SYNOPSIS: "Maleficent" explores the untold story of Disney's most iconic villain from the classic "Sleeping Beauty" and the elements of her betrayal that ultimately turn her pure heart to stone. Driven by revenge and a fierce desire to protect the moors over which she presides, Maleficent cruelly places an irrevocable curse upon the human king's newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Aurora is caught in the middle of the seething conflict between the forest kingdom she has grown to love and the human kingdom that holds her legacy. Maleficent realizes that Aurora may hold the key to peace in the land and is forced to take drastic actions that will change both worlds forever.
The new Disney film Maleficent is a bit of a puzzlement. First of all, it doesn’t feel like a Disney film. It’s a bit dark for Disney. Secondly, what audience is this film trying to reach? It’s much too scary for small children, it lacks a hot romance to please the Twilight crowd, and it has far too many plot holes to satisfy an adult audience. So that leaves . . . tweens?
Narrated by Janet McTeer in traditional fairytale style, the film re-tells the classic “Sleeping Beauty” story with the focus on the evil fairy Maleficent. The script also assumes that you’re familiar with the original story. It begins with the child Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy) living contentedly in The Moors, the kingdom of the Fair Folk, who confronts a human intruder, the boy Stefan (Michael Higgins), finds they have more in common than differences, and a friendship begins. A teen Maleficent (Ella Purnell) falls in love with the teen Stefan (Jackson Bews), only to be betrayed by the adult Stefan (Sharlto Copley). By now, the adult Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) has become the wicked ruler of the Fair Folk and burns with desire for revenge against Stefan, who has become king through his ambition and greed.
As an uninvited guest at the Christening of the new king and queen’s infant daughter, Aurora, Maleficent curses the baby with the familiar spell: she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel before the sun sets on her 16th birthday and fall into a death-like sleep, never to awaken. Upon King Stefan begging, on his knees, Maleficent alters the curse so that Aurora may be awakened by “love’s first kiss” because she believes that no such thing exists.
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To protect Aurora, Stefan exiles her to a cottage in the forest under the care of three pixies, Flittle (Leslie Manville), Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), and Thistletwit (Juno Temple), until the day after Aurora’s 16th birthday. Aurora, as a 5-year-old, is played by Angelina Jolie’s own daughter, Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, since other child actors were too terrified of Jolie in Maleficent costume and make-up, as Jolie revealed in an interview. Eleanor Worthington-Cox plays Aurora at eight, and Ella Purnell plays the teen Aurora. Finally, Elle Fanning appears as Aurora at sixteen and beyond. There is a handsome prince, Brenton Thwaites as Prince Phillip, but his role is greatly reduced from the original story.
As Aurora grows up in her forest cottage, Maleficent, in hiding, watches. The two ultimately meet, and Maleficent lets the young Aurora assume who she is. In fact, the most interesting part of the story is seeing Maleficent’s changing feelings about the child she has cursed. Angelina Jolie is quite effective as Maleficent, and does present a daunting figure. Elle Fanning, to her disadvantage, is stuck playing the alarmingly-cheerful Aurora with such ingenuousness and light-hearted glee that you may feel like slapping her. I did. Sharlto Copley is called on to do little but act crazy, which he does. The best performance in the film comes from Sam Riley as Diaval, a raven turned into a man (and various other animals/creatures) by Maleficent. He’s her right-hand man and spy, in raven form, as to what’s going on in the castle.
There are some truly interesting and inventive moments in Maleficent. That being said, if you are an adult planning to see it, it’s probably best not to think about it too much. Just sit back and enjoy the stunts and special effects – even if they don’t often make much sense. - JoAnne Hyde