Actors Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning were in Europe earlier this month to promote their new blockbuster based on Disney’s much-loved Sleeping Beauty. The first in an apparent series of live-action adaptations of classic Disney animated films (with Cinderella following next spring), Maleficent aims to present the untold story behind one of the studio’s most iconic villains.
At the London press conference Jolie admitted that she had initially had doubts about the idea, wondering ‘how could you possibly make a film where the centre character curses a baby and in any way make that appealing?’ But she seemed enamoured with the script, and particularly with the concept of exploring just how Maleficent ‘became evil’, which the actor deemed a ‘really interesting thing to question about human nature.’
With the spotlight now firmly on Jolie’s villain, it might seem that Fanning might have much less to do in her role as the sleeping beauty, Princess Aurora. But the young star was glad to be able to ‘bring more layers’ to a character that had originally been presented as little more than a ‘pretty, pretty princess’. Jolie seemed to agree with that assessment, claiming that earlier Disney heroines ‘were not characters I looked up to or identified with.’ The updated version appears to present a more interesting scenario in which the two characters actually meet and interact, so that Aurora’s optimistic innocence might clash more satisfyingly with Maleficent’s vengeful spite.
Despite having starred in many blockbusters Jolie has recently seemed more interested in working on independent films (such as her directorial debut In the Land of Blood and Honey) and humanitarian causes (including her admirable Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative). But Maleficent represents a return to the large-scale cinematic escapism of films such as Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Wanted and Salt, with Jolie claiming that with this role in particular she ‘wanted to entertain.’
With its striking gothic-fantasy aesthetic and an intriguing combination of grand theatrics and mass battle scenes, the trailer certainly gives the impression of a visually spectacular film. This is to be expected from first-time director Robert Stromberg, a veteran visual effects artist who worked as production designer on both Avatar and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.
The latest in a long line of fairy-tale adaptations, Maleficent aims for the darker side of the tradition. But Jolie believes that though ‘there are things that frighten us in life’, people, and especially children, ‘want to understand’ those things ‘so they can take it on, or so it frightens them less.’ Audiences will have to see for themselves whether or not discovering Maleficent’s back story makes her any less terrifying.
Maleficent (2014), directed by Robert Stromberg, will be released in UK cinemas on 28th May by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.