Angelina Jolie's "Maleficent" Takes a Disney Classic to Soaring New Heights
"Maleficent," the live action twist on the Disney classic "Sleeping Beauty" starring Angelina Jolie, is one of the most brilliant movies of 2014. The trailers promise a movie that is both visually stunning and packed with action. Combining those features with a satisfying and well-crafted story is an assured hit.
The movie tackles the story behind Maleficent, "Mistress of All Evil" and well-known villainess who curses Princess Aurora to a death-like sleep on her 16th birthday. The film attempts to explain what happened in Maleficent's past to make her so deeply evil.
The story told in "Maleficent" explains that the title character was, in fact, once good. In this story, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) was transformed after suffering a terrible betrayal. As part of her revenge, she places the curse on the child of the human king who was her childhood friend (Sharlto Copley). The cursed Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) is then protected by the three pixies, Flittle, Knotgrass and Thistletwit (Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton and Juno Temple respectively). Ultimately, Maleficent learns that Aurora may hold the key to restoring her kingdom to peace.
What makes "Maleficent" so intriguing is the reworking of the classic tale. Similar to the approach taken in Gregory Maguire's book "Wicked" about the origins of the "Wizard of Oz" villainous The Wicked Witch of the West, "Maleficent" takes a marginalized character and reframes the story from her perspective.
The story is told through Maleficent's eyes and, while it does not go so far as to paint her in a wholly sympathetic light, it does endeavor to explain, if not justify her malicious actions.
The act of revising classic stories is exciting to viewers, because it leads them to imagine all the potential layers and overlapping back-stories that make tales feel real. By invoking Maleficent as a sentient being, rather than pure, unreasonable evil, viewers respond differently to her. They begin to call into question their vision of what actually happens in stories that they always took for granted. The simple, over-arching lesson is that everyone, even little Thistletwit, has a unique story.
"Maleficent" stars Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie as the title character. Jolie embodies the role completely. She is utterly believable as a deeply wounded character who successfully masks her pain with abject and sadistic evil.
The look created for Jolie by seven-time Academy Award winner Rick Baker is perfect. The sharp cheekbones, the startling pallor of her skin and her extremely bright white teeth are reminiscent of the animated character from the 1959 movie, but somehow do not detract from her bewitching beauty. Overall, her appearance is terrifying, ferocious and animalistic, while also beguiling and alluring.
In addition to Jolie, the cast of "Maleficent" includes the luminous Elle Fanning ("We Bought a Zoo" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button") as Princess Aurora. Fanning is enchantingly lovely as the young princess. She is the unwitting pawn in Maleficent's revenge plot, but she remains strong and does not give in to anger.
South African actor, Sharlto Copley ("Elysium" and "The A-Team") plays King Stefan, Maleficent's childhood friend and the father of Aurora. Sam Riley ("On the Road" and "Control") plays Diaval, Maleficent's adviser who has the ability to shift from a raven into any form.
Jolie's daughter Vivienne Jolie-Pitt portrays the young Princess Aurora.
Behind The Scenes
In the very early stages of the movie, Tim Burton had reportedly been linked to the movie as the director. After Burton, first-time director Robert Stromberg was hired. Stromberg is a two-time Oscar winner for his art direction in "Alice in Wonderland" and "Avatar." His artistic sensibilities are evident in the sweeping grandeur of the landscapes and the detailed crafting of every aspect of the film.
The script was written by acclaimed screen-writer Linda Woolverton ("Beauty and the Beast," "The Lion King," "Mulan," and "Alice in Wonderland").
The soundtrack, a mesmerizing score by Grammy-winning composer James Newton Howard, also includes a glorious cover of "Once Upon A Dream" by Lana Del Rey.
In addition to starring in the movie, Angelina Jolie also served as one of its executive producers.
"Maleficent" is bound to be a cinematic sensation. The story is intriguing, both to those who grew up with the classic story as well as to those who might be unfamiliar with it. "Maleficent" has enough fantasy action sequences to satisfy older children, but it stops short of being gory.
The chemistry between the hauntingly beautiful Jolie as Maleficent and sweet, maidenly Fanning as Aurora is palpable. The scenic beauty and special effects are astonishing. Overall, "Maleficent" is an engaging, majestic and rewarding early summer film.