"Royalty. Nobility. Gentry... How quaint."
Maleficent (Angelina Jolie)
From the start I must be honest; the choice of the evening's cinematic entertainment was given to the other half. As she was at great pains to tell me, Disney's original take on Charles Perrault's classic fairy tale was her favorite of Walt's back catalogue and so she absolutely HAD to see Maleficent. Being the skeptical Alpha Male that I am (ahem!) I had my reservations, but it was her turn to choose and so I bit my tongue and joined her. What I didn't mention was that Clyde Geronimi's 1959 animation was a particular highlight in the House of Mouse's canon, in my humble opinion. The main draw for the film was the fabulous villain at the Centre - a dark and sinister creation that frightened my very young self and gave me a serious distrust of green women (don't get me started on the Wicked Witch of the West). The central idea to this new take on the fable is certainly intriguing - did we misjudge the vengeful sorceress who cursed young Aurora to prick her finger on a spindle? What we are presented with is a well designed family adventure, but the early promise of this conceit is never fully explored - leaving us with a tonally unbalanced and strangely uninvolving movie.
That is not to say that the cast are at fault... Far from it. Angelina Jolie works her charismatic magic as the titular witch, bringing more pathos and emotion on the screen than the script can provide for her. Elle Fanning is innocence personified as Aurora and the three good fairies, portrayed by Lesley Manville, Juno Temple and Imelda Staunton, make for a sporadically entertaining fantasy-style Three Stooges. And the production design is faultless - although given that first-time helmsman Robert Stromberg was an established Art Director, this should not be a surprise. No, the main problems with the film are with the basic fundamentals: the script, the script and the script. Linda Woolverton's characterization is all over the place, struggling to determine whether Maleficent is bad, good, misguided, embittered... Sharlto Copley's King Stefan is introduced as a potential love interest in a potential twisted take on the love story, but the great opportunities to do something great are missed time and again - leaving Copley to try (in vain) to create any sort of character. The heroic Prince Phillip is presented as an insipid drip (poor little Brenton Thwaites) and spare a thought for Sam Riley - left in a redundant henchman role that does him little favor. The result is an inoffensive family fantasy film that struggles to linger in the mind when the viewer leaves the auditorium. Such a pity as the beautiful, haunting strains of Lana Del Ray's take on "Once Upon A Dream" in the promotional trailers promised us so much more...
Beautiful to look at but tonally erratic, Maleficent is a passable family entertainment. Sticking with the original Disney take on Sleeping Beauty is the preferable option if you have the choice, but in fairness to the film makers there are much worse movies out there.
"What is filmmaking but groping in the dark?" - Alexander Payne