As I’ve been HIGHLY anticipating its release, I saw the Thursday (May 29) showing of Maleficent. The most that I could gather from the previews was that Angelina Jolie makes a fierce Maleficent, and in that respect, I think very few people will be let down. While it probably won’t blow you out of the water, I can tell you that Maleficent is an entertaining live-action take on the timeless animated feature, Sleeping Beauty. Though not everyone will be impressed, I loved it.
Spoilers ahead… Read at your own risk!
Let’s start with the plot. There are two kingdoms in the unidentified European country; man rules one, fairies/creatures peacefully coinhabit the other. While she begins as merely a cog in the magical wheel of the “moors,” Maleficent becomes the embittered fairy and ruthless ruler we know her to be in the animated film because of thwarted affection. She falls in love with Stefan (future king and father of Aurora) as a young girl and is betrayed by him when his thirst for power surpasses their childhood bond. As a result, she exacts revenge by cursing the newborn baby, Aurora. The child is sent to live in the woods with three fairies (one of which is the notorious Hogwarts Professor, Dolores Umbridge), yet is largely taken care of, from afar, by Maleficent because of the three’s incompetency. Over the years, Maleficent grows tender toward Aurora and becomes more and more of a protector, haunted by the looming fate of the curse. As Aurora’s birthday grows closer, Maleficent must find a way to save her from a “death-like sleep.”
One thing devoted fans will notice from the get go is that Maleficent does not follow the original Sleeping Beauty storyline. For instance, in the live-action adaptation, Maleficent is the one who adds in the “true love’s kiss” caveat, she clearly knows Aurora’s whereabouts during her childhood, and she doesn’t even turn into a dragon in the epic showdown at the end. In addition, the three fairies turn out to be a bunch of petty idiots, the kingdom doesn’t fall asleep with Aurora, and Prince Phillip plays a hilariously passive part in the action. If you can get past these inconsistencies and enjoy the movie as a piece of its own standing, it’ll be a much more enjoyable experience.
A huge factor in Maleficent‘s success–for me at least–was that it followed the footsteps of Frozen in its progressive redefining of true love. This movie isn’t about romance; in fact, it (like Frozen) openly mocks the notion that two people can fall in love in a matter of minutes. Instead, Maleficent is about finding the strongest love in unlikely places and coming to terms with one’s mistakes. Though I mentally worked out the plot twists immediately before they occurred, it was, in general, a refreshing take on the traditional fairy tale that wasn’t terribly predictable–at least from the very beginning.
The best part about Maleficent is easily the acting. Angelina Jolie is phenomenal as Maleficent. Aesthetically, she’s stunning: dagger-like cheekbones, bloodred lips, perfectly arched eyebrows. Her one-line quips and initially awkward and uptight interactions with Aurora are fantastic and truly humorous. She is tantalizingly wicked, yet compelling and relatable–both villain and hero. Like many modern “bad guys,” Maleficent’s seemingly inexplicable evil and ill-will stems from heartbreak, making her all the more human. Perhaps this method of garnering sympathy for the antagonist is approaching overuse, but it makes for a much more interesting dynamic between Maleficent and her former love’s daughter, Aurora. Elle Fanning is a ray of sunshine as Aurora, Sharlto Copely is a convincingly domineering Stefan, and Sam Riley plays the conscience-stricken henchman to a tee, but Angelina Jolie is obviously the main attraction. And let me tell you… she was worth the $10 admission fee.
While the effects are aesthetically pleasing and slightly surreal, they aren’t groundbreaking. The cast’s genuine portrayals and the unique twist on events make it worth seeing. The message that “everything is not what it seems” is nothing new, but in my opinion, the delivery shines. Not everybody will be enchanted by the live-action prequel (of sorts) to the 1959 animated Sleeping Beauty, but those willing to take Maleficent at face value probably won’t be disappointed. I, for one, would watch it again in a heartbeat just to see Angelina Jolie as an actress playing the role of a lifetime–one that appears to be made for her. So go see it! And while you’re at it, buy the haunting Lana Del Rey cover of “Once Upon a Dream” because it rocks.