Take everything you know about Sleeping Beauty and chuck it in the garbage, because that’s what everyone involved with Maleficent did.
In what is supposed to be “the real story”, Angelina Jolie stars as Maleficent – the fairy defender of the Moors who battles the evil humans who envy their land and want to take it over. Along the way, she has fallen in love with a young human boy who becomes greedy and overly ambitious as he grows older, Stefan (Sharlto Copley).
After losing a horrible battle against Maleficent, the embarrassed human king promises his throne to the one who can destroy her, so Stefan takes advantage of the young fairy’s love for him, slips her a mickey (in modern terms, he roofies her) and destroys her most powerful weapon (in a way that is thoroughly creepy and a horrifying metaphor for something I cannot speak of here).
Angry, heartbroken, and seeking revenge, Maleficent shows up at the christening for Stefan’s new born daughter, Aurora. She places a curse on the baby dictating that our young lady will prick her finger on a spinning wheel before the sun sets on her 16th birthday, and this will place her in a death-like sleep that can only be broken by true love’s kiss.
Can King Stefan protect Aurora from the curse?
Will they be able to find Maleficent before it is too late?
Maleficent is a twisted version of Sleeping Beauty that is much too serious, when it should be playful with the story we know, and too altered and plodding to be good.
The movie is supposed to be “the real story” of Sleeping Beauty and Maleficent, but that is not made clear early on, and it is a devastating, movie destroying decision and failure. Because of this, if you remember the story, you are left wondering why it is going so awry.
Also, as written by Linda Woolverton, Maleficent is a strange character. I like a complex character as much as the next guy, but this is all kinds of weird. I can understand being angry and wanting revenge after what is done to her by Stefan (I root for her to destroy him because he deserves it), but why does she start stalking Aurora (Elle Fanning) like that deranged dude who swam across the bay to sneak into Taylor Swift’s house? Instead of this series of events playing out like Maleficent’s redemption or a change of heart, it’s muddled and full of too many competing motivations.
Woolverton and director Robert Stromberg also had to insert all sorts of new material to make Maleficent into a full length movie, and not all of it works because it is focused in the wrong direction. We learn more about Maleficent’s dutiful servant, Diaval (Sam Reilly), but not much about the fairy godmothers who seem beyond incompetent and a little more important to the story. We learn more about the world of the fairies, but not much else about Stefan’s kingdom, which could help us get a feel for his motivations. We are left with holes that make Maleficent stretched out and empty, and they are trying so hard to impose modern morality and attitudes on the classic tale that it feels awkward.
Jolie is awesome with her irresistible evil and naughtiness which gives Maleficent some life. Woolverton and Stromberg should have let her have more fun with the character and provided more humorous twists on the story we know instead of falling so far into the dark and brooding tone.
Maleficent is rated PG for sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images.