For this new live-action adaptation of Disney’s 1959 animated classic Sleeping Beauty, the studio has shifted the focus away from the slumbering princess and onto the iconic villain Maleficent. The film features Angelina Jolie in the starring role, with Elle Fanning as Princess Aurora, and a talented supporting cast including Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley and Imelda Staunton.
Twisting and blurring the previously distinct boundaries between good and evil, Maleficent brings many intriguing new ideas to the well-trodden story. Maleficent herself is gifted an extensive and sympathetic backstory, whilst the humans are now portrayed as a more complex, diverse and flawed group. However, almost all of these promising changes are let down by awkward execution from first-time director Robert Stromberg. In keeping with his background as an acclaimed visual effects artist and production designer on films such as Avatar and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, Stromberg manages to craft one striking image after another, but he consistently fails to realise the dramatic potential of the newly-altered plot. Despite an enjoyably theatrical performance from Jolie, even the most powerful scenes often feel slightly underplayed, and the film as a whole is frequently weakened by strange and substantial shifts in tone and approach.
This inconsistency stretches to the visual style, where the brilliant and absorbing gothic-fantasy aesthetic is occasionally damaged by some incredibly cloying creature designs, which somehow appear even more cartoonish than those in the original animated film.
However, despite these problems the film is still an enjoyable family adventure, with real charm and character compared to the unrelenting orgies of destruction that have made up so many recent blockbusters. Meanwhile, the script from veteran Disney scribe Linda Woolverton (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King) poses a number of interesting challenges to long-standing traditions and assumptions in popular fairytales, and though fans of the original may balk at the changes they should prove highly welcome for those who find that version a little too simplistic.
A classic story inventively updated, Maleficent often fails to reach its real potential, but overall makes for entertaining viewing.
Maleficent (2014), directed by Robert Stromberg, is released in cinemas in the UK by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Certificate PG. Watch the trailer below: