If ever there was a vision of Disney perfection made flesh, Angelina Jolie’s cartoonishly beautiful face is it. But with the added CGI augmentation of production designer-turned-director Robert Stromberg’s ( Avatar , Alice In Wonderland ) stunning visuals, gothically gorgeous costumes and a twinkle in the eye that is half-acting prowess, half-reptilian contact lens, she is truly magnificent to behold.
Yep, Maleficent may be a revisionist raiding of Disney's 1959 larder, giving Sleeping Beauty ’s witch both a backstory and motivation for her baby-cursing spell-peddling. But like last year’s Oz: The Great & Powerful , it requires a heartfelt and multi-faceted protagonist (Mila Kunis' Theodora, not James Franco's Oz) to draw more than nippers in – and keep them enchanted.
Jolie manages that effortlessly, oozing screen presence the way her character emits magical green vapours. She also pours genuine emotion into this tale of a fairy driven to vengeance against a king and his family by an act of treachery and barbarity. Her howls of anguish in a key mutilation scene chill the spine; in an SFX-heavy, Avatar -ish world, she’s able to convey Maleficent’s ambivalent feelings loud and clear.
Her tart, playful Brit-accented delivery of bad-gal lines is a treat (in a film of inexplicable Scottish and Irish inflections), while her chemistry with Elle Fanning (who doesn’t muster much more than flat gurning) elevates viewers' investment in the latter’s Princess Aurora - the royal Maleficent curses to be pricked by a spindle on her 16th birthday and fall into a death-like sleep until awakened by true love's kiss.
But this is not just Jolie porn. Screenwriter Linda Woolverton gives both cast and audience something satisfying to chew on in re-vamping a traditionally misogynist fairytale that perpetuates fear of female puberty, sexual awakening and jealousy.
Clever twists to the tale means Maleficent almost passes the Bechdel Test while ticking off key tropes, making it (despite some pretty intense sorcery and battle scenes that could terrify tender tots) a surprisingly kick-ass adventure for all.
Magical but modern, family-friendly but feisty and a feast for the eyes. Maleficent doesn't entirely reinvent the (spindle) wheel, but certainly provoke thought with its (ahem) prick teasing.