The latest dark fairytale re-imagining, directed by Robert Stromberg, explores the untold story of Disney‘s most iconic villain, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), from the classic story Sleeping Beauty, which is in turn based on the French novel La Belle Au Bois Dormant by Charles Perrault. Driven by revenge and a fierce desire to protect the magical moors over which she presides, Maleficent places an irrevocable curse upon the human king’s (Sharlto Copley) newborn infant Aurora (Elle Fanning), cursing that before the sun sets on her 16th birthday, she shall prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fall into a sleep-like death. But as Maleficent watches the child grow, Maleficent realises that Aurora may hold the key to peace in the land.
We’ve seen many fairytale re-imaginings hit the big screen over the past few years, including films such as Snow White and The Huntsman, Hansel & Gretel, Jack The Giant Slayer, and Red Riding Hood, with each of them telling their classic children’s stories in a new way, whether it be by including more gore and violence, by vamping up the romance, or by making the heroes and heroines generally more badass. But what’s original about Maleficent is that, this time, the story focuses on the villain, telling the ‘true story behind the fairytale’ to make us feel compelled towards the wicked witch character we were forced to ‘boo’ as children.
Albeit a little more PG than the brilliant promotional footage promised, opening with a somewhat soppy background story of true love, Maleficent is full of magic, fantasy, powerful characters, heart, and inspiration. But the happy ever after’s soon come to a halt, as Maleficent is betrayed, her wings stolen, and the strong presence of a sharp jaw-lined Angelina Jolie echoes over every scene. And that’s what this film was about, for me. Jolie is absolutely incredible, and this is certainly one of her best performances in years. She does excellently to both scare younger audiences of her dark powers, but also to feel her pain as we realise the truth behind her actions. This is undeniably the best fairytale re-imagining yet, and Jolie’s performance is sure to stand out as one of the best this year.
But aside from the show-stealing performance that Jolie is not willing to share, the rest of the cast live up to their roles too, especially the stunning Elle Fanning who is full of playfulness and excite. Jolie’s performance may tower over her, but it’s through Fanning’s role that we are made to appreciate the setting and characters and to enjoy the adventure itself.
Yet it’s not just about performances. The whole look of the film and its setting, as well as the visuals and effects, are beautiful. The world that has been created is full of fantasy and colour, just like a fairy tale should be, and that’s another strong quality of this film. This may be Robert Stromberg‘s directorial debut, but that’s why directors take their chances with such massive, but therefore risky, blockbuster films as this; if they get it right, as Stromberg has, then they have set themselves up for a pretty decent career.