Directed by Robert Stromberg
Starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley
Maleficent does to Sleeping Beauty what Wicked did to The Wizard of Oz and that’s offer a deeper view of what actually happened. Traditional versions of stories we’re told are turned upside down with the revelation that the “wicked” witch and fairy weren’t wicked at all, at least until they were pushed by a rigid, male dominant culture. Both “wicked” women regret the evil deeds they did in moments of abject misery and work to restore things to their natural order. Both are kick-ass warriors, forced to fight for their lives when sexist entities determine they should no longer live.
These “wicked” women have relationships with women that are sound and real and based on love, Maleficent for her goddaughter Princess Aurora and Elphaba, The Wicked Witch of the West for her sister the Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. Their other sister The Wicked Witch of the West dies when Dorothy’s house falls on her and the townsfolk celebrate which after you’ve seen Wicked is beyond cruel. The wicked sisterhood is doomed to be misunderstood and feared and become pariahs, victims of hate and violence.
That’s how Maleficent plays out. Angelina Jolie’s tensely restrained performance adds to her character’s mysterious part in Sleeping Beauty. Jolie steps in when Maleficent is grown, still reeling from the betrayal by her childhood sweetheart Stefan. As children they loved each other but his ambition gets the better of him as an adult (Copley). That’s why, at the King’s bidding, he drugs and cuts off her wings, her power source, to prove he has the mettle to be chosen the next King. And indeed, he is.
Maleficent and King Stefan rule two worlds separated by the thorn walls she erected to keep his armies out. Her side is the Moors, where nature and humans co-exist, where fairies live and life is good. His side is a world of war and greed. Caught between them is Princess Aurora (Fanning) Stefan’s daughter. She’s a sweet, happy child, but unwittingly living under Maleficent’s curse to fall into a deep sleep at age 16. Having cast this unchangeable curse, Maleficent’s purpose turns to loving and protecting her. Aurora does indeed fall into a coma and only true love’s kiss will awaken her. But does true love exist?
This is a radical retelling of the old fairy tale. Traditionalists will be shocked by this version but there is all new humanity in it. And the new generation of children seeing the Sleeping Beauty story here, will learn about the many aspects of what it is to live in this world that the popular fairy tale didn’t explore.
Jolie and Fanning work beautifully together and have real chemistry. Jolie’s warrior queen and Fanning’s innocent true heart raise the tone of the film and give it a certain grace. Copley from District 9 makes a solid villain, and the fairies, played by Imelda Stanton, Juno Temple and Leslie Manville are as exasperating and niggling as ever. This ain’t your mother’s Sleeping Beauty, it is something altogether different and has the courage to tell all.