"Angelina Jolie is Maleficent."
That was the pitch that got the movie green lit, that's the promise that's draw interest in even early concept art, and that's really the only tagline needed for this first teaser trailer for Maleficent, the latest effort from Disney to put a modern, creepy spin on their vault of classic fairy tales. With horns and terrifying contact lenses and even prosthetic cheeks, Jolie steps into the role of the fearsome animated villainess from 1959's Sleeping Beauty, in what the studio promises is "the untold story of Disney's most iconic villains."
What you're probably thinking about after watching this trailer, though, isn't Sleeping Beauty but Alice in Wonderland, which was a mammoth hit for Disney in 2010. Maleficent doesn't have a marquee director like Tim Burton, but it's got probably the next-best thing in Robert Stromberg, who was the production designer on Alice and Avatar, both of which earned him Oscars. The rest of the Alice formula is followed note by note: get a gigantic star (Johnny Depp or Angelina Jolie), pair them with a young blond up-and-comer (Mia Wasikowska or Elle Fanning), take a story that's in the public domain that's already been adapted into an animated Disney film, add a gothic twist that guarantees huge sales at Hot Topic, and watch the cash roll in.
Will Maleficent the movie feel as cynical as all that? I sincerely hope not. Jolie is obviously committed to the role, and that commitment has made good things out of movies that otherwise might have been a slog. And though Stromberg's style is very deliberately aping Alice-- it's the next-best thing to making a sequel!-- he also has a lot of inventive ideas and an aesthetic that's well suited to fracturing fairy tales. There are worse things than watching Angelina Jolie and her scary green contacts chase Elle Fanning around a creepy landscape.
And this is only the beginning of Disney's live-action fairy tale extravaganza, so if you don't get on board with this it's going to be a long couple of years. Coming in 2015 is Cinderella, which puts Kenneth Branagh behind the camera for a new take on that particular Disney princess, and late next year comes Into the Woods, which of course is already a beloved Stephen Sondheim musical but also has Meryl Streep playing a wicked witch-- the same Disney formula, just with a glossier finish. If you still prefer the traditional animated ones you can still catch up with this Thanksgiving's Frozen, but Jolie's Maleficent eyes are probably already hypnotizing you into seeing that one on May 30 as well. Resistance is futile.