Maleficent (2014)

You know the tale. Since 1959, Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” has told the story of how the evil Maleficent curses princess Aurora to prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall into a death-like sleep, only to be awoken by a true love’s kiss. “Maleficent” tells the story you were not told: the story behind the Mistress of Evil.

In “Maleficent”, we see the iconic character grow up from a young and naive girl with wings, to a vengeful, cold and evil witch – without wings. Maleficent grows up as a faerie in the Moors, the magical kingdom right next to the human one. There is no love lost between the magical creatures and the humans, until one day a boy shows up in the Moors. Young Maleficent falls in love with Stefan, but ultimately, he betrays her and takes her wings from her. She then transforms into the Maleficent you know, and secretly love, and even beyond that.

This updated version of the classic shows you how closely Maleficent and Aurora are intertwined. In the classic, Maleficent is just the evil with who can magically turn into a dragon at the end of the film and ultimately dies. But in “Maleficent”, she is Aurora’s guardian angel. Maleficent takes care of the girl and when the two finally meet in person, a friendship emerges. Aurora calls Maleficent her faerie godmother and after a while, Maleficent realizes she loves the girl she originally cursed.

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Angelina Jolie, who portrays the title-role in “Maleficent”, really captures Maleficent’s essence and transformed the classic cartoon character in a real person, with motives for her iconic evil actions. The Maleficent from the original cartoon film was just plain evil – like all bad guys in Disney films. But the reason behind Maleficent’s evilness was never explained and in this new version, it is. When Maleficent was younger, she fell in love with a boy named Stefan. But he had grand ambitions and betrayed Maleficent to become king: he took her wings from her.

Jolie splendidly portrays a young Maleficent, who transforms from a young, naive, but strong fairy into a heart-broken and betrayed young woman, without wings. She makes Maleficent real and relatable, something she never was in the cartoon. “I do think no one else could have played Maleficent,” Elle Fanning says of Jolie to Vogue UK.

Elle Fanning, what’s not to love about this young actress? She’s young, she’s fresh, she’s talented and she has a contagious laughter. Fanning is the perfect cast for princess Aurora.To IndieWire the actress says she grew up watching the classic “Sleeping Beauty”: “Yes, it’s my favorite one! I thought I related her to the most because I had the long blonde hair. Cinderella had the bangs. I was like, “Aurora is like me!” She was mine, haha.”

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The visuals are absolutely stunning. Director Robert Stromberg, who is also the production designer of visual effect-heavy films like Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” and James Cameron’s “Avatar”, does a fantastic job in creating the magical world of the Moors and the characters that originate from this world. For example, the three faeries that take care of Aurora until she turns sixteen, are beautifully computer animated from actresses Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple.

The costumes and make-up are perfect. Jolie does not look like an exact copy of the cartoon character of Maleficent: she is a new and better version. “The whole concept of how Maleficent would look came very much from Angelina (Jolie),” costume designer Anna Sheppard says to National Post. “She was very much into this character and there wasn’t strict guidance from the studio to create this character and costume and makeup.” Rumor has it that Jolie’s costume was too frightening for the young actresses who were supposed to play a five year old Aurora. Luckily, Jolie found the solution in her own trailer: her daughter Vivienne. The scene were mother and daughter play opposite each other, automatically brings a smile to your face. Maleficent’s opposite Aurora has also very opposite costumes. This emphasizes the differences between the two characters beautifully. “I wanted her very nymph-like, someone who is very innocent, simple and very fluid,” Sheppard says. “And also very different from anyone else in the movie.”

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Unfortunately, the story of “Maleficent” was not that original. Obviously, it was a good decision to write a new story on Maleficent’s background and her relationship to Aurora – but her history was too cliché. Of course Maleficent had a romantic history with Aurora’s father! Of course he broke her heart and thus drove her to taking revenge on his daughter with another woman! It just feels too cliché and too obvious that Maleficent turned evil because of a broken heart. Maleficent’s backstory would be much stronger if something else turned her dark.

However, there was also a very positive side of this new take on the story. You know how Aurora falls into a death-like sleep and is kissed awake by her true love prince Philip. But, in “Maleficent”, Aurora does not wake up after the prince kisses her, but after Maleficent’s kiss on her forehead.  To, Elle Fanning says: “It’s more of a maternal love and a friendship love that wins out, over a romantic love with a guy.  That was a nice take on it.”

I did not know this when I walked into the cinema, but apparently “Maleficent” is in 3D. The 3D, however, is absolutely unnecessary. I cannot think of one scene or feature in the film that would have required 3D-glasses – the visuals are already stunning without 3D and in my opinion, it has been a waste of budget. This money could have been better spent, on writing a better background story, perhaps.