Forget what you think you know about the story of “Sleeping Beauty” and, while you’re at it, forget the fact that Disney doesn’t know how to make a darker story.
When Oscar winner Angelina Jolie signed on to play the iconic Disney villain, I don’t think anyone knew what to expect. However, as with everything else Jolie touches these days, she has brought a thrilling new darkness to the world of Disney, and, for the first time, I can say I am impressed at what the “happily ever after” studio has released.
Oscar-winning art director turned feature director Robert Stromberg (“Avatar,” “Alice in Wonderland”) steers this away from the forgettable “OZ the Great & Powerful” type, where you are either good or bad; the lines are very blurred here.
The most powerful and beautiful fairy of her land, Maleficent (Jolie) was betrayed by Stefan (Sharlto Copley), son of the king and the man she loved.
The once beautiful fairy of the enchanted forest turned dark and full of hate, cursing Stefan’s daughter Aurora (Elle Fanning) to an endless sleep on her 16th birthday. Disgusted at what she has become, Maleficent watches Aurora as she is sent away to grow up in the forest with three magical fairies to protect her from Maleficent. Her heart begins to change as she watches the young girl grow up, and Aurora comes to know her as godmother.
As if the subject matter wasn’t enough, the opening iconic Disney logo is changed from the Magic Kingdom to the dark castle in this story. The prologue to Maleficent’s story is a complicated one, and it isn’t until we see our heroic villain mature that Jolie steps in to assume the role.
The visual effects department wows and dazzles us with exotic creatures from all walks of life. Of course, the fluff on screen is never enough in these films, so the script makes us care about a character that, up until this point, has been a one-sided villain. Jolie’s past roles, including “Girl Interrupted,” certainly reflect the type of part she is playing here, just on a much grander scale.
While the overall tone might not be what the normal Disney Family expected, I think the theme of the film, which is that no one is entirely good or evil, is one I would like to see in other fairy tale adaptations.
Sure, the special effects get in the way of the story; they always do, and too much of the film relies on them instead of Jolie’s ability as an actress. Still, Jolie makes this spectacle what it is with the lavish costumes by Anna B. Shepard and a sweeping score from John Newton Howard.
It’s a far cry better than most of the muck that Disney throws at us, but the full credit here goes to Jolie, as if it was a fairy tale told through her endlessly intricate and twisted mind.
Final thought — Disney takes a chance with a darker theme and actress and comes up with something refreshingly different.