No one does fairy tales like Disney. If you don’t believe me, just ask them. In “Maleficent”, they manage to turn one of the most hated villains into a hero and turn Angelina Jolie into a character compelling enough to justify revisionist history.
The film begins with “Let us tell an old story anew and see how well you know it.” Consider it the modern version of “Once upon a time…” or for snarky baby boomers “Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale….” That ounce of voiceover lets you know that you’re about to get your mind blown for the next hour and a half. In typical fairy tale fashion, we’re introduced to the two lands, one occupied by humans, complete with a king, a castle and his loyal subjects. On the other side is the land of the Moors. That’s a place where magical beings, especially fairies, exist. They’re too busy having fun and accepting each other to need a ruler. However, there is one fairy, a winged girl with horns by the name of Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy) who seems a bit stronger than most and able to fly with a grace and power that makes them an unofficial protector.
When a young human orphan Stefan (Michael Higgins) attempts to steal a jewel from the Moors, Maleficent scolds him and makes him return his quarter-sized loot. A friendship forms and over the years, a romance. But as often the case, the two grow apart. When King Henry (Kenneth Cranham) decides to invade the land of the moors, he gets his armor handed to him. On his deathbed, the king offers the hand of his daughter to whomever can defeat Maleficent. The adult Stefan (Sharito Copley) cripples Maleficent by cutting off her wings in the film’s most heartwrenching moments. Maleficient exacts revenge upon King Stefan by cursing his newborn daughter Aurora by way of the familiar spinning-wheel.
In an act of mideval bad parenting, he sends the baby away to be cared for by three slightly inept fairies, Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), Flittle (Lesley Manville), and Thistletwit (Juno Temple). Maleficent starts by watching from afar, but eventually takes on a more hands on approach to raising the child who turns into a wide-eyed teenager (Elle Fanning).
With augmented cheekbones and the unintended (or intended) regal sexiness of a noir character, Angelina Jolie shines in “Maleficent” in a way that threatens to overshadow the rest of the cast. From 3D effects that maximize the effects of flight (the rest of the 3D is a bit meh) to her overpowering physical presence, the fairy turned villain is sure to leave a lasting impression. With a role so overpowering, this could’ve easily turned into a hamfest for Jolie with her barking orders, casting spells and such at the top of her lungs for effect. Instead, she handles each evolution of the character with grace, even during the traumatic parts. Older viewers will see more than a bit of Endora from “Bewitched” (Agnes Moorhead) in the stoic, but heart of gold character on the big screen.
Telling the classic “Sleeping Beauty” from the side of the villain is a Herculean task for many a director, especially a first-timer like Robert Stromberg. Luckily, he has the superb script of Disney veteran Linda Wooolverton (“Alice in Wonderland”, “Beauty andThe Beast”) to lead the way. It’s got enough charm and humor (although much of it solely placed on Jolie) to make the time go by. Superheroes may rule the summer, but Jolie makes for a villain that will remind you that Disney doesn’t always need capes to tell a good story.
“Maleficent” – MPAA: Rated PG for mature themes and brief violence. Running time: 97 Minutes. In theaters nationwide.