I’m always a sucker for a good story, and you have to admit that – at their hearts – some of the fairy tales are corkers. Sleeping Beauty is a case in point. Tension, narrative drive, good vs evil and – thanks to writers Jack Lawrence and Sammy Fain – a gloriously memorable Disney song in “Once upon a dream”.
The new Disney reimagining of the fable – Maleficent – takes some liberties with the story in serving up a star vehicle for Angelina Jolie, who was also an executive producer on the picture. In the story, we see the young and carefree Maleficent, strongest of the fairies in the magical land of “The Moors”, corrupted by the greed and avarice of man who inhabit the neighbouring kingdom. Betrayed and mutilated by Stefan – the man who would be king – a vengeful Maleficent places the famous curse upon Stefan’s daughter who is grows up in the care of the bickering red, blue and green fairies as featured in the animated version, here played by Imelda Staunton, Leslie Manville and Juno Temple.
Maleficent is aided and abetted in her evil plans by henchman come crow come wolf Diaval, played by Sam Riley (so good in “Brighton Rock”, but here looking all the world like UK jazz star Jamie Cullum).
Angelina Jolie’s beauty is evident, but it is a strange and angular beauty and just perfect for this role. In fact it is difficult to imagine any other actress that could play this. You might imagine the role to be fairly two-dimensional, but the twist given to the story allows some significant range for Jolie to explore, and she does it very well.
The evil and deranged Stefan is played by Sharlto Copley – continuing his bad-guy roles following “District 9″ and “Elysium”.
Elle Fanning, younger sister of Dakota and so effective in Super 8, plays the teenage Aurora, in a suitably smiley, sweet and totally asexual Disney manner. Perhaps its just me, but at times I think she has a striking resemblance to a young Drew Barrymore. A particular star of the show is the baby that plays the young Aurora: if this kid grows up to be a film star this footage will feature strongly in “Before they were famous”. Also worthy of note is the five year old Aurora played by Jolie’s real life daughter Vivienne. The scenes are quite special, in the manner of a “what the hell are you doing wearing those big horns on your head Mummy?”.
I was first attracted to this film in part due to the gorgeously spooky rendition of “One upon a Dream” played over the trailer. And we hear it in full over the end titles. I’m embarrassed that it took me until the titles to realise it was Lana Del Rey – of course it is!! The rest of the score, by James Newton Howard, is suitably orchestral and supports the drama well.
The special effects are excellent, from the imagining of the mystical land of the Moors to the effective fire-breathing dragon in chains, so feared by generations of kids under the Disneyland Paris castle.
This is fundamentally a kids film. But it is a good kids film, and if you took a sensitive five or six year old to see this they might be infected with the wonder and love of cinema that followed my inoculation by Mary Poppins at a similar age. And whilst there is mild peril to alarm kids, there are none of the emotional plot jolts that infect some similar films like Bridge to Terabithia (which this has some similarities with): it certainly has a much lower traumatisation quotient compared to that shocker!
Where the film lacks something is in the crossover to a potential adult audience. Cute baby aside, there are not a lot of laughs in this which is an opportunity missed. There is a lot of very plodding dialogue all on a very one-dimensional plane and I feel that having a sparky writer of the likes of a Jane Goldman, to add a layer of adult humour ‘above the heads’ of the junior audience, would have spiced the recipe up significantly.
Fad Rating: FFFf.