Maleficent malevolently rejuvenates a classic, whilst inducing you into an eternal coma. Much like Lana Del Ray’s monotonous rendition of the once melodic “Once Upon a Dream”, Maleficent herself has endured a radical change of character. Once revered as the “mistress of all evil” in the ‘59 animated classic, now reprised as a sympathetically misunderstood fairy whom attempts to protect herself and her fantastical domain from the neighbouring iron-equipped (seemingly her only weakness) humans. The horned wicked sorceress, now a good-hearted feathery winged fairy.
After falling in love with a peasant boy, whom eventually burns off her grandiose wings with iron so that he can ascend the throne, Maleficent rages war against the humans by cursing the king and queen’s daughter Aurora which can only be broken by “true love’s kiss”. A notion she believes to be non-existent. Maleficent cares for Aurora from a distance, to ensure the curse is completed upon her sixteenth birthday, and eventually develops maternal affection for the beautiful princess she aptly names “beasty”. Thus creating a protagonist, and extraordinarily lesser antagonist, simultaneously.
Stromberg’s fantasy re-imagining of Perrault’s original fairy tale, and Disney’s animated classic, clearly changes the perspective of its story by altering the motives of its infamous antagonist. Bestowing her the central role and vital mechanism for commencing the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ plot. Undoubtedly, Maleficent in her gloriously acidic black attire commands every scene thanks to an engrossingly wicked performance from Jolie, whose prosthetic penetrative cheekbones carry the weight of this entire feature. Fully embellishing the original black-hearted nature of her character when re-creating such scenes including her vengeful uninvited appearance to Aurora’s christening. “Well, well…” she calmly mutters, relishing in her magnificent trademark costume and darkened visuals.
Unfortunately, that’s as antagonistic as she gets, before Stromberg’s complete misdirection confuses her characterisation and implements a tonally jarring mess. Maleficent, unlike her cheekbones, rarely receives strong development. Woolverton’s screenplay opting for a tragedy rather than a comedy. Which is adequate, if the tone had matched the tragic nature of the central character. Insubordinate comedy, mostly from the three pixies and Maleficent herself, superimpose a family-friendly aesthetic and consequently diminishes the villainous archetype of Maleficent. Rampantly fluctuating changes of heart for the central character, from raging vengeance to doting motherhood, prevented sustained natural development for the titular fairy, as the script rushes a bloated origin story glazed with narrational exposition before proceeding with the brisk events of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ (originally a seventy-five-minute story now condensed into the forty minute second half of this re-imagining).
Jolie ultimately is given nothing substantial to work with, only creating an aesthetically pleasing shell of her character rather than exploring the depths of Maleficent’s tragedy. No fault of her own, more so the producers for wanting to implement blatantly artificial digitised visuals to further enhance the overall laziness that plagues this retelling. The fantasy world-building of the Moors is acceptably pleasing, with both flora and fauna exuding imagination. The distracting CGI battle sequences and green screens of fakery however were, well, distractions by definition.
The supporting cast was lacklustre, all focussing on their painful British accents rather than their performances. Fanning was flatter than Aurora’s personality, whom glaringly breaks one of the pixie’s gifts by “feeling blue”. Copley was one-dimensional and provided minimal threat to his royal character. Thwaites’ late inclusion was pointless. And Riley was severely underused. At least Staunton, Temple and Manville added some dimensionality to the feature as the pixies, even if it costed the film’s tonal consistency. Oh, and the inevitable breaking of Aurora’s curse? Terrible. Eye-rolling sentimentality at its worst.
Re-imagining a Disney classic by shifting the perspective of its story from the protagonist to the antagonist sounds like an act of courage. A valorous attempt to execute a refreshingly different approach. Whilst this is admirable, the antagonist themselves should not have their entire characterisation altered for the sake of emotional connectivity. It defeats the purpose of this exercise. With that said, despite Jolie’s performance, superlative costume designs and Howard’s reliable score as always, Maleficent never manages to soar through the clouds with her feathery wings. Instead, grounded by misdirection, characterised confusion and vacuous dialogue.