Maleficent_Screenpicks

Maleficent, Disney’s live action version of its classic 1959 animated feature, Sleeping Beauty, may have children clamoring to get a glimpse at this big budget, 3D take on a familiar old tale, but let’s be honest, all anyone over the age of 12 wants to know is how is Angelina? After all, it’s not everyday that the world’s biggest movie star takes on one of the greatest villains in pop culture history.

Well rest easy folks, because Jolie – in full movie star mode – is dynamite. Equal parts wounded, equal parts warrior, she doesn’t just chew the scenery every time she’s on screen, she devours it. Unfortunately, the film itself, helmed by Oscar-Winning visual effects advisor turned director, Robert Stromberg, never quite manages to conjure up the same mesmerizing spell. Nonetheless, it’s still a stylish and absorbing fantasy that should satisfy viewers of all ages.

For those of you not familiar with the original Disney version (to which this latest film is obviously quite faithful), it goes a little something like this: The powerful fairy, Maleficent (Jolie) is pissed when she’s not invited to the castle for the christening of the infant Princess Aurora, so she casts a spell on the little lass that involves pricking her finger on a spinning wheel sometime before her 16th birthday and falling into a deep slumber which only true love’s kiss can conquer.

To protect her from this curse, Aurora is then whisked away to a little cottage in the woods by three kindly – if absent-minded – fairies (now played by the delightful if underused trio of Imelda Staunton, Leslie Manville, and Juno Temple). The years pass, and she grows into quite a lovely young lady (Elle Fanning, an actress whose rounded features and angelic beauty contrasts perfectly with Angie’s seductive, angular allure), meets the handsome Prince Philip (Brenton Thwaites), and stumbles directly into her inescapable fate.

Stromberg’s film doesn’t so much change the sequence of events, but rather – like Gregory Maquire’s Wicked – it portrays them from the point of view of its titular anti-hero; fitting her with a highly sympathetic back story that involves a warring fairy and human kingdom, a forbidden love with Aurora’s father Steffan (Sharlto Copley), and a life-changing betrayal meant to explain her rage.

And herein lies a bit of the problem. The beauty of the 1959 Maleficent (unforgettably voiced by Eleanor Audley) was the glamorous and intoxicating mystery that surrounded her. Yes, she was cruel and vindictive, but she was also elegant, defiant, and just plain above explaining herself. It’s fascinating to discover the “real” woman behind the horns, but by trying desperately to redeem her, Linda Woolverton’s script dilutes much of her forbidden charm.

Thankfully, Angelina Jolie is there to ensure that she has plenty of other gifts. Imbuing the character with a decidedly 21st century ambivalence, she manages to capture the confident swagger and anarchic glee that made the original Maleficent so terrifying. To watch her delight in the fairy’s potent darkness, tossing off Joan Crawford worthy one-liners – “I don’t like children” – one can’t help but imagine the actress playing with the underlying image she’s had for much of her career – despite her global contributions and 10 year commitment to the father of her 6 children – as a cold-hearted viper wielding her carnal beauty like venom against the unsuspecting… ahem, a certain Friends star.

Interestingly enough however, it’s Maleficent who’s the Jennifer in this story: she loses the guy to another woman, only to watch him father a gorgeous baby with the new beauty. It’s a backstory that has no bearing on the content of this PG-rated Disney film, but hey, when the world’s most talked about movie star takes on a high profile role like this, one can’t help but get drunk on the sheer Hollywoodness of it all. So while the little ones may have a fantasy world of flying fairies, warring kingdoms, and powerful spells in which to get lost, for the rest of us, there’s always Angelina.