true love” theme as all of their other films do. Years later, the king and queen have a baby girl, Aurora, who is cursed by Maleficent. When Aurora (Ellie Fanning) turns 16 she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel spindle and fall into an everlasting sleep. The king is devastated and sends Aurora to live with three pixies (Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville) in the woods. This is the story that we are all familiar with. But Maleficent ends up growing fond of Aurora as she is growing up. We see that deep down between her rage and hatred, Maleficent truly has a heart. Jolie does a wonderful job through her transformation as the evil beast to the beloved fairy godmother.
Director Robert Stromberg (special effects artist for Oz and Alice in Wonderland) does a decent job at showing this transformation and showing us Maleficent’s point-of-view. While I wish Disney would look past their obsession of heavy special effects, at least Jolie’s willpower comes through. Maleficent sheds light to the iconic villain, plus a knockout performance by Jolie. In the end, Maleficent casts its spell and will dazzle children of all ages.