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Disney has another go at spinning a new yarn from a classic fairy tale. Can the villain be the hero or even the victim?  Intrigued. That is the word that comes up when considering Angelica Jolie as Maleficent. It has been a few years since we have seen Jolie on the big screen. Over the years, she has shown thespian brilliance that gets muddled in the portrayal of her personal life. The question is can Disney twist a classic fairy tale with the villain as the lead into an appealing story?

 Cinematic value

This is not the Sleeping Beauty story you may remember from childhood. Even with the different interpretations of the cursed princess in various films and on television over the years, Maleficent brings us to a different vantage point on the classic fairy tale. This is a  new spin on the hero and the villain of this beloved story. Director Robert Stromberg is known for his visual effects expertise in numerous films, including Pirates of the Caribbean and The Hunger Games,but as a first time director he capitalises on his visual abilities and delivers a beautiful story of forgiveness and redemption.

This narrated fairy tale begins with a child who is a fairy that lives in a beautiful forest kingdom. This is the young Maleficent, who has a special connection with the kingdom, but is introduced to the another, the kingdom of men. A young boy, Stephan, ventures into her world and into her life. Over a period of years, they grow in their friendship, but eventually find themselves on different sides of two kingdoms. Through inventive plot twists, the familiar story of the curse on Princess Aurora is explained.

Stromberg’s visual telling of the film, shows us a beautiful land that turns into a dark world controlled by the tyranny of their protectors. The Sleeping Beauty story takes the traditional tract of a cursed princess that is protected by a band of fairies until her 16th birthday. To see this story unfold from the vantage point of Maleficent brings forward rich perspectives that shine light on the expected villain’s heart. The storytelling weaves a beautiful tapestry from the viciousness of bitterness, the darkened hearts of it’s victims with the beauty of forgiveness and how ‘true love’ can break into the darkest recesses of the soul.

The casting was a brilliant first step in this film. Angelina Jolie’s (Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Salt) turn as Maleficent is a lesson in beauty and minimalism. There is not too much dialogue to consider, but a lesson in acting that comes through well positioned poses and ‘acting though the eyes’. Jolie was meant to play this role, her statuesque beauty and a commanding presence dominates each scene to effectively tell the this side of the fairy tale.

Elle Fanning (Super 8, We Bought a Zoo) was perfectly cast as Aurora. She manages to draw the line between innocence and awareness that suits this role. She manages to believe the line she draws between annoying joy and refreshing happiness. Her character is the light that these dark worlds need. Also, it may be hard to determine the villain in this film from the trailers, but Sharlto Copley (Elysium, District 9) manages to hold his own on the screen as suitor, king and father to Aurora. The misplaced desire for power, the horrific choices made to gain that power and paranoia that insures from trying to hang onto this power are portrayed well by Copley.

The support cast fills out the film and adds the needed humour, emotion and romance to make for a fresh reinterpretation of the classic story.Maleficent will not win awards for its minuscule script, but what it lacks in dialogue it makes up for in the visual scale. If you have any understanding of the fairy tale, there are no problems with the way that the story unfolds on the screen. The film manages to convey a fascinating story of forgiveness, redemption and a different view of ‘true love.’ The twists in this tale are plentiful and leave a necessity for vagueness on key plot points, but this is a film worth seeing. The value of seeing this visual marvel on screen should motivate people to get out to the theatre and experience Maleficent.

Family value

Disney has turned to classic stories for a new wave of live action fairy tales with Alice in Wonderland and Oz: The Great and Powerful. Robert Stromberg’s interpretation of Sleeping Beauty is refreshing and stunning to experience. The conversations that families should be able to have on some of the key differences between the animated feature and this film will be numerous. Also, the opportunity to discuss the concepts of forgiveness, revenge, bitterness and ‘true love’ would be worthwhile after attending this film. The only thing that makes me hesitate giving this are a higher rating would be the themes and visuals. There are some that are quite intense and scary. I would not recommend this film for younger viewers.

Leaving the cinema…

I left the film pleasantly surprised. The visual effects, the story and the moral underpinnings made for a great conversation after viewing this film. I would highly recommend seeing Maleficent.

 Bigger questions

1. Is revenge the best choice for life?  (Leviticus 19:18, Isaiah 63:1)

2. What is the place of forgiveness and the impact of bitterness on people’s lives? (Ephesians 4:31, Philemon)

3. How do you define ”true love?’ (Isaiah 54:8, John 3:16)

Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum, and is a regular blogger. You can read his reviews at


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