By Rich Cline
Disney rewrites its own history again with this revisionist version of its 1959 classic Sleeping Beauty. As she did with Alice in Wonderland, screenwriter Linda Woolverton uses simplistic plotting and clumsy dialogue to turn a children's story into an eerily dark Lord of the Rings-style effects extravaganza. Fortunately, it's held together by an imperious performance from Angelina Jolie.
She plays the story's wicked witch as a misunderstood hero, a happy fairy who grew up in a magical realm next to a kingdom of humans who were constantly afraid of what they didn't understand. And things take a grim turn when her childhood friend Stefan (Sharlto Copley) brutally violates her in order to become the human's king. Now the two lands are at war with each other, and in a fit of rage Maleficent curses Stefan's firstborn Aurora (Dakota Fanning) to fall into a deep sleep before she turns 16. So Stefan hides her in a country house cared for by three bumbling pixies (Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple). But it's actually Maleficent who watches over Aurora, and as they bond Maleficent begins to wish she could undo that pesky curse.
Yes, this is not remotely the familiar 17th century Sleeping Beauty fairytale: it's a completely different plot that reduces the "sleeping" bit from 100 years to little more than a power nap. It also re-casts Maleficent as a woman who had one brief moment of nastiness, while the increasingly paranoid and cruel Stefan is the real villain of the piece. The problem is that this shift leaves all of the characters feeling shallow and uninteresting. Aside from Jolie's fabulously prowling horned fairy, no one on-screen really registers at all. The terrific trio of pixies are sidelined in silly slapstick, while the Handsome Prince (Brendon Thwaites) is utterly hapless and Maleficent's crow-like sidekick (Sam Riley) is the victim of an over-zealous make-up designer.
That said, the film looks terrific, with grand-scale landscapes and some astonishing effects that occasionally make good use of the 3D. There's also a startlingly violent tone to the whole film, which nicely captures the horror of most fairytales, making the movie eerily unnerving. Although the savage battles and grisly cruelty might be too intense for very young children, they have a much stronger impact on older audiences than the film's simplistic, overstated moral.
Watch 'Maleficent' Trailer
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 30th May 2014
Box Office Worldwide: $757.2M
Distributed by: Walt Disney Pictures
Production compaines: Walt Disney Pictures
Rotten Tomatoes: 49%
Fresh: 96 Rotten: 99
Cast & Crew
Director: Robert Stromberg
Starring: Angelina Jolie as Maleficent, Elle Fanning as Princess Aurora, Juno Temple as Thistletwit, Sharlto Copley as Stefan, Isobelle Molloy as Young Maleficent, Miranda Richardson as Queen Ulla, Brenton Thwaites as Young Prince, Imelda Staunton as Knotgrass, Sam Riley as Diaval, Peter Capaldi as King Kinloch, Jamie Sives as Shepherd, Lesley Manville as Flittle, Toby Regbo as Young Stefan, Kenneth Cranham as King Henry, Hannah New as Princess Leila, Ella Purnell as Teen Maleficent