maleficent-poster2014

Genre: Action, Adventure, Family

Directed by: Robert Stromberg

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Imelda Staunton

While its unconventional approach was commendable, thelack of a striking villain in Frozen did little to enhance the film’s enjoyment. After all, the very foundation of Disney’s fairy tales has always been in their battles of good verses evil. From Snow White’s Evil Queen to Wreck-It Ralph’s King Candy, the House of Mouse has consistently exuded confidence in creating memorably maniacal villains. Everyone has their favourite, but there’s little dispute over the fact that Sleeping Beauty’s Maleficent was the fiercest of them all.

With her frightening gaze, sharp facial features and demonic horns, the iconic image of the eponymous fairy has changed very little in 50+ years. However, her story certainly has. No longer is Maleficent the Mistress of All Evil, but a misunderstood soul who is driven to retaliate against the man she believed was her own true love.

With the exception of her vocal work in the Kung Fu Panda series, this is Angelina Jolie’s first acting role in 4 years and there’s no denying how fantastic it is to have her back in front of the camera. After an exhaustive flurry of exposition scenes that detail Maleficent’s early years, Jolie’s entrance immediately enriches the film with confidence. While her chiselled cheeks and piercing stare give credence to the antagonism lurking within, it’s the actress’s assured ability to inject heart and compassion in to this most fearful of characters that allows Maleficent’s reimagined story to succeed.

As with Frozen, Maleficent is infused with a courageous determination to encompass many of the narrative tropes integral to a classic Disney picture, while simultaneously attempting to tell the audience a tale that’s fresh and original. Writer Linda Woolverton’s story remains rooted in the realms of magic and possibility, but her approach dares to be different. As well as effectively managing to draw a central character that is both hero and villain, Woolverton also accomplishes an extraordinary feat in addressing that most scared of ideals, true love, with both subtlety and realism.

As you would expect, it’s also a film that’s visually astonishing. The grand opening shots, tracking across the entire world in which the story is set, are epic in scale. Debut director Robert Stromberg has won awards for his amazing graphic effects and here his talents are utilised to create a magical kingdom that’s rich in detail and beautiful to behold. Production designers Dylan Cole & Gary Freeman meticulously craft a live action world that effortlessly evokes memories of the animated original. As does Anna B. Sheppard’s costume design, with Maleficent’s grand entrance to Aurora’s christening sending shivers down the spine as we observe the fairy in all her glory.

By boldly reinventing a beloved fairy-tale that is adored by millions, Maleficent continues to hint at a new laudably adventurous approach to filmmaking by Disney. However, it also highlights the film’s unshakably frustrating problem. Whilst trying to tell a story that’s altogether darker, Maleficent constantly struggles to find the right tone. Repetitive scenes of an overly theatrical Sharlto Copley plotting to hunt and kill the fairy he strongly believes is the bearer of all evil, are followed by cloyingly unfunny ones of Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville being silly for the sake of it. Inevitably, the pace soon begins to suffer. Throughout the film’s second and third acts, scenes laden with predictable humour are shoehorned in following moments of darkness and intensity; suggesting that both the writer and director were continually being reminded that they were making a kids movie. Yet as the quietly humorous scenes of Maleficent’s interactions with a growing Aurora show, humour and warmth can easily be found without having to resort to characterless sidekicks.

What you’re left with is a sense that while Disney has the want and determination to tell stories that are enhanced by both maturity and originality, it doesn’t yet have the poise to see it through. Maleficent is certainly an admirable step in the right direction, now lets see if Kenneth Branagh can get the slipper to truly fit with his reinvention of Cinderella next year.

★★★