Maleficent (PG)

For a reminder of how wonderful Frozen is, watch Maleficent.

This summer blockbuster season, Disney have turned out a re-imagining of their own animated version of Sleeping Beauty, from 1959.

Maleficent is aimed at the princess-loving pre-teen market that prefers its fairies a little more gothic. Like the stage musical Wicked, it’s a revisionist tale of a mythical villainess who turns out simply to be mistreated and misunderstood. Like Jessica Rabbit, Maleficent is not bad, just drawn that way.

Fuelled by hatred a powerful fairy named Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) crashes a royal christening and puts a terrible spell on King Stefan’s (Sharlto Copley) infant daughter, Princess Aurora, dooming her to fall into an everlasting sleep when she pricks her finger on a spinning wheel.

But how did that witch get to be so wicked? This new story explains that maybe if she hadn’t had her heart broken by a certain royal someone back in the day, she wouldn’t be so mean.

Maleficent watches over Aurora (Elle Fanning) and as the years pass the unbelievable happens; she grows fond of the princess and begins to regret her decision.

Can the powerful fairy put a stop to the curse before it is too late?

Designer and FX man turned director Robert Stromberg cranks up the kitsch to toxic levels, with shades of Oz the Great and Powerful and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Not surprising considering that Stromberg worked on both titles.

This re-imagining works because as it returns to the well-thumbed fairy tale it muddles the distinction between good and evil.

Jolie, equipped with a range of variable English accents, is imposing with her buffalo horns, black leather and super-chiselled prosthetic cheekbones – all the better for shooting contemptuous looks at Elle Fanning’s rosily insipid ingénue it seems. She has an old world glamour and screen presence that leaves many of the rest of the characters looking one dimensional.

For example the three “good fairies” fairies that watch over Aurora – Knotgrass, Flittle and Thistlewit played by Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple, fade into the background of the movie. You just want to swat them away like flies. Stromberg can use all the fairy dust (CGI) he wants, but it takes more than magic to create an impressive cast.

Despite its pitfalls, Maleficent entertains because of Jolie, who holds the wavering threads of Stromberg’s spinning wheel together with ease.

By Ruth Walker
★★★☆☆

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