Rated PG for fantasy action and violence
Written by Linda Woolverton, based on stories and scripts by Charles Perrault and more
Directed by Robert Stromberg
Starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley and more
“Maleficent” is definitely not the story you were expecting.
In some ways, that’s the most disappointing thing about it. The trailers promised a complex look at an iconic villain, adding layers of characterization and depth that the original “Sleeping Beauty” denied her. Maleficent was a great unwritten chapter of a classic story, and I was thrilled by the idea that we would finally get to hear it.
Instead, Disney simply laid the framework for an entirely new story within the bones of the first, changing Maleficent’s actions enough that they could be easily justified and transforming the king into a villain just as flat as Maleficent ever was. The result is essentially the same simple adventure story that Disney used to do all the time, engaging at times but mostly lacking even the emotional nuance found in “Frozen” or “Tangled.”
In this story Maleficent is a fairy with beautiful bird wings, growing up in a magical fairy kingdom that gives the CGI team plenty of opportunities to work their magic. The entire film is absolutely gorgeous, from the magical, twinkling vistas of the fairy kingdom to the magic scenes and multitude of flying shots. My favorite moments were when Maleficent’s crow is transformed into different animals that all still carry some obvious sign of the crow’s true nature, though many of those shots were a little too dark to truly appreciate the artistry at hand.
The script, unfortunately, isn’t quite so artistic. Maleficent is cut from the standard “good, noble protector of nature” mold, and her betrayal at the king’s hand seems to have been copied directly from any one of several classic melodramas. Though her anger at this betrayal is entirely reasonable, the movie fails to portray any of the sense of isolation, loneliness or hurt that would have very naturally led to her transformation into the Maleficent we know. Instead, they take a few short scenes to show her deciding to become a broody goth princess, stomping around and terrifying her fairy friends that literally had nothing to do with her betrayal or pain.
Once Aurora is born, however, things get better. Angelina Jolie is a shivery delight as Maleficent during the christening scene, which takes the dialogue from Disney’s original “Sleeping Beauty” almost word-for-word. For a few short moments, we get to see the grand, dark majesty that might have been.
Later, there are different pleasures to be found in Maleficent’s slowly developing relationship with Aurora. Here, she finally seems like the wounded, lonely girl she would believably be, pretending to find the baby distasteful but drawn to her adorableness just the same. She becomes Aurora’s protector, and Jolie and Elle Fanning create a sweet, lovely bond that serves the emotional heart of the movie.
Still, the movie could have used more of that emotion elsewhere. Maleficent’s crow companion is regularly transformed into a human here, played with dry wit by Sam Riley. There were a few sketched hints about his and Maleficent’s partnership over the years, hints of friendship and loyalty that could have added some needed depth to the story if they had been explored at all.
Other characters who got shorted in a different way were the three fairies who raised Aurora. They’re shown to be essentially useless here, forgetting to feed Aurora for days and letting her fall off cliffs. As I watched them, all I could think was if Flora, Fauna and Merriweather could see “Maleficent” they would sue for defamation of character.
In fact, maybe Maleficent herself should as well. Though I may never hear her real story, I’m sure it was far more interesting than this.
Want to know what Dan Metcalf thought of Maleficent? Click here.