The Heart Of The Matter
Stars: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley, Brenton Thwailes, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville with Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, Toby Regbo, Michael Higgins and Isoelle Molloy as younger characters
Narrator: Janet McTeer
Director: Robert Stromberg
Scriptwriter: Linda Woolverton
Composer: James Newton Howard
Cinematography: Dean Semler
Running Length: 100 minutes
There are many versions of “Sleeping Beauty” in literature, but the one I remember, and the one this movie seems close to is the Grimm Brothers “Briar Rose.” There is a distant connection between Aurora, the soon-to-be Sleeping Princess, and the wicked fairy queen on the moor. Love lost, betrayal, warfare, loneliness---all are seen in this script that shows us that love can fester and come back in a different form. Angelina Jolie does a fine job as Maleficent, the fairy queen who has black horns and black wings. Her facial expressions tell her story with little words from her, while bouncing off her like a butterfly is the youthful Princess Aurora, played in adulthood by Elle Fanning, complete with blonde curly hair and the opposite of Maleficent. We also see this in a scene where Maleficent meets the young child, Aurora, in the forest, where Aurora is played by Jolie’s real daughter, Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, who, when she turns to the camera, is the image of Brad Pitt. The cause of the hardships inflicted on both kingdoms, Man and Fairy, is King Stefan (Sharlto Copley) who looks like he stepped out of a “Lord Of The Rings” movie complete with scowl and armor. Everyone needs a sidekick and Maleficent has one in the shape-shifter, Diaval (Sam Riley), as appropriate foil for the Queen and her moods. Lest I forget, there are three happy, bumbling fairies who care for the young Aurora and Imelda Staunton, Leslie Mann and Juno Temple steal their scenes all the time. One waits for their own movie to come along.
As this story goes, Maleficent is happy as the fairy who becomes a leader and falls for a human, Stefan. In a devastating moment, he steals her wings to become a human leader, and there goes any hope of reconciliation between human and fairy. When King, Stefan marries and they have a daughter, Aurora. At the christening, Maleficent is not invited, but comes anyway with a special “wish” that at her 16th birthday, Aurora pricks her finger in a spinning wheel and falls into a long sleep only to be awakened by “true love’s kiss,” which Maleficent thinks does not exist. Years pass and Aurora is hidden by three fairies (think The Three Stooges here) who aren't always the best babysitters. While going into a new forest, Aurora and Maleficent meet and though the Black Fairy calls her “Beastie.” Aurora doesn't mind---she of the loving nature---and slowly a friendship is formed. You can see how this goes, with a young prince riding this way, Stefan out to kill Maleficent no matter what and that curse hanging over everyone’s head. There are a few battle scenes, several of which are reminiscent of “Lord of the Rings.” Who is going to win, since it is evil against evil and the good person in-between who is a friend to both?
Special effects are good and give the illusion of flying plus magic, and Jolie’s black outfits are appropriate for her role, though the horns are a bit much. Wings have never looked so necessary and Stefan has a fondness for everything iron. The more, the better. Forest creatures are aplenty and seem to be akin to the dragons from “How To Train Your Dragon.” There isn't much dialogue in this film and there doesn't have to be. Facial expressions, body language and clothing “speak” for themselves. The bird, who is Maleficent’s friend, also watches over Aurora (when no one is looking) and brings her food (when the fairies are arguing) plus rocks her cradle with his claw (one of my favorite parts.). This gives you the idea right away, that what looks black and not pretty may have a good purpose, too. However, Maleficent can turn him into anything from a worm to a dragon, so the guy is constantly on the move.
“Maleficent” is a dark story, though, with battle scenes and not for children. Jolie’s black horns and yellow eyes give one second thought about the fairies of the woods. Friendship, betrayal, a bit of jealousy and obsession may be overlooked in the casual telling of a fairy tale, and this is “Sleeping Beauty,” so there may be family questions after the movie. As it goes, “Maleficent” stands on its own story and the lead actress carries it on her winged shoulders.
Copyright 2014 Marie Asner
For another review of a fantasy film see the following: