Hollywood loves reinvention.
One minute, JJ Abrams is rebooting the ‘Star Trek’ franchise, the next minute he’s at it with ‘Star Wars’.
Indiana Jones is rumoured to be the next in line for a revamp. Robert Pattison and Bradley Cooper are both being linked to the role of the famous fedora-wearing archaeologist.
Fairytales too are up for grabs.
Steven Schwarz’s smash hit musical ‘Wicked’ has enchanted theatre audiences around the world by turning L Frank Baum’s ‘The Wizard of Oz’ on its head with the premise that Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West was actually the victim of terrible propaganda.
Two years ago we also had alternative takes on the Snow White legend.
Director Rupert Sanders gave us the dark ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ with Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron as the evil Queen. It also had Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan and Ray Winstone as the dwarves.
Tarsem Singh, meanwhile, helmed the feeble comedy, ‘Mirror, Mirror’ with Lily Collins, Arme Hammer, Nathan Lane and Julia Roberts as the evil Queen.
Now Robert Stromberg has come up with ‘Maleficent’, a Disney fantasy adventure that takes a parallax view of another well-known tale, ‘Sleeping Beauty’.
The film reimagines Clyde Geronimi, Les Clark, Eric Larson and Wolfgang Reitherman’s classic animated version of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ from 1959.
From the opening image Stromberg, a special effects artist by training, sets his agenda by giving his audience a different, sideways angle of the Sleeping Beauty castle that usually adorns the logo of Disney films.
He then propels us into an idyllic world of fairies, goblins and moving trees.
Ella Purnell’s young fairy Maleficent glides over majestically over this world until the appearance on the moors one day of Michael Higgins’ young tearaway with a Scottish brogue, Stefan.
The fairy falls for Stefan after he tries to steal a stone from the magical kingdom, gives it back and befriends her, throwing away an iron ring when he realises the metal burns fairies’ skin.
Despite their love, Stefan drifts apart and ends up working as a servant for Kenneth Cranham’s warmongering King Henry who has designs on taking over the moors.
The King leads his knights into an invasion of the moors, only to be counterattacked by Angelina Jolie’s grown up Maleficent and an army of giant tree soldiers riding warthogs.
Defeated in battle and spared a grisly death, King Henry refuses to give in and he challenges his generals to kill Maleficent, believing this will help him finally invade the moors.
Whoever neutralises Maleficent will succeed him on the throne.
Listening to this, Sharlto Copley’s grown up Stefan heads to the moors to be reunited with his childhood friend.
He warns her that her life is in danger but has decided really to betray her.
Stefan drugs Maleficent. Unable to stab her, he cuts off her wings instead and presents them to the King as a sign that she is now defeated. Stefan is rewarded and inherits the kingdom.
What follows is essentially a mix between a revenge thriller and a quirky subversion of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale.
Maleficent teams up with a shapeshifting crow, Diaval (played with a soft Irish brogue by Sam Riley) who becomes her wings and eyes on Stefan’s kingdom.
True to the fairytale, she turns up at King Stefan and Queen Leila’s celebration of the birth of their daughter, Aurora after Diaval reveals they now have a child.
Jolie vamps it up in this sequence, recreating verbatim Eleanor Audley’s terrifying depiction of Maleficent from the 1959 feature cartoon.
As in the 1959 version, Maleficent places a curse on Aurora that she will grow up into a beautiful young woman until her 16th birthday when she will be sent into a deep sleep by the pricking of her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel. The get out clause is that Aurora can only be awakened by true love’s kiss.
Stromberg’s movie follows the template of the 1959 feature with Stefan entrusting his infant daughter into the care of three fairies, Knotgrass, Thistlewit and Flittle – played by Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville.
He also rounds up all spinning wheels in his kingdom and sets them alight.
But Stromberg and his screenwriter Linda Woolverton gleefully subvert the tale.
The fairies are hopeless surrogate mothers. They’re so incompetent that it does not take long for Maleficent and Diaval to locate Aurora.
However instead of killing the baby there and then, Maleficent watches benignly from a distance as she grows up and begins to forge a bond with her.
As Maleficent and Aurora grow close, back in the castle, Stefan becomes increasingly paranoid and grotesque, staring at Maleficent’s wings which he keeps in a glass cabinet while Hannah New’s Queen Leila is on her deathbed.
Confrontation with Maleficent is inevitable, especially as Aurora’s 16th birthday approaches and the much abused fairy begins to regret the curse she has placed on the girl.
But will she be able to prevent Aurora and then her own demise?
Stromberg and Woolverton have crafted a reasonably entertaining yarn, with the help of some striking visual effects.
However the film belongs to Angelina Jolie and her improbably constructed cheekbones in what is another commanding lead performance.
Carrying the weight of the blockbuster on her shoulders, Jolie easily switches from pantomime villain to noble, wronged heroine.
She is so good, the rest of the cast suffer by comparison.
South African actor Sharlto Copley, who came to prominence in Neill Blomkamp’s smart 2009 alien drama ‘District 9’ looks out of his depth as the corrupt, power crazed Stefan.
With his 1970s footballers haircut, pained expression and painstakingly painful Scottish accent, he simply doesn’t convince.
With her permagrin and hippy presence, Elle Fanning makes a very lightweight Aurora, while Sam Riley is a rather tired presence as Diaval.
Taken out of their Mike Leigh environs, the accomplished characters actors Lesley Manville and Imelda Staunton are totally wasted.
Much has already been made about what ‘Maleficent’ says about male oppression and violence.
Read what you like into it. Stromberg’s movie is an uneven, yet amiable fantasy that will no doubt appeal to fans of ‘Frozen’ and ‘Wicked’.
However if it falls considerably short of those two remarkable fantasies.
(‘Maleficient’ opened in UK and Irish cinemas on May 28, 2014).