The latest installment in the Disney Villains spin-offs is a reprise of Maleficent – a twisted view of the Sleeping Beauty fable.
Picking up where the original left off, Aurora (Elle Fanning) has been crowned Queen of the Moors and is living in the idyllic woods with her godmother Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), sidekick Diaval (Sam Riley), three doddery fairies and a menagerie of other mythical and magical folk.
Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson) arrives one day to pop the question, resulting in an awkward family dinner where Maleficent is goaded into a fury by Philip’s mother Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer). This sets of a chain of misfortunes which includes King John (Robert Lindsay) knocked unconscious, Maleficent injured at the bottom of the ocean and Aurora scrambling to decide whether she should adopt the civilised royal ways or return to her more carefree bohemian life in the moors.
As with many Disney remakes /reboots/spin-offs, the live action story is heavily embellished with special effects, costuming, and new ancillary characters. Despite its title, Jolie doesn’t have much acting to do, and spends much of her screen time in moody silence baring her teeth, rolling her eyes and flicking her fingers. She does have a fabulous wardrobe of black frocks to stalk about in, though.
More fabulous in character development and costuming alike is Pfeiffer’s Queen Ingrith. With a chip on her bejewelled shoulder about the residents of the Moors, her dastardly plan makes Maleficent look positively motherly. Rounding out the tree of female leads is Aurora, who is central to the action but doesn’t quite live up to the role of heroine.
The rest of the cast have few lines and are merely bit players in the power plays between the three females. Worth noting are the ‘fae’ an exiled community of winged dark faeries, whom Maleficent is presumably descended from. Again, they are more style than substance, but they are an important part of the lengthy battle sequence that serves as the finale.
So who is the audience for Maleficent? It’s too dark and violent for small children, and not witty enough to the focussed attention of adults, though the sparkly costumes and special effects are to be admired. That leaves the tween / teen market who are already primed for Disney remakes and serialisations, though I would argue that Descendants is a more entertaining take on the ‘villains’ franchise.