WICKEDLY DELICIOUS TWIST ON AN OLD TALE
For months I have been in a near rabid state of anticipation for this movie’s release promising a new twist on an old tale. The fact is I knew Angelina Jolie could pull off the part of the evil queen and I was annoyed to be dangling on a string every time I watched the “Well, well…” previews. I was not disappointed.
Like many of you, I grew up with Sleeping Beauty as one of my favorite fairy tales, and I have seen the 1959 Disney version about fifty times – (okay a hundred). I confess I even watch the sometimes lame and completely absurd series Once Upon a Time forever wondering who the writer’s will drag up from the fairy tale vault next.
Disney, (notorious fairy tale revisionists) produced this svelte re-imagining of the story to focus on the infamously wicked Maleficent who casts the evil spell dooming the royal princess to a 100 year slumber. The story opens with Maleficent the child - a delightful and captivating woodland fairy – the beloved of all the other wood creatures who hovers in majestic winged splendor over her domain as a respected and beloved ambassador of good will. It is a land of fantastical creatures, pixies, water-fairies, and tree warriors, who live together in an idyllic way of life in the forest kingdom. All in the forest kingdom flows in harmony, until a nearby army of Men callously invades their existence. The creatures of the forest unite with Maleficent to defend the kingdom they love from attack. Then the unthinkable happens - someone she trusts ruthlessly betrays Maleficent sending her into a downward spiral of hatred and vengeance. Now the self-appointed queen of the forest realms exacts retribution for that which was stolen from her leading to the fateful curse on Princess Aurora’s christening day.
Jolie waxed eloquent in the larger-than-life part delivering a deliciously wicked fairy-queen while engendering empathy for her character as the story progresses. She ruled every scene with queenly command and majestic confidence reducing those around her to terror. Yet, I could not help thinking that Maleficent never quite settles comfortably into the mold of complete wickedness. There remain twinges of goodness around her edges – shadows of the wood nymph she used to be that allows us to relate to her plight and the fact that she’s lost the things most valuable to her.
Is this a total departure from the traditional story? No, the plot does eventually interlock with the original Sleeping Beauty tale and the curse goes into effect. Elle Fanning portrayed the Princess Aurora as the sheltered innocent raised by pixies in the woods who stumbles into a relationship with someone she believes is a fascinating woodland fairy. The supporting actors in orbit around Jolie’s universe were Sharlto Copley (A-Team) as Stefan, and Sam Riley as Maleficent’s shape-shifting lapdog Diaval. Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Leslie Manville brought comic relief as the dizzy trio of pixies commissioned by the king to raise the princess out of sight until her sixteenth birthday. All the actors carried off their parts credibly, but there was one actor I actually felt sorry for, Brendon Thwaites who played Prince Charming with the corniest lines in an otherwise decent story.
With a $200 million budget Disney pulls out all the stops to bring Maleficent forward with enough sophistication to attract children and adults. The scenes of Maleficent soaring through the skies were some of the best flying scenes I've ever seen. Couple that with outstanding cinematography and beautiful woodland creatures and there's plenty of candy for the eye to feast on.
From television shows like Grimm and Once Upon a Time to the big screen Hollywood is clearly rolling with the idea (and bankability) of re-inventing the wheel when it comes to fairy tales, Sometimes this formula works, but sometimes its failure is epic (Jack the Giant Slayer). It was a gamble for Disney to focus an entire film around an anti-hero rather than the heroic expressions we are accustomed to seeing on screen. Nevertheless, it worked. Jolie soared, the story was believable, the 1 hour 37 minutes was just long enough and the ending was well, well – satisfying.