“Let us tell you an old story anew,” says “Maleficent’s” narrator (Janet McTeer), “and we’ll see how well you know it.”
The new Angelina Jolie film takes some liberties with a time-honored story, but doesn’t stray too far from the necessary fairy tale elements. There is some grim stuff—treachery and de-winging—but there are also traditional themes about good and evil and the redemption of evil becoming good.
This reimagining of Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” begins with Maleficent as the pure-hearted fairy protector of the enchanted Moors, “where no man goes for fear of the magical creatures who live within.” When Stefan, a greedy, ambitious human whose betrayal turns her colder than the Polar Vortex, breaks her heart, she vows revenge.
Later, when Stefan (Sharlto Copley) becomes king Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) exacts her vengeance by cursing his baby daughter named Aurora (Elle Fanning with the words, “Before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday, she will fall into a sleep-like death!” To seal the deal, she adds, “This curse will last until the end of time. No power on earth can change it!”
For the next sixteen years Maleficent is a ghostly presence in Aurora’s life. When they finally meet instead of fear, the young princess welcomes her. “I know who you are,” she says innocently, “You're my Fairy-Godmother!”
The two hit it off, but to no avail. Maleficent’s curse is irreversible and even though the evil-fairy-turned-surrogate-mother begins to feel protective of Aurora she is powerless to change her fate.
Archly theatrical, “Maleficent” harkens back to everything from vintage Disney, to “Lord of the Rings” to the ”Addams Family.” It’s a beautifully rendered film, visually rich, from the Moors’ creatures that look like they escaped from Jim Henson’s “Labyrinthe,” to Maleficent soaring through the air, drifting above the clouds. A winged Angelina Jolie is a formidable force.
Like all good fairy tales it is simply told. It’s a familiar story, with a twist, but unlike its spiritual cousins, the “Lord of the Rings” movies or “Snow White and the Huntsman,” it clocks in way under two hours, moving at a deliberate but brisk pace.
The leads are wonderfully cast. Fanning conveys the sugar and spice and everything nice of the innocent princess, while Jolie is a striking screen presence. He extraordinary looks are made even more otherworldly with the addition of cheekbones that would make Kate Moss green with envy. Beyond the superficial, she brings to life the complexity of a fairy scorned; a kind-hearted, loving creature turned to stone but with a glimmer of good burning deep within.
“Maleficent” may be too intense for very young “Sleeping Beauty” fans, but is a fine addition to the Disney collection.