Every once in a while, a role comes along that’s so perfectly embodied by an actor that you can’t imagine anyone else playing that character. Such is the case with Angelina Jolie in the titular role of Disney’s Maleficent, which provides back story for the villainess from the animated classic Sleeping Beauty. The casting is a bit obvious because we know Jolie can play dark and edgy characters, but what’s surprising is that she’s also funny in this movie.
The retelling of the well-known fairy tale also contains a few other surprising updates (which I’ll be vague about to avoid spoiling). We start with Maleficent as a young fairy with big powerful wings who guards the moors, a place that’s home to all kinds of magical creatures. Her heart is bright and she falls in love with an orphan boy who declares someday he’ll live in the castle in the land adjacent to the moors.
Fast forward to Jolie as the adult Maleficent, who leads her people into battle against the king of the neighboring land who’s looking to expand his kingdom. The outcome of the battle leads to Maleficent being horribly betrayed by the boy she thought was her true love. Enter the angry, vengeful fairy.
The story then treads familiar territory with the cursing of the infant princess Aurora, who shall prick her finger on a spindle on her sixteenth birthday and fall into a death-like sleep and can only be awoken by true love’s kiss. Maleficent is being snarky there because she no longer believes true love exists.
But while the story still contains the classic elements—the fire-breathing dragon, a young prince, the three pixies who raise Aurora in the woods—it also takes off in new directions. It redefines true love and showcases female empowerment. This is the second Disney movie in a row I’ve seen (after Frozen) where the women are in control and don’t need saving by some guy. In light of the misogyny in recent news, this is a welcome thing.
The main reason to see Maleficent, though, is Jolie. She commands the screen whether she’s being big and powerful, vulnerable, or funny. An actor with less screen presence might’ve been swallowed up by the dramatic costumes and horns and awesome wings, but Jolie wears them, not the other way around.
The movie veers into kiddie land with technicolor magical creatures flitting about while the teenage Aurora (Elle Fanning) looks on in wonder, and some plot points are underdeveloped, but Jolie will keep the adults entertained.
Nerd verdict: Jolie is a magnificent Maleficent
Photos: Walt Disney Pictures