directed by Robert StrombergIn the past, Disney has had a patchy record with its princesses, who tended to be too focused on wearing massive dresses and marrying princes, as if that were all-important. Maleficent turns this around by following the story of the bad fairy who curses Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) in Sleeping Beauty. According to this version, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) has just had a bad press.
The story starts with a young Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy), who lives on the border of the fairy and human kingdoms. A young man called Stefan (Michael Higgins) blunders onto the fairy-occupied moors and befriends her. Years later, the old human king, Henry (Kenneth Cranham), tries to invade the moors, and Maleficent leads her army of fairy creatures to repel him. Naturally, Henry wants her head, and he promises his kingdom to whoever will bring it to him. What follows hints at a dark tale of betrayal and war, but it's never very dark.
In the foreground there are oodles of different kinds of fairies, beautiful settings, and glittering magical effects. Everything looks glossy and sparkly. There are three foolish fairies, the other godmothers, who take over Aurora's care after Maleficent curses her. They're obviously meant to be the comic relief, and they do get to do a bit of slapstick but they don't have the best lines or characterisation. Arguably these go to Diaval (Sam Riley), Maleficent's sidekick. Maleficent transforms Diaval from a crow into a man, as well as into various other creatures so he can do her bidding. He's the voice of her conscience, pointing out when she's being inconsistent or unfair.
However, Aurora (Elle Fanning) is dull enough to tranquillise elephants. The most fire we see from her is when she gets involved in an extremely tame mud-fight. It's hard to see why anyone would care about such a vanilla character. The same could be said for the polite-but-boring Prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaites) who she meets briefly.. Her father the king (Sharlto Copley) has a more interesting progression from being angsty and ambitious to paranoid and obsessed.
I think Maleficent is a little violent for a children's movie, particularly towards the end of the story, and some of this could have been avoided with a better plot. It's not inevitable that every story has to end with a big scrap. There's no rulebook that demands it. My problem with this isn't purely the level of violence, which I personally don't mind, as much as the way it promotes the least creative approach to problem-solving. Do we really need to encourage children to think that if something annoys you, the best thing to do is to bash it? Still, I suppose they had to do something with those CGI wings and all of the shiny armour.
On the other hand, this movie puts its female characters front and centre and gives them agency. This is all about Maleficent's journey from despair in human nature back to hope. There may be princes, but marrying royalty isn't what this story is about, and I loved that. The men are, if not exactly an irrelevance, then certainly of lesser importance.
James Newton Howard's score is all right, but the characters don't sing any songs in this film. Although the story is fairly light in tone, the script would have benefited from a few more jokes. Instead it attempts to get by on pretty special effects and the charisma of its lead. Angelina Jolie acts her socks off, but many of the other characters are under-developed. So Maleficent has good points, but it's not quite as impressive as it could have been.
17th June 2014
Review © Ros Jackson