After watching Maleficent, Disney's live-action twist on their own classic animated tale Sleeping Beauty, it becomes evident that nobody but Angelina Jolie could play one of the greatest villains of all time. Ms. Jolie is magnetic onscreen and can smirk in front of a green screen like nobody's business. Her performance may not win her any awards, but she clearly had fun with the part.
The film filters the story of Sleeping Beauty through a revisionist lens. We get to first meet Maleficent when she is just a young fairy, happily flying through the moor. One day, a young human boy named Stefan literally ends up in her neck of the woods and they become unlikely friends. Over time they even fall in love with each other, but in the grand tradition of many boys, he eventually betrays her. In Stefan's quest to become the king, he cuts off her wings. This sequence has an incredibly rapey subtext (not that it will be read that way by a family audience), replete with slipping her a roofie so he can violate her when she's passed out. I thought I was just being a little sensitive, but I've seen a few other reactions on Twitter that have let me know I'm not the only one who felt a little uncomfortable with the entire situation. What happens next is not exactly I Spit On Your Grave, but it does explain a little better as to why Maleficent places a curse on King Stefan's daughter Aurora.
As the story further drifts away from the original cartoon, Maleficent becomes quite enamored with Aurora over the years. She keeps a close watchful eye over her as a baby and secretly taunts her three fairy keepers from a distance. By the time Aurora becomes a teenager (the wonderfully charming Elle Fanning), she becomes convinced that she's met her fairy godmother. As Aurora's 16th birthday draws near, Maleficent eventually attempts to reverse her curse to save Aurora's life and goes into overtime to make things right with the help of a crow named Diaval (Control's Sam Riley) who she can shapeshift into a human or any other desired creature.
If you're saying that's ridiculous, yes it is, but you're also probably not really the target audience. This is a decently solid pick for families and I think it's a safe bet that kids who aren't afraid of Jolie in full makeup and horns will eat this up with a spoon. All bases are covered by adding in some serious action sequences with a side of romance and the movie is not so serious that Jolie can't stop to stare down her own real-life toddler in one scene while declaring "I hate children" to the rousing laughter of the crowd. Best of all, at 97 minutes the whole thing is mercifully short.
It's no accident that, despite its faults, the film looks tremendously good. Legendary makeup and vfx artist Rick Baker transforms Jolie into the title character so perfectly that it looks like the original cartoon has actually come to life. Maleficent also happens to be the directorial debut of Robert Stromberg, a man who has won the Best Art Direction Oscar twice, first for his work on Avatar and then on Disney's Alice in Wonderland. (Just like Alice, this story was once linked to Tim Burton, but the film's long gestating development eventually put him off the picture.) Stromberg has a great eye for framing and effects, but the action sequences tend to get lost in the 3D post-conversion. You're unquestionably safe sticking to the 2D version if you're still interested.
Even though it's based on one of my favorite Disney films and Jolie is truly fun to watch, Maleficent is no Sleeping Beauty.