Maleficent might be described as Disney’s very contemporary prequel to the studio’s famous animated version of Sleeping Beauty (1959), only with an unexpected but touching twist when Aurora (Elle Fanning) is aroused from her slumber.
As per general practice, the story is set in a non-specific medieval period, with a pointy-turreted castle, helmeted soldiers with spears and a Scots-accented court.
They live on the human side of the water, whereas the neighbouring moorland is occupied by fairies and dragons and other fantastical creatures. Their queen is Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) and, according to this take on events, she put the evil spell on the beautiful young princess (that she’d prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall into a death-like sleep) out of spite and jealousy because she had been betrayed by Aurora’s father, Stefan.
It’s a dark, unflattering depiction of what underpins people’s behaviour – but fairytales are more often than not like that (grim by name and nature). Maleficent, after she’d had her wings stolen by Stefan, used her transformative powers to turn a crow into the human Diaval (Sam Riley), whom she then employed as the partner of her labours (with an Irish accent – are the two Celtic tongues subliminally differentiated as mean and warm?).
Engaging if not wholly absorbing, it moves on a logical progression with clearly identified cause and effects etc, and the CGI is typically wondrous (it would be so especially for kids), if not especially memorable (smoke-and-mirrors is so taken for granted these days).
Jolie is not quite scary enough, despite her fearfully chiseled cheek-bones and cold glassy eyes, but she will provide a challenge for the younger audience, for she is both villain and heroine, a wronged woman whose natural desire for vengeance unfortunately falls on an innocent victim.
The handsome prince is a gormless non-event, the mother of Aurora, Stefan’s bride, is written out of the script entirely and, as one of the fairies tasked with looking after Aurora, Imelda Staunton displays her unfailing genius to annoy.
~ John Campbell