Maleficent 3D reviewed

I think it’s safe to say that Disney is really intent on dismantling the “true love’s first kiss” convention so central to the studio’s success for decades. Frozen, Brave and, now, Maleficent have all recently kicked Prince Charming to the curb and instead prioritised the bond between women as being far more powerfully healing.

It’s a refreshing change, and it helps to make Maleficent one of the strongest fairy tale movies released to date. This is not to say that Maleficent is perfect. Far from it. However, the film benefits from its interesting gender-positive message about female friendship, and a tight narrative focus that is unusual for this kind of big budget genre fare.

In essence, Maleficent reinterprets Disney’s 1959 animated classic, except this time it does so from the perspective of the movie’s iconic villain – the horned, grudge-holding fairy Maleficent. Angelina Jolie plays Maleficent in live-action form, and we learn exactly why this powerful magic caster – originally a nature spirit and guardian of the Moors – went on to curse adorable newborn princess Aurora (played as a young woman by Elle Fanning).

Maleficent’s journey into anger and hatred is actually a surprisingly dark story from Disney. In fact, the key event that triggers it could be considered the closest the studio has ever come to depicting date rape; it’s that traumatic a betrayal. And although there is actually quite a bit of comic relief in the film – provided by Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville’s idiot trio of pixies – the tone for Maleficent’s tale of redemption and return from hard-heartedness is set quite early on… and it’s not cheerful.

It all shapes up nicely until the very end of the movie, when all the angst-building goes out the window for an overblown conclusion, followed by a convenient happy ending that doesn’t ring true – and is perhaps the greatest departure from the film’s source material.

There are a few other gripes to be made about the movie – such as the decision to have Maleficent’s hench-raven continually morph into Sam Riley when they could easily have just CGIed a talking bird. Evidently, the filmmakers believed our anti-heroine needed a human foil, when it is completely unnecessary.

Still, there are definitely several plusses to recognise. Although Maleficent is the star of the show, receiving far more character development than anyone else, Sharlto Copley turns in a memorable performance as the increasingly unhinged king, unable to reconcile his lust for power with his sense of guilt. Then there’s the fact that Maleficent is the first movie in a long time that has really capitalised on Jolie’s high, but ever-edgy, charisma factor. It’s a treat to see the actress in a role that is so perfect for her.

It’s just a pity that after such a considered set-up, the film loses its nerve and completely blunts every edge to fit with family-safe convention.

3.5 stars out of 5.


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