Disney’s tale of Maleficent, the evil sorceress responsible for placing a curse on Sleeping Beauty, is an ongoing blame game, explaining that Maleficent’s evil act arose from the bitterness thrust upon her by greedy men.
It was not always so. Janet McTeer’s narration explains that, while the land of men requires a king, the neighboring land of Moor, consisting of magical creatures, needs no ruler. Here in Moor, Maleficent dwells.
Played by a skeletal Angelina Jolie, Maleficent is a study in cheekbones gone wild. Makeup designer Rick Baker asks how high is high enough when he augments Jolie’s high cheeks with even higher prosthetics. He accentuates her plump lips with a blood-red stain. Above this facial construction rises a pair of large, black horns suitable for the impala rutting season.
Isobelle Molloy portrays the happy, pubescent Maleficent, whom we first meet as she comfortably rests in a sprawling tree. Moments later she takes to the air supported by a pair of overgrown eagle wings. Well, actually, the wings are her own, and, being handily attached to her shoulder blades, are easily tucked behind her and away from Maleficent’s delicate hands when not in use.
Called upon by the guardian Moor trees to deal with a young thief, Maleficent forgives the lad. He introduces himself as Stefan, and the pair quickly fall into puppy love. Stefan visits the fairy on and off through the years, and Maleficent’s feelings deepen.
Jolie takes over more than a decade later, when she is cruelly betrayed by the young adult version of the boy (Sharlto Copley) whom once treasured her friendship, but now treasures ambition more. Embittered, Maleficent exacts her revenge by placing a curse on Stefan’s infant daughter, princess Aurora.
Naturally, some means of redemption for the reluctant villainess must be found, so, as she matures, she sees the error of her ways and uses her magical powers to usher in a better world.
Elle Fanning, the fine young actress cast as Aurora, has little to do, but, as always, she does more than seems possible with what she is given. Since this is Maleficent’s story, Aurora is just window dressing, but she brings a freshness and ease to a character that could have seemed overly contrived.
The film’s visual effects, consisting of the magical Moor and the creatures that reside there, is at once lovely and generic. Viewers of Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” series will recognize echoes of the Shire and the Ents. No matter. In our busy, concrete world we are primed to enjoy all forms of such dream visions.