Majesty and occasion

17:00, May 31 2014
FAIRY QUEEN: Angelina Jolie, as Maleficent, has razor-sharp cheekbones and an improbable English accent.

The curse, the spinning wheel, the deep sleep and the handsome prince remain, but the second modernisation inside 12 months of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale offers up an otherwise strange world.

Chasing hard after the animated charms of Frozen, Disney's live-action Maleficent presents two kingdoms side-by-side, one human, the other peopled by weird CGI animations and a fairy queen, Angelina Jolie, with razor-sharp cheekbones and an improbable English accent.

Jolie's title character is a fairy queen who turns sour when a double-crossing human (Sharlto Copley, who played the lead in the Peter Jackson-produced District 9) cuts off her wings to win his country's throne. Maleficent's revenge is to curse King Stefan's first born daughter, Aurora (Elle Fanning), in the traditional manner, then spend the next 16 years regretting her intemperance.

The central conceit is that Maleficent is a much more complex character than the original, but the run time of a mere 97 minutes and the emphasis on special effects means the film itself doesn't offer the necessary complexity of plotting to carry off its premise.

Instead, it flies along at the same speed as its female lead, rushing to fit in every plot point - but if you accept it's nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is, there's lots of fun to be had. It is truly beautiful, the denouement is crafty and there's some decent dialogue.

Given a good line to deliver, Jolie can do deadpan marvellously, but is less convincing - particularly in locating her accent - when it comes to delivering sweeping speeches. Fanning gurns, and Copley makes a rather too rapid descent into sweaty madness. Best in show, then, is Sam Riley, who plays Jolie's familiar, a kind-hearted raven named Diaval, followed by Imelda Staunton, who leads a trio of dim-witted pixies that provide comic relief.

What Maleficent does best, in true Disney style, is deliver a sense of majesty and occasion: And it's that which will seduce your kids.

Maleficent (M) 97mins ★★★


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