28th May2014

‘Maleficent’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Sam Riley, Brenton Thwaites, Kenneth Cranham, Hannah New, Isobelle Molloy, Michael Higgins, Ella Purnell, Jackson Bews | Written by Linda Woolverton | Directed by Robert Stromberg

maleficent-jolie

Having never been a fan of the romantic cliches that pervade the majority of Disney films, I wasn’t initially keen on seeing their latest offering, Maleficent. Granted, the Disney of old created some of the world’s most loved characters, but they also crafted the infamous ‘Disney Princess’. The emergence of this mythical personality not only meant a predictable storyline of ‘miserable girl seeks true love in order to live happily ever after’ in a succession of films I watched as a child, but more worryingly it cemented that line of thinking in the minds of generations of young girls. With Maleficent, Disney appears to have taken a different tact – perhaps influenced by the more liberal tendencies of the studio they acquired in 2006, Pixar. Exploring the origins of the 1959 classic, Sleeping Beauty (which cost 30 times less to make), Maleficent tells the story behind the villain of the same name. It turns out that the cackling menace who cast a spell on Princess Aurora in the original film was motivated by more than the desire to distress her parents.

We’re greeted with a young Maleficent who roams a lush meadow that wouldn’t look out of place in Avatar. Initially a bright and cheery fairy who is obsessed with the freedom given to her by her enormous wings, she is struck by love when she meets peasant boy, Stephen. The young lad hints at his ambitions to live the life of luxury, but Maleficent is only interested in fostering their budding relationship. So far, so Disney.

However, Maleficent’s good fortune soon takes a turn for the worse. Ambitious young Stephen strives to avenge an aging King, by committing the heinous sin of cutting off his first loves wings. Whilst this act of savagery proves his allegiance to the throne, it also spells disaster for his relationship with Maleficent. Devastated by the loss of her defining feature, the aggrieved fairy storms into the christening of King Stephen’s first born child, showcasing a marvellous CGI recreation of the famous Sleeping Beauty scene. The introduction of adult Maleficent also sees Angelina Jolie take up the role of our protagonist. Jolie is fantastic throughout the film, playing the tricky balancing act of a genuinely likeable villain. Rather than continue with the 50’s version of Sleeping Beauty, we’re shown how Maleficent’s heart begins to warm to Princess Aurora. As she approaches the cursed age of 16, it is Maleficent who looks to seek out the true love who can save her from life in a coma.

The young prince set to save the day is a very different beast to the Disney hero we’re used to. Despite looking like a cross between Justin Bieber and Harry Styles (the film is aimed at young girls I suppose), the teen heart-throb is a bit of a clumsy oaf who’s not sure of his own role in the world. And when it comes to the big moment, he doesn’t awaken the young princess from her slumber. Instead, it is an affectionate kiss on the forehead from her fairy godmother, Maleficent, that causes her to open her eyes.

This twist on the original film leads to the ‘happily ever after’, that all Disney films should come with. But what’s different here is that we learn that true love does not have to come in the form of a good looking young lad that sweeps a teenage girl of her feet. Instead, Disney have tried to show that if you don’t find a prince, you won’t remain a frog for the rest of your life.

Maleficent is released across the UK from today, May 28th.

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