Disney’s latest live-action take on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale sees much more made of the villain they themselves created for their 1959 animated version, the eponymous Maleficent (the definition of whose name is the very embodiment of evil), played in a truly wonderful performance here by Angelina Jolie. It’s possible to take the various myriad renditions of the tale in all sorts of directions – I was always told the version where Prince Charming kisses the princess and nothing happens, then a few weeks later she wakes up pregnant (dragon fairy tales do not paint a favourable picture of mankind – although see the 2011 Australian ‘Sleeping Beauty’ for more on this particular theme), oddly Disney decided not to run with that one, and instead we open with a charming back story for Maleficent, the soon to be powerful fairy ruler of the enchanted moorland realm which borders the human kingdom, and the two often being at odds with one another doesn’t deter the protagonist from falling in love with a young, Scottish I might add, boy who has wandered into fairy land intent on nicking something, the little urchin – suffice to say, things do not work out as hoped.
Time passes and we are introduced to Aurora (aka, Sleeping Beauty) and what unfolds is actually quite a touching and emotive drama about love, betrayal, hatred, rage, faeries, and yes, even dragons, all the good stuff really, and bar a couple of iffy moments near the beginning it manages to be entertaining throughout. It’s directed by special effects wizard Robert Stromberg (who won the Oscar for art direction twice, for 2009’s ‘Avatar’ and 2010’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’) in his directorial debut and he has done a great job overall, with the attention and dedication given to the effects and the art, make-up, and costume departments really paying dividends – in fact it looks pretty wonderful from start to finish.
I viewed this in 2D but you can tell from the way some scenes have been layered that a lot of thought has been given to the 3D production, so it could be that this is one of those rare films that are worth actually watching in 3D. All the performances are good – Sharlto Copley plays the grown version of Maleficent’s teenage beau, sporting a pretty decent Scottish accent, Elle Fanning plays Aurora with the perfect amount of youthful zest for life, Sam Riley is a henchman, and a raven, also with a convincing accent (Irish this time), with even the leading lady’s own daughter Vivienne playing one of the very young versions of Aurora, but this is ultimately Jolie’s show, and her full commitment to the role really shines through, winningly delivering the emotional resonance needed for it to work. A pretty great film, and a perfect one for families to go and watch together.