I was never a big fan of fairy tales as a child, but it seems the older I get, the more I’m drawn to them (figure that one out). It’s interesting to see that Hollywood has gone back to these classic tales to revisit and revive – Tangled (Rapunzel), Frozen (The Snow Queen), Hansel and Gretel, Snow White and the Huntsman and Once Upon a Time. Maleficent is the latest release with a fairy tale twist, starring Angelina Jolie as the horned anti-heroine, made famous in Sleeping Beauty.
Maleficent is a fairy living in a magical land called the Moors*. She is the biggest and strongest of the fairies; human sized and blessed with large, feathered wings that measure the length of her body. As a child, Maleficent meets a peasant boy named Stefan, with whom she shares stories about her land and builds a close connection too. This connection will prove fateful, leading to a cruel betrayal and Maleficent’s turn from tough but benevolent creature, to full-out, hard-hearted villain. She casts her now famous curse on Stefan’s infant daughter Aurora and the 16 years tick away as the unleashing of the curse draws nearer.
I really enjoyed Maleficent. I hadn’t read great reviews and was braced for disappointment, but was really pleasantly surprised. The look of the film was closely matched to Disney’s cartoon version of Sleeping Beauty of 1959, but with a more folk-like fairy tale tone adopted. Maleficent, both as a child and pre-dramatic-black-cloak-crow-stroking transformation was fearsome and beautiful – her feathered wings earthy and angelic, making her seem both mighty warrior and ethereal spirit. The design here was clever, as it showed how easily her motives could be misconstrued. Many of the creatures of the Moors were alternately cute or creepy depending on your perspective and it was easy to see why the humans were afraid. The film was visually lush and vibrant, full of colour and drama.
Angelina Jolie seemed to be having just the best time as Maleficent. Glamorously dressed in an outfit Morticia Adams would be proud of, with bright red lips and sweeping cloak, Jolie uttered barbed, slow one-liners, allowing Maleficent to fully (as the narrator told us) ‘relish in the sorrow’. Her fascination with the growing Aurora (luminously played by Elle Fanning) was beautifully managed, with Jolie capturing the complexity of her attitude towards the young princess and the choices that had led her to this point. The film closes with the lines, ‘not a hero or villain, but one who was both’ (or lines to that effect) and I think this summarises my favourite thing about the film. Maleficent was given a decent, reasonably fleshed out back story (in many ways it felt similar to the novel Wicked) and was allowed to be complex: she was bad and good, kind and cruel, fierce and gentle. It was nice to see a character in a big blockbuster film given the room to develop and feel human.
Maleficent won’t be for everyone, but I thought it was beautiful to look at, uplifting and a very pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
*Every time they said this, I just thought of the Moors shopping arcade in Sheffield. Just me? Oh, ok.