27 June - 3 July 2014 #713

Maleficent

Sophia Pande

Would Maleficent have worked without Angelina Jolie? Most certainly not. Maleficent (which rhymes with ‘Magnificent’) is almost the usual kind of sugary Disney concoction that makes the adult viewer cringe even as it delights its younger, perhaps less discerning viewers.

Disney has long been struggling to revamp its former iron grip on the highly lucrative junior audience, and succeeded phenomenally with last year’s Frozen– a feminist reimagining of the classical “princess in distress” tale.

Just as Frozen satisfies modern viewers with a little twist at the end – Maleficent too banks (quite literally, to the tune of over $500 million to date) on people, and women in particular, who are tired of the bland princes who are obligatory in the grand rescue of the princess.

Helmed with great charisma by Angelina Jolie who plays the titular character, Maleficent goes a little bit further than just twisting the usual coda of Disney classics. While there are many moments of extreme cuteness and an array of fuzzy creatures, Jolie’s characterisation of Maleficent is a feat in her display of range Maleficent transforms from a trusting, young winged fairy into a wounded creature maimed by the man she loves. I was a little taken aback by the depth of dark emotion that is displayed, worried it might seep into children’s nightmares.

And yet, Jolie imbues her wounded and vengeful character with reluctant humour and latent warmth. The children will not have bad dreams after all. Thanks to their usual sharp instincts and Jolie’s highly intelligent performance we know that Maleficent cannot truly go wrong.

Richard Dyer, the famous British film theorist transformed the way we view famous actors with his seminal books Stars (1979) and Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society (1986). Even if you are not familiar with his name you will immediately recognise his now ubiquitous position that films are carried by the sheer charisma of the imagined persona of their star.

We are more than familiar by now with the star vehicle: Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis, Robert Downey Jr., and now of course Angelina Jolie, helm films that are made or broken by their star personas. Among the famous people who can be trusted to hold up a film with a budget of $180 million, Jolie is one of the few women.

This reviewer can therefore write such a piece with scant mention of plot about an otherwise fairly boring re-imaging of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale because, without a doubt, Angelina Jolie steals the show – and the film is all the better for it.

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