‘Let us tell an old story anew…’ So begins Disney’s spellbinding fairytale fantasy starring Angelina Jolie, which goes on to give us Sleeping Beauty from the point of view of the villain.
Played by the majestic, gloriously haughty Jolie, the malevolent fairy of the original tale – and Disney’s classic 1959 animated movie – is now more misunderstood than evil, a sister under the skin to Frozen’s Ella.
She still sports those alarming black horns and swishes a long black cloak, but her reasons for cursing the king’s baby daughter, Aurora, go far deeper than simply not getting an invitation to the christening.
Indeed, Maleficent is blithe and free-spirited as a young fairy, soaring on powerful wings over her magical forest home, conveyed here with digital sparkle by Oscar-winning visual effects guru-turned-director Robert Stromberg.
She only becomes filled with vengeful fury after being cruelly betrayed by her childhood love, Stefan (Sharlto Copley), in his efforts to become king.
With her razor-sharp cheekbones and glittering eyes (features enhanced by makeup and digital effects), Jolie’s Maleficent is awesome in her anger. But she is no less compelling when she begins to soften, watching over Elle Fanning’s Aurora as she grows up under the care of three bumbling fairies played by Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple.
Sometimes more irritating than cute, this comic-relief trio won’t please everyone and the film’s mishmash of accents – ranging from posh English for Jolie to Scottish for Copley – is often distracting, too.
Overall, though, this revisionist fairytale deserves applause, not least for its stirring message of female empowerment. For a change, it’s not the handsome prince who saves the day – and Jolie’s Maleficent is magnificent.