The Disney animated Sleeping Beauty came out in 1959. It told a story that was loosely based on a Brothers Grimm (and they got it from old German lore) story about a princess who was placed under a curse to sleep for 100 years. In the animated story, a malevolent fairy is snubbed by the royal family, and places a curse on the princess which can only be broken by a prince with true love’s kiss.
The standout character in the animated movie is the bad fairy, named Maleficent. She’s stunning, and in terms of old-school Disney Villains, she is one of the absolute best. Disney animated villains don’t have nearly the heft they used to have. Case in point – at the climactic battle between Maleficent and Prince Phillip in Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent tells Phillip just before she turns into a dragon, “Now you will deal with me, and all the powers of Hell!” Nowadays, Disney villains do not call upon the powers of hell.
Since Maleficent was so striking, it makes sense to make a live action movie featuring her. It especially makes sense to make a live action movie featuring her if you have one of the most striking actresses on the planet playing her. In terms of movie stars – Angelina Jolie is one of the biggest. Disney has not been subtle about the fact that this movie is 100% marketed on Angelina. The first image released from the movie was just her face and head. The posters are just her standing there in the costume (and yes, let’s give the costume its due – it is incredible). The trailers are just her and some fancy CGI. The entire movie marketing was about “hey! Come look at Angelina as this classic Disney villain!” And guess what? She delivers.
The movie focuses on the same story that is told in the Disney animated Sleeping Beauty (not the original Grimm version, which is way weirder). The difference is that it is told from Maleficent’s point of view. We see her as a young fairy, growing up in the Moors, which border a human kingdom, ruled by a wicked king who is seeking to stretch his borders.
Maleficent indirectly rules the Moors, and knows better than to socialize with humans, but sure enough, a young man shows up (stealing from the Moors; that ought to have been a clue right there) and Maleficent spends way too much time hanging out with him, and telling him her weaknesses – namely that Iron burns fairies (everybody knows that, right?). As they get older, the man, Stefan, tells Maleficent of his dreams of ruling the human kingdom, and eventually gives Maleficent what he calls true love’s kiss. Maleficent is smitten. The wicked old king sets out to take the Moors, Maleficent and her tree-people fight them off.
The king retreats to his castle, angry and defeated. He is dying and decrees that whoever kills the “winged creature” will rule his kingdom. Stefan can’t pass up that opportunity, and sets out to find Maleficent. He drugs her, and finds himself too weak to kill her, but not too weak to take her wings while she is sleeping. She awakens without them, and realizes she’s been betrayed. She gives in to darkness, retreating to the forest and giving herself a crown and a throne, as well as changing a crow (she’s magic) back and forth to a man so that he can be her wings.
He flies back and forth to the castle, learning that Stefan traded the wings for a throne, that he married the old king’s daughter, and that eventually, they have a daughter of their own. The entire kingdom comes to celebrate, and Maleficent heads to the castle.
We then get the scene that is almost word for word the same as the animated version as the good fairies give their gifts to the princess, and Maleficent interrupts. In the animated version, she curses the princess that “before the sun sets on her 16th birthday, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel, and DIE!”. Then one of the good fairies still has a gift to give, and so counteracts the curse by stating that Princess Aurora will not die, but fall into a sleep that can only be broken by true love’s kiss.
In this movie – Maleficent curses the child, then the king begins to beg, and she herself states that the curse will be broken by true love’s kiss. But since that was the phrase Stefan used with her earlier, she means it as a curse, because she does not believe it exists.
Similarly to the animated version, the three good fairies take Aurora to the woods to raise her as a peasant. Dissimilarly to the animated version, Maleficent is aware she’s there from day one, and occasionally looks in on her, and assists the fairies, since they are basically inept when it comes to raising a human baby. Aurora keeps wandering out into the woods, and running into Maleficent as she grows. believing her to be her fairy godmother. Charmed by the child, Maleficent lets that go, and spends many days with her. She tries to lift the curse, but her own magic is too powerful, and she is unable to do so. Eventually Aurora has her meet-cute with Phillip in the forest, just like in the animated version, then is told the truth by the fairies, and that it’s time to go home, and she confronts Maleficent about who she really is. Well, she goes to the castle, learns her dad is by this time a completely paranoid psychopath who has conversations with the wings he keeps in a box in the castle. He’s prepping for war, deciding that Maleficent will come after them the night of Aurora’s 16th birthday. Sure enough, Aurora pricks her finger as Maleficent brings Phillip to hopefully break the curse. There’s a huge climatic battle scene that is absolutely stunning – and of course, (spoiler alert) a happy ending.
This movie is directed by Robert Stromberg, who is a Visual Effects Master and has worked on more than 90 films. The most notable are Life of Pi, Hunger Games, 2012, Tropic Thunder, Ghost Rider, and Pan’s Labyrinth. You can really see his effects knowledge in this movie. There are several scenes that feel like CGI effects are used just for the sake of having cool CGI effects, and plenty of scenes of people just looking at the environment. I mean, really, as Maleficent tours Aurora around the Moors, there is a lot of time spent looking at things. However, the things that are being looked at are stunning, and certainly worth the look. This is also where the 3D pays off.
- In terms of cast – really – it begins and ends with Angelina Jolie. Yes, they built this movie around her, and yes, she carries it easily. I’ve never seen her have this much fun in anything, and I could have watched the scenes of her flying for even longer. The wings were amazing, the facial prosthetics were amazing, and her portrayal of a bitterly angry fairy was amazing. I particularly like the scene where a toddler Aurora walks up to Maleficient and demands to be picked up. They had to use Angelina’s daughter Vivienne, because all the other child actors were afraid of her makeup. She really delivered, and she’s incredibly watchable in this movie.
- Elle Fanning does a good job of portraying the young innocence of Aurora. Mainly, her job was to stand around looking shocked a lot – but she did that well. She also does a good job of getting angry when the time comes, then falling asleep. Hey – what can I say – not a ton for her to do.
- Sharlto Copley adds yet another psychopath to his growing list of psychopaths. At least in this as compared to Elysium, we didn’t have to watch his head get caved in. As Stefan devolves into complete paranoia, his performance gets better and creepier. Also – we know he’s South African, so the choice of Scottish as the accent was interesting, but at least it was mostly consistent with everyone in the kingdom.
- The three good fairies are played by Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, and Juno Temple. In the animated version, they were named Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather.
- In this version, they are named Flittle, Knotgrass, and Thistletwit. They were actually really annoying because they were so incapable in this version.
- Sam Riley plays Diaval, the crow. He stole a couple of scenes, and for a second, I thought maybe he was going to be the one to break the curse.
- Brenton Thwaites plays Prince Phillip, and he basically shows up to flirt with Aurora once, then kiss her. In the animated movie, that was enough to be true love’s kiss. This movie does a better job with that, because as you know, old-time Disney movies were all about teaching that girls were worthless on their own, and only mattered when they had a prince to marry and look after them. Thank goodness this movie takes steps to attempt to change that. It’s a weak attempt, but it is an attempt.
Overall, the movie does feel a bit empty, it’s mostly CGI and Angelina’s performance. Honestly though, those two things are good enough to carry it. It was a little tough to tell who it was aimed at – it’s not exactly a kids’ movie (the dragon and final fight are probably too scary for little ones), and it’s not really an adult movie. It is just an Angelina and her wings movie.
7 out of 10 – Gained points for the wings, lost points for Copley going crazy. Gained points for the beauty that was the moors, but lost points for the excessive amounts of scenes with weird little creatures doing weird little things – are those water nymphs painting the top of the water? Gained points for Angelina, delivering on the marketing and carrying the hell out of this movie.
Bonus Video 1: Hackers…because you probably forgot about Hackers, and Angelina was pretty awesome in that too. This was way before Johnny Lee Miller could do a decent American accent, and right before they got married.
Bonus Video 2: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider…because you probably forgot about this too, but it’s pretty entertaining, plus it’s before Daniel Craig could do an American accent.
Bonus Video 3: Cast interviews