Verdict: 4 / 5
The introduction by the narrator clearly states the films take on the classic tale of Sleeping Beauty; this is an alternative version, an untold story and suggests that it’s possibly the real events in the old fairy tale.
There are two countries, two states, two societies: the Human, metallic, greedy and unjust kingdom and on the other side of an open field is the Fairy wonderland of woodlands, pixies, magic and natural beauty. Maleficent is a spirited, strong, winged fairy, enjoying just being alive. All is peaceful between the two states, when one day a young peasant boy, Stefan, is caught stealing jewels from the Fairy’s river. Seeing the inherent innocence in the eyes of the boy, Maleficent convinces the others to let this one slide and the two of them start a kind, playful friendship. After years of secret visits from Stefan, they both grow up and soon he realises her beauty and gives her a romantic, shy, little kiss; true love’s first kiss. The times they share together become less and less as Stefan strives to become a man in the human world, chasing power and riches. Eventually their friendship dwindles and fades from memory.
Time passes until one day the King hears of a mysterious power rising and great riches growing in the Fairy kingdom, and wishes to capture it. A battle takes place as the men wielding forged iron chainmail with swords and fire advance on the woodlands. In the meantime, Maleficent has grown in power and magic and defends the realm against the attack, fatally injuring the King, and his pride. On his deathbed the King proclaims that whomever kills the “demon” will inherit the kingdom. Stefan, now in the king’s court, desires this power, and pays Maleficent one more “friendly” visit. Falsely lured by the promise of a re-kindled love, Maleficent is betrayed by Stefan, who, after not having the heart to kill her, steals her most prized possession, to prove that he has slain the beast. The physical and emotional hurt dealt out to Maleficent now boils in her, creating a real monster, the devil that she was always thought to have been. She takes up a new dark throne as the queen of the magic, while Stefan becomes the king of men.
Soon a beautiful baby girl is born, and the story continues, as you always knew it, well, mostly. The twists keep coming, because now you know at the back of your mind that the race you thought was good is really the evil one. Leading you to into a new expectation, when you see that the witch is really just a woman scorned, and “hell hath no fury” now.
The story line is completely new; with features coming from all over, including brand new material, the original version and the much less macabre 1800’s Brothers Grim take. Of course there is also playful wisps from the old well-known 1959 Disney version. The realm of magic is animated and beautiful, with creatures that are very unique and original looking, bringing out the 12th century Nordic history of the tale. There are talking trees, swamp vine lizards and cute mushroom gnomes. Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) has a strikingly different visage, with protruding curved devil horns, scaly valkyrie wings, sharp textures, and extremely sharp cheekbones. Angelina Jolie is not quite believable in the beginning of the story as she is not the most eligible actress for comical and sweet, but she vastly exceeds all expectations as a bad-ass dark-witch later on. Stefan (Sharlto Copley – of District 9 and Elysium) holds a forced Scottish accent pretty well and is comfortable playing the angry, vengeful and emotional villain, but not so much as any other personality. The three pixies, adopted aunts to the baby are daft and witless, for comic relief, but are not scripted well yet do the job. The princess, played by relatively unknown Elle Fanning (sister of Dakota Fanning), is quite sweet, engaging and well portrayed as innocent of all things of the world. She meets her prince charming (new to the big-screen Brenton Thwaites) in the woods, and their encounter is genuine and adequately cute and awkward. Their fresh faces, as two unknown actors, gives a great escape that transports the viewer away from the confused main characters’ twisted story and tortured psyches.
Every fiction movie has contrasts, to reinforce the drama, morals and comforting predictability. The traditional take on this story has good vs. evil as the primary contrast, with the noble parents against the malevolent curse. The poles of good parents against an evil curse was originally a take on fathers maintaining purity in children under sixteen and to push the principles of good behaviour and showing that one is to wait for true love and “prince charming” and true happiness. This line is now not clear at all. There is no good or evil side, the characters are so dynamic and develop so well that the struggle is actually internal. Maleficent and Stefan fight the love and hate for each other deep in themselves. But there are plenty of other strong contrasts, most notably the two kinds of magic, evil lime green slashes and good warm gold swirls, showing quite visibly the two sides of Maleficent herself. There is significant correlation between this story and the tale of God and man; man’s worldly desires corrupting the true love and natural world, and a unnecessarily difficult life of an innocent human, is the key to finding a way to mend the break. Another is the lovely metaphor for man vs. nature; the fire-forged iron weaponry of man against the untouched natural beauty and wealth of nature, yet nature always wins with its greater might and intelligence. Ironically it’s the fire-forged breath from dragon that strikes man down in the battle.
Overall the story is quite adult in nature, and although Walt Disney Studios co-produced it, it is very dark and frankly quite scary, but there is enough redemption in the end to make it a family feature. The main motif is the cynicism over romance and love by the two core characters. Pride and contempt tortures them, and grips their hearts in vengeance and pessimism. Even when the princess comes back to her father, he casts her aside, obsessed with death, and fails to see her love. But in the final irony, the one thing that drives Maleficent and Stefan apart is the one and only thing that can bring them atonement for their sins, Princess Aurora, the sleeping beauty.