'Maleficent' review: Disney's latest an instant classic

Rating

4 Stars4/5

Liz Braun, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:55 PM ET

There's art imitating life, and then there's Maleficent, the story of a powerful being thwarted by male ambition and betrayal and restored to the light by maternal love.

It's like an Angelina Jolie home movie: wicked celebrity home-wrecker becomes U.N. Ambassador and mom to six — and is transformed into an international icon of hope and charity. With wings.

We may be reading too much into this.

Scary, campy and eventually quite moving, Maleficent is a frankly thrilling feminist fairy tale and completely engaging throughout. Thanks to visual effects wizard Robert Stromberg (production designer on Avatar and Alice In Wonderland) sitting in the director's chair for the first time, the film is also dazzling to look at.

We first meet the adolescent Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy) in the fairy kingdom she calls home. Her magical land adjoins a human kingdom, but there's no mingling; the fairies and the humans are not friends, most likely because the humans are war-mongers.

When a young man named Stefan turns up in the land of the fairies, he's regarded as an interloper, but Maleficent takes it upon herself to befriend him. She and Stefan eventually fall in love; as adults, Stefan (Sharlto Copley) betrays Maleficent (Jolie) to get ahead in the court of King Henry. Her immense power is perceived as a threat to the humans who would conquer fairy territory, so Stefan steals the symbol of Maleficent's power to get what he wants — the crown.

Upon the death of the old king, Stefan is ruler of all.

And so it is that Maleficent visits the human kingdom upon the birth of Stefan's first child, a daughter named Aurora. Bitter and broken, Maleficent sees that Stefan's power and even his domestic happiness are the end result of his treachery toward her, and she seeks vengeance with the Sleeping Beauty curse upon his daughter. Little Aurora will prick her finger on a spindle on her 16th birthday and fall into a death-like sleep! Only true love's kiss can waken her.

Time passes. Accompanied by her trusty sidekick, the shape-shifting raven Diaval (Sam Riley), Maleficent secretly observes Aurora as she grows up in that legendary cottage in the woods.

(To protect her from Maleficent's curse, Aurora is raised far from home by the good fairies, as in the 1959 animated Sleeping Beauty; here, those pixies are played by Imelda Staunton (Knotgrass), Lesley Manville (Flittle) and Juno Temple (Thistletwit), so the princess is in very good company.)

Aurora (Elle Fanning) grows into a young adult and is the picture of goodness and light. Upon encountering the terrifying Maleficent, Aurora assumes the dark spirit is her fairy godmother.

Against her own better judgment, Maleficent finds herself truly caring for this child Aurora and regretting the terrible curse she has visited upon her.

For this viewer, the big surprise about Maleficent is the target audience. Though dark and scary, the movie is definitely something children will enjoy; there are snapping wolves and terrible dragons and scenes of violence, but if your child is old enough to sit through the murder of Mufasa in Lion King or the terrible deaths of the villains in Tarzan and The Little Mermaid, he or she will be just fine at Maleficent.

Cast notwithstanding, this is family fare. And no doubt an instant classic.

In the end, Maleficent is a tale of unconditional maternal love.

Who wouldn't want to see that?

Twitter: @LizBraunSun

liz.braun@sunmedia.ca

 


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