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dir Robert Stromberg
scr Linda Woolverton
prd Joe Roth
with Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, Juno Temple, Brenton Thwaites, Kenneth Cranham, Isobelle Molloy, Michael Higgins, Janet McTeer
release UK 28.May.14, US 30.May.14
14/UK Disney 1h37
Power nap: Fanning and Thwaites (above), Jolie and her inspiration from the 1959 classic (below)
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
As she did with Alice in Wonderland, screenwriter Woolverton completely changes a classic tale into a Lord of the Rings-style epic with massive action sequences and extremely dark themes. But even if the script feels superficial and under-developed, the film's nasty tone is a refreshing surprise.
The fairy Maleficent (Molloy then Jolie) grows up happily in a magical realm near a human kingdom, where she finds friendship with the boy Stefan (Higgins then Copley). But as the years pass, the humans become aggressive toward the fairies, and when Stefan brutally violates Maleficent to become the human king, she in turn curses his firstborn Aurora (Fanning) to fall into a deep sleep before she turns 16. So Stefan gets three bumbling pixies (Manville, Staunton and Temple) to look after her. But it's actually Maleficent who watches over Aurora's upbringing.
Despite the obvious link to Disney's 1959 animated classic Sleeping Beauty, this is a completely different story. For one thing, Maleficent is a wronged woman whose momentary burst of revenge is her only evil moment. By contrast, Stefan grows increasingly cruel and paranoid as the true villain of the piece. Meanwhile, the Sleeping Beauty story is sidelined and then condensed from 100 years in Charles Perrault's 17th century fable to about 15 minutes here. Despite the clumsy handling of this sideplot, it has a very nice twist to it.
More magnificent than malevolent, Jolie towers over the film, bringing a potent presence to every scene with glowering eyes and molten lips, plus jarring cheekbones that have been misshapen to resemble the Disney cartoon. Maleficent's reluctant, standoffish connection to Aurora is the best thing about this new story, adding both suspense and emotion. Copley struggles to show anything other than Stefan's inexplicable loss of humanity. And other characters are lost in odd make-up (Riley as Maleficent's man-crow sidekick) or flimsy slapstick dialog (the pixies).
The scale of the production is impressive, satisfyingly packing the screen with big effects and surprisingly violent action. So it's frustrating that the script and direction are so relentlessly simplistic. Where there is an interesting theme, it's trivialised by obvious dialog or visuals, although Jolie just about maintains her dignity in a corny "what I've learned" speech. Indeed, she has such a commanding presence that it's difficult to imagine why anyone would dare to cross Maleficent to begin with.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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