MOVIE REVIEW: Maleficent

FIERY PERFORMANCE: Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, as a vindictive witch, is the powerful piece of alchemy at the centre of Maleficent. MALEFICENT (M)

Stars: Angelina Jolie, Janet McTeer, Isobelle Molloy

Director: Robert Stromberg

Screening: General release

Rating: ★★★

IMAGE makeover is something Hollywood does very well – and in the case of Maleficent, it’s a rebranding of one of its own products.

Disney has taken the villain of one of its most successful animations, Sleeping Beauty (1959), and reimagined her – not in an animation but in a live-action spectacle bristling with CGI and special effects. The vindictive witch has been given a backstory that explains why she condemned a baby girl to perpetual slumber. She’s not a straightforward force of evil any more – she’s something more complicated and understandable but no less devastating in her impact.

As a revisionist witch story, Maleficent is much better than Oz the Great and Powerful, also made by Disney. And it has a powerful piece of alchemy at its centre: Angelina Jolie as the title character. She’s tricked out with prosthetics and make-up (courtesy of Rick Baker) and she’s transformed by special effects, but it’s still recognisably a Jolie performance – fierce, glamorous and emotional.

Maleficent is directed by Robert Stromberg, who has worked for years in visual effects and was production designer for Oz the Great and Powerful, Alice in Wonderland and Avatar (he won Oscars for art direction for the last two films).

It’s a splendid-looking film. The effects are striking, whether they are dramatic battle confrontations between humans and the forces of the natural world, or small moments of delicate detail. As set pieces, they are impressive: whether they always work in the best interests of the story and the characters is another matter.

When we first meet Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy), the delicate detail is to the fore: she’s a child, happily exploring the woods and open spaces.

The narrator (Janet McTeer), whose dialogue is as blandly straightforward as the most unimaginative of fairytales, explains that she lives in a fairy world adjacent to a kingdom ruled by humans and these coexist uneasily.

This tension is drawn on for dramatic purposes, although it is never really established with any sureness.