Those cheekbones alone can knock a few kingdoms. But when have kings known better than not to take on terrifyingly beautiful things emerging out of mysterious forests, with powers exuding from the tips of their fingernails to the edges of their wings? Armies seldom stand a chance in such clashes, and certainly don’t if the woman at the other end is the devastating Jolie.
She sails over this elaborately mounted but confused mish-mash of a film and even sportingly elevates it a few times. However, there are just too many parallel tracks in Maleficent, too many ideas that the film doesn’t want to give up, for Jolie to be enough. The screenplay is by the talented Linda Woolverton (The Lion King, Alice in Wonderland) and the direction by Oscar-winning art director Stromberg (Oscar-winner for Avatar, Alice in Wonderland) — and in this case it appears to have resulted in the film being pulled in different directions by its auteurs.
Maleficent is Disney’s version of the evil fairy of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, who cursed the princess to death-like sleep. Maleficent made an appearance in the 1959 Disney version of the story. In Maleficent, she is a nice fairy who is duped and has her wings taken away by a farm boy she loves, Stefan, who does it to ingratiate himself with the king and to marry his daughter to take over the kingdom. Hurt by Stefan’s betrayal, Maleficent curses the girl, Aurora, born to him.
To keep the special effects quotient up, the film runs into its first mega fight pretty early, when Stefan’s late father-in-law decides to attack the Moors, for some unexplained reason, where magical creatures like Maleficent dwell. Maleficent does short work of it, her massive, flapping wings alone accounting for scores of puny soldiers. Far from humbled, the king goes back, offers his daughter’s hand to anyone who vanquishes Maleficent, and thus sets Stefan up for his betrayal.
The scene where Maleficent wakes up to realise her wings gone is powerfully painful. As Jolie stumbles up, mourns and staggers, she is no more than a woman assaulted when at her most vulnerable. She gets her own back when she visits the palace to curse Aurora, and makes Stefan beg her twice, turning her full gaze upon him and whispering, “I like that.”
Like several of Jolie’s other recent films, Maleficent too has fun with her image of a mother to orphaned children. The main theme of the film — which it does no justice to — is Maleficent’s growing affection for Aurora, who she keeps an eye over as she is sent away by Stefan to the woods to be raised by pixies. Parallel to this run Stefan’s mad obsession with her, their fights, the forest of thorns Maleficent builds, the irritating pixies who are raising Aurora (one of them being a completely wasted Staunton), the saccharingly sweet sequences of Aurora frolicking in the forests, and the dour narration.
For some reason, Maleficent also insists on banishing its main attraction to the shadows, having Jolie peeping through bushes and trees in Aurora’s wake. When you have a winner, flaunt it. Maleficent’s problem is that it doesn’t realise it has one.