Director: Robert Stromberg
Major Players: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sam Riley
Out Of Five: Four
Villains in the movies always seem to have more fun, or at least the actors playing them do. We can all think of some of them at the drop of a hat, like Hannibal Lecter, Norman Bates, Nurse Ratched. And then there are the ones from the Disney stable – Cruella de Vil, Shere Kahn and The Queen in Snow White. But, deadliest of all, is Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, so it’s no wonder that Angelina Jolie has grasped the opportunity to play her in the latest live action offering from Disney.
Maleficent brings us the back story of Disney’s most popular villain of all time. As a younger fairy, she defends the moors where she lives against the ambition of the human kingdom and finds herself betrayed by the man she loves. With her heart turned to stone and bent on revenge, she places an irrevocable curse on the newly born Aurora but, as the princess grows, Maleficent discovers that perhaps she’s not as hard-hearted as she once thought.
I’ve deliberately avoided spoilers, but from that, you can tell that the film gives us more than Maleficent’s back story: it takes us to the heart of the fairy tale as well, following it to its conclusion and showing how the title character affected it. But this isn’t really a fairy story. With its forest creatures, battle scenes, 3-D and CGI, this is more of a fantasy adventure/fairy story hybrid, with the 21st century audience in mind.
That’s not a criticism, but a statement of fact. The battle scenes, especially the climax and its dragon, are action-packed and full of good effects. They’re just closer in spirit to Tolkein than the Brothers Grimm. The 3-D is at its most effective in these parts of the film, but otherwise it’s not been used especially creatively. It’s more a case of it being there because it’s expected. And, if you’re tired of 3-D being trotted out ad nauseam, there’s only a few weeks to go before the arrival of T S Spivet. Come back to The Coops Review round about 13 June and I’ll explain.
Back to Maleficent. And this is, from start to finish, Angelina Jolie’s film. As we’ve seen in all the pre-publicity, she looks fabulous, with razor sharp cheekbones, brilliantly red lips and, in the early part of the film, a spectacular set of wings. But it’s not all about appearances. While she clearly relishes the scenes where she has to be wicked, she also gives us something more complex, coolness mixed with the hint of something warmer lurking below the surface. She also manages a passable English accent – it does wobble occasionally – which she says is based on classic British actresses.
So, in playing Princess Aurora, Elle Fanning would seem to have drawn the short straw. But even though good characters are often far less interesting than their evil counterparts, she still manages to breathe some life into what could have been an irritating goody-goody.
“Irritating”, though, is where the three pixies watching over her come in. They’re my real bugbear about the film. Played by three good actresses in their own right – Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple – they spend part of the film flitting around on buzzing wings, yet they look like they’ve been created by a totally separate and decidedly inferior CGI team, with their heads noticeably larger than the rest of their bodies. When they’re put in charge of the infant Aurora, they’re frighteningly inept. No doubt they are intended to be the comic relief, but what they are is a pain in the proverbial.
Idiotic pixies aside, Maleficent gives the classic battle between good and evil some much-needed shades of grey, wrapped up in 21st century visuals. It just squeaks a four rating, and the reason it makes the grade is because of Jolie, whose character and appearance dominates the film. Disney should thank their lucky stars she agreed to the film.
Maleficent is released around the UK today, Wednesday, 28 May.