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It’s been a long time since I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing a complete camp fiesta on film.  Leave it to Miss Angelina Jolie {Voight} to supply me in droves with what I didn’t know I’d been missing.

Maleficent is a post-modern exploration of one of Disney’s greatest villains.  This is the live-action biopic of Sleeping Beauty’s horn-headed party crasher, who bestowed the gift of forty thousand winks upon the beautiful Princess Aurora; an enchantment that could only be broken by love’s first kiss.  Rarely has a social snub been taken so hard.  One can only wonder who this terribly sensitive, frightfully vengeful creature was and what made her that way.

Beginning at the beginning, we meet a lovely child with the face of a cherub, graced with eyes of an otherworldly, hypnotic colour.  She also bears a pair of sooty wings and two ram-like horns atop her pretty head.  Maleficent loves and is loved in the moors of the Fae; greeting and teasing the other denizens as she happily zooms through the air.  The only disturbance in their idyllic world comes from outside their boundaries when humans occasionally attempt to invade to see and steal their wonders.  This is how Maleficent meets Stefan, the first human boy she’s ever encountered.  The impoverished child thought to abscond with a jewel to feed his starving family, which, as he learns from a troop of tree warriors, is not on.  In mutual fascination, the manchild and the faerie girl become friends, learning about each other’s untouchable worlds, and as time and hormones would have it, growing up to fall in love.  On her sixteenth birthday, Stefan presents his sweet fae with what he calls “love’s first kiss,” a gift that will bind Maleficent through Stefan’s long absences as he works at his ambition to live in the big castle overlooking the kingdom.  He is a servant to the king and is present after the sovereign’s humiliating defeat at the hands of Maleficent, who has become the strongest of the Fae.   As a warrior and protector, she steamrolls through entire front lines of armoured knights and calls up unstoppable guardians from the earth’s very trees and roots to vanquish their foes.  Embittered by the royal bum-kicking, the king poses a challenge that the man who defeats the fae woman will be his successor.  Armed with overpowering ambition and inside knowledge of the Fae, including the secret to Maleficent’s heart, Stefan brutally saws off his lover’s precious wings, ensuring his crown and Maleficent’s fury forever.  The embittered faerie isolates herself and her people, nursing her grudge against humanity, specifically her ex.  The birth of Stefan’s firstborn provides Maleficent with the opportunity for payback she’s been waiting for.  As other representatives of the faerie world have given benevolent and wonderful gifts of beauty and grace to the newborn princess, Maleficent presents the child with a very good night’s sleep.  Upon Aurora’s sixteenth birthday, the curse will see the child prick her finger on an ordinary spinning wheel spindle, placing her in a deathlike slumber for eternity.  The only way to wake the girl is for her to somehow receive “love’s first kiss,” such as the child’s father claimed to have bestowed on Maleficent years ago.  Will any amount of hiding the child away steer her from the path the vengeful faerie has set for her?

It seems like the instinct is for people to instantly dump on any cinematic offering from Angelina Jolie; putting their opinions about her personal life in front of what they see, conveniently forgetting that she’s already got an Oscar.  That perception hasn’t been helped with the public seeing more of her in gossip rags than on screen.  However, every so she’ll come up with something like Wanted, or the underrated Salt, which will remind viewers how hypnotic she can be on screen, particularly when she’s playing a woman in command of her surroundings.  Who better then to portray that most in control, sophisticated and deeply frightening Disney alpha fae, Maleficent?  Jolie was born to play the horned one in all her archness and venom.  Maleficent adds depth to the wicked one, previously thought to have simply been miffed at the disrespect of a missing party invitation.  We know that the actress is easy to believe as a warrior plowing through battalions of armoured knights and bellowing commands at the otherworldly forces at her hands, but Jolie’s got the chops to put over the heartbreak of not only Maleficent, but every woman who’s been hurt by the one they loved and trusted.  She becomes a seething spectre of flaming ice and literally builds a wall around herself.  Actually, it’s a barricade of thorns that shuts out all of the outer world and subjects her once-bright, beautiful fae lands to darkness and gloom.  Like many a young woman betrayed, Maleficent goes full Goth for the duration of her heartache, draped in inky, skintight gowns with cool high collars, and at one point a slithery, dragon-scaled catsuit (dragonsuit?) that makes one think, ‘This is what you could’ve had, stupid Stefan.’  Her stewardship of her magical folk is second to her pain, as evidenced by the three Auntie Thomasina pixies who attempt to undo some of Maleficent’s bad relations with the humans by offering to protect the baby Princess.  There’s also her offhand treatment of Diaval, the crow rescued to become Maleficent’s unhappy but devoted slave and replacement for the wings she lost.  Wisely, director Robert Stromberg focuses the contention squarely between Maleficent and Stefan, forgoing any cliché jealousy about Stefan’s eventual marriage to the Queen, and even Aurora’s sentence is nothing to do with the girl other than being his.  That aspect also sets the film apart in that Maleficent eventually understands the girl is innocent and that she’s done something deeply wrong; a feeling made all the more clear by years of spying on the child in her pixie-protected exile.  Mistaken (maybe) for her faerie godmother, Aurora welcomes Maleficent into her life having felt her protection from the shadows since infancy.  Aurora admires and idolises the beautiful, statuesque woman as she never could the three disguised, well-meaning, but hopelessly dizzy pixie protectors. To Aurora, Maleficent is the only mother figure she’s ever known and for all that the aggrieved faerie refers to the child as “Beastie,” that feeling is begrudgingly returned; so much so that there’s agreement that the princess will permanently live in Maleficent’s world.

The film turns the Disney tropes well on their heads most humourously with the inclusion of Phillip, A.K.A. Prince Charming, who is a perfect physical hybrid of every Disney prince and suitor there ever was and completely as vapid.  This noble isn’t nearly as swept away enough by his passions to fight dragons for his prospective new g/f and can’t even be counted on to deliver the goods in the smoochy-smoochy department.  This development also brings about one of the film’s wonkier and unintentionally (?!) campier moments when we discover the true bearer of “love’s first kiss” for Aurora.  I know the scene’s meant to be some kind of analogy for mother love, but somehow feels like it’s right on time for Pride Month.  I also don’t recall any rendition of Sleeping Beauty with the purported heroine being such a light sleeper.  Her eternal slumber is more of a catnap, really.  Dozing Beauty?  I’m Just Gonna Shut My Eyes for a Sec Beauty? Not quite the same ring, I guess.  The incredibly short duration of the kip doesn’t give the feeling of truly imperiling Aurora and neither does the curse affect anyone besides her.  Unlike in previous tellings where the whole kingdom sleeps until the princess awakens, the world goes on as normal.  That odd retooling takes a lot of the urgency out of the dilemma.  Also strange are the freaky CGI head-replaced pixies that look scarier than Maleficent at her worst.  In this version, Maleficent is the one who adds the proviso about the kiss being able to awaken Aurora, which then just makes the whole thing seems really silly.  Why set a curse on someone and then tell everybody how to break it?  The dragon transformation that’s so scary in the 1959 cartoon is quite different here and during a climactic fight against Stefan’ forces, Maleficent, the magical creature, the seasoned warrior used to unbeatable odds, just suddenly goes all limp and helpless for plot device reasons.

For adding depth and a different spin to the character we’ve known and run screaming from since childhood, this was a valiant effort.  Add to that the idea that in this summer of boy-skewed superhero movies and transforming robots, Maleficent is a live-action fairy tale that girls can really identify with (even if some of the war scenes with the tree guardians are a bit strong for little ones).  There were other people in the cast, but who cares?  If you’re coming to see Maleficent, you’re coming to watch Angelina Jolie and she is amazing in this.  She chews every corner of the scenery with a fork, knife, spoon, shovel, earth mover, dump truck; om-nom-nom, indeed.  It’s pretty glorious.  Every eyebrow lift is classic and loaded with snark, every contemptuous pout, every line dripping with venom of what we hoped the Disney witch was thinking is pure entertainment and everything I’d wanted to see.  The camp factor alone is worth the price of admission.

I have to end this review, cos I’ve gotta dig through boxes of my makeup from the 90s looking for all the blood red lipstick I used to wear.  There's going to be a run on it after this movie.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

May 30th 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Photos

Stills Courtesy of 

Walt Disney Pictures

 

 

 

 

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