There was high expectations for Angelina Jolie’s pet project – but sadly this take on Sleeping Beauty turns out to be ho-hum fare.
It’s obvious that director Robert Stromberg has a visionary background (after winning Oscars for both Alice in Wonderland and Avatar for Art Direction) – as backdrops in Maleficent prove to be luscious eye-candy – but he makes rookie mistakes as this fantasy adventure has an uncertain tone.
It’s a touch too dark for the young ‘uns – with a few scenes of menace – and never really joyful enough for older kids, as Disney uncharacteristically provides a film that never really gets out of third gear.
It’s great to see one of fairy tale’s most iconic female villains get to weave her story – and for the most part Jolie nails it as the famous double-horned title character – but the overall script doesn’t truly engage like it should.
Maleficent was once a joyful young fairy with an idyllic life in the forest kingdom until an invading army from neighbouring lands – after learning of her power – threatens the harmony of the region.
And when a boy she befriended literally clips Maleficent’s wings – so he could claim the throne (District 9’s Sharlto Copley) – she turns bitter and twisted, and casts an unbreakable curse on the king’s newborn daughter Aurora – who after her sixteenth birthday will fall into a permanent deep sleep.
But as princess Aurora gets whisked to safety out of the gaze of civilisation by three hapless fairies – led by Imelda Staunton’s Knotgrass – in an attempt to keep her from harm, Maleficent proves she isn’t quite as stone-hearted, by keeping tabs from afar after locating her hideout.
And when a now-adult Aurora (Super 8’s Elle Fanning) befriends Maleficent – who she believes to be her ‘fairy godmother’ after watching over for all these years – the mellowing evil fairy takes a shine to the princess, and after an attack of conscience tries to do everything in her power to reverse her cruel spell.
But while there’s visually much to like, there’s never really any meat in Maleficent’s sandwich – complete with seen-it-all-before special effects set-pieces – to make it breakout from barely watchable mediocrity.
Copley is miscast as the king, a sorely underused Fanning pretty much smiles gleefully with minimal dialogue – and it’s down to Jolie’s sidekick Diaval (a raven who can switch into human form played by Brit actor Sam Riley) to provide much-needed comic relief.
Ultimately, despite Jolie’s best efforts, what should have been a magnificent win – turns into a magnanimous defeat.
Review by Gavin Miller