Movie Review: 'Maleficent' (2014)

A visual stunner, Disney’s “Maleficent” offers a swirl of vivid cinematography, dazzling performances and winsome storytelling. Centering on the backstory of Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), the iconic villainess of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale, this re-imagining not only breaks new ground, it breathes new life into the original.

Robert Evans once said, “There are three sides to every story - yours, mine and the truth.” This nifty quote could be viewed as the basis for this particular outing. Therein lies in “Maleficent”, the subtle message to scrutinize, and wisely examine the stories we have been told, for they might not always hold the truths we once thought.

Told through the eyes of the once valiant fairy, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) suffers a cruel betrayal at the hands of the one person she loved the most. Following that experience, she manifests an inner darkness that twists her once pure soul into one besieged by bitterness. From there, the fruit of a poison tree makes its way to the innocent Aurora (Dakota Fanning) and complications arise. 

The details of the story are better left to unfold within the confines of the story. The moral at the heart of "Maleficent" beats mightily throughout. The power of love and its anecdote to wickedness is stirringly rendered. It also contains an allegory for adults that is simple to surmise, which multiplies its appeal beyond a specific age group. 

Visual effects wizard, Robert Stromberg, makes a captivating directorial debut, striking a strong marriage between the CGI-laden beauty of its atmosphere, and the tangible substance of its principles.

There are some minor plot holes that one has to contend with, though. One being the ill-explained necessity for Aurora’s premature exile. Another issue being the confusing decision to allow an unqualified trio of fairies that are vested with her upbringing. The gags centered on the bickering of the fairy trifecta runs a tad longer than it should, albeit the bits are well-intentioned. 

Maleficent Elle Fanning Aurora Sleeping Beauty
[Image by Walt Disney Studios]
There is also a teased romantic avenue, which would have been worth exploring, adding a sharper indictment against fairytale’s penchant for shallowly constructed love connections. Sadly, "Maleficent" never broabroa it.

Another issue is the scorned woman aspect of the story, which runs one-sided in tone. It accordingly leaves viewers with little in the way of any positive male representation or counter viewpoints.

Be warned that with the immersive graphics of "Maleficent" comes the risk of motion-related illness. The 3-D IMAX experience is visually spectacular as a feast for the eyes, risks aside.

Angelina Jolie’s performance is a spellbinder as she tackles the humor, sorrow and subtle character development of Maleficent with adept charm. It is a tricky role that requires her to prevail through a physically distorting costume and heavy CGI.

Despite the obstacles, she manages to blend in with the abstract world around her and bring the heart of Maleficent into appealing focus. As the title character, the film rests upon her shoulders and Angelina Jolie rises to the occasion.

Sharlto Copley delivers another transformative performance as Stefan, who conveys the character's evolution from shy innocence to cutthroat menace with aplomb. One of the more underappreciated actors in the industry, he has crafted tremendous turns in “District 9” and “Elysium” and his performance in “Maleficent” is no exception.

Rounding things out is Elle Fanning's turn as Aurora. She generates a genuine sweetness that believably lays the groundwork for the soul of the story. Meanwhile, Sam Riley carves out a memorable performance as a magical bird/man.

“Maleficent” balances being a funny and dramatic, adventure fantasy that features a character study as its cornerstone. The casting is all truly inspired from the opening act with the child actors to their adult incarnations and the transition flows cohesively.

There is something for adults and children alike here, and neither are left alienated from enjoying it. The zealous nostalgia for older audiences especially flows forth, increasing the enchanting experience. Simply put “Maleficent” is pretty magnificent.

Rating: 7.5/10

[Featured Image by Walt Disney Studios]