Directed by Robert Stromberg
Maleficent is Disney revisiting its own Sleeping Beauty.
Maleficent was the villain of the piece in the 1959 original. She was the archetypal evil witch, who casts the spell that sends the virtuous princess off to the land of nod. In Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent's "evil" goes pretty much unexplained. We know that she was excluded from the young princess's christening, but that always did seem like scant reason for going quite as troppo as she does. She's just "bad" says Sleeping Beauty,and the various fairy tales that film drew from, and that's all the audience were ever to know.
Maleficent, via a quite beautifully fashioned back-story, posits her as a woman much wronged. Once the most powerful of the fairies, tasked with protecting the natural world from too much human incursion, she challenged the human king, and was cruelly robbed of her wings. She is, quite literally, cast down.
Butchered, betrayed, embittered; this is the woman who vows revenge on the king by cursing his daughter. Even then she gives the princess an escape clause: The curse can be broken by "true love's kiss", but this is poetic justice for the king, who once promised exactly that kiss to the young Maleficent.
There is so much be said about the cleverness, the boldness, and the wit of Linda Woolverton's (The Lion King, Alice in Wonderland) screenplay. It rigorously and perfectly does everything we might expect a Disney epic to do. There are laughs, terrifically engaging characters, some stunning set pieces, and an utterly satisfying resolution. At that level, Maleficent is vintage Disney, equal to any of the studio's recent best work.
But Maleficent does something else, and it's this that makes the film so admirable: I've sat through a decade and more of Tolkien adaptations for which the filmmakers had to invent female characters, just to conform to some spurious studio need for a "love interest", and every week I watch films - for kids and adults - in which the female characters are nothing but accessories or objects for the male characters to chase, fight over, or belittle. Maleficent turns it all on its head.
Here nearly all the significant characters are women.
Maleficent reclaims the "evil witch" archetype, and rewrites her as the wise woman struggling against the stupidity of greedy men. It's overdue, it's deftly done, and it happens within a film that still ticks every box an audience of littlies could ask for.
I turned up at Maleficent expecting good story-telling, spectacular visuals, a performance of dark and fiery pulchritude from Angelina Jolie, and I got all that. This is a gorgeous looking film, only slightly let down by a typically dark 3D transfer, while Jolie is truly fantastic, and her co-stars all do their work like good'uns.
What I wasn't expecting to see was a feminist reclamation of an entire fairytale tradition, all the way back to that one set in the Garden of Eden.
Maleficent is a dazzling and engaging film. I honestly believe it is a modern classic.
- The Dominion Post