Monday, 22 September, 2014

Published May 30, 2014
An old fairy tale told anew with a difference
Maleficent is a modern-day movie enchantment with much to admire, says GEOFFREY EU
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Angelina Jolie.

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The arresting performance of Angelina Jolie in 'Maleficent' makes it possible to sympathise with the villain.

SHEATHED in black, sporting an impressive set of horns and shrouded in the greenish smoke that announces her presence, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) sure knows how to make an entrance. She's one of the classic villains in Disney's pantheon of cruel (not to mention Cruella) women, evil step-moms and scary sorceresses who sow seeds of destruction before coming to grief in the final reel.

At least that's how it goes in Sleeping Beauty, the 1959 animated film based on a French fairy tale and a Brothers Grimm story, featuring a memorable Disney version of the wicked fairy godmother.

Now comes Maleficent, a live-action revisionist retelling of the original tale - one that casts the title character in a slightly different light.

Sure, the swirling green smoke, shady activity and bad intent are still there - along with a trio of chatterbox pixies, a shape-shifting raven and a pair of clipped wings - but this old tale, told anew, attempts to set the record straight by striking a blow for misinterpreted fairies everywhere. This time around, it's the humans who come out looking bad.

As the title suggests, Maleficent, directed by Robert Stromberg from a screenplay by Linda Woolverton, is told from the godmother's perspective. It's a smart move - especially with Jolie in the title role. With a collection of interesting career choices on her resume, Jolie seems to relish playing femmes fatales and misunderstood types, and they don't get any more fatale or misunderstood than Maleficent.

With a name like that, it's no wonder she had a bad rep from the start. However, the new film reveals that she actually started off as a good-natured fairy, with powerful abilities and friends throughout the magical forest realm she lives in. It all turns sour with the arrival of Stefan (Sharlto Copley), a peasant with higher ambitions than merely falling in love.

Stefan has eyes only for the crown in the neighbouring kingdom, betraying Maleficent's trust in return for a seat on the throne. Hell hath no fury, as the saying goes, and she gets revenge by putting a curse on Stefan's newborn daughter Aurora - the one where the girl pricks her finger on a spinning wheel needle just before she turns 16 and falls into a permanent sleep, to be awakened only by "true love's kiss".

Aurora (Elle Fanning) is spirited away to be raised in the woods by pixies (Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville), while Maleficent - with help from Diaval (Sam Riley), her right-hand (bird)man - keeps tabs during her growing-up years.

There's also a prince (Brenton Thwaites) in the picture of course, but the film centres on the relationship between Aurora and Maleficent.

As they grow closer to each other, it dawns on Maleficent that she has made a terrible mistake. But a curse is still a curse and well, stuff happens. Suffice to say there is a twist in the tale - and we're not just talking fire-breathing dragons here.

Maleficent is a modern-day movie enchantment with much to admire, not the least of which are its rich visuals and Jolie's arresting performance. She makes it possible to sympathise with the villain - and ultimately to root for her as well.

The purists may be aghast at a story that is not quite how they remember it but times (and movie budgets) have changed so for once - let's hear it for the bad guys.

Rating: C+