Posted by Joel Copling on May 28, 2014

The screenplay for "Maleficent," as written by Linda Woolverton and based upon three other origins of source material, makes a rather brave decision from the get-go: to humanize perhaps Disney's coldest and most hardened villain of the original Golden Age of animation. The titular witch, so infamous for drawing sweetly innocent Aurora to her death-sleep via the pinprick of a spinning wheel's spire as shown in 1959's masterful "Sleeping Beauty," is as infamous as she is for being--let's not mince words--pure evil. "Maleficent" gives it audience a different hypothesis; whether it is a worthy one, only time can tell, but here we are: The curse that she places upon Aurora is the greatest regret in Maleficent's life.

Angelina Jolie takes over for voice actor Eleanor Audley, so malicious in the animated film, as the title character, whose childhood (Ella Purnell and a stunning Isabelle Molloy play her at two different phases of adolescence) as a harmless and joyful fairy was interrupted years later when Stefan (played at the same ages by Jackson Bews and Michael Higgins), a human boy with whom she fell in love and who later becomes a king played by Sharlto Copley. When Stefan and his queen (Hannah New) have a child named Aurora (Elle Fanning, Eleanor Worthington-Cox and Vivienne Jolie-Pitt at even more varied ages), Maleficent feels beleaguered, blackmailed, betrayed, and, worst, vengeful toward her former true love and curses Aurora to fall into a sleep that lasts forever--that is, until true-love's kiss can be made.

The realization that a true-love's kiss is not something in which Maleficent believes, as she laments to henchmen Diaval (Sam Riley), is the first sign that "Maleficent" has, if nothing else, a complex emotional core. Maleficent is a character with more than just black-and-white "good" or "evil" within her. Another huge indication of this is known upon her surveillance of Aurora's childhood and pubescence, during which she grows to care for the girl while the latter is raised up by a trio of pixies (Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, and Juno Temple) who attempt to conceal her from Maleficent's curse. The passages between Aurora and Maleficent after the latter makes her presence known are the film's best.

"Maleficent," though, is startlingly unpromising for a long time, Woolverton and director Robert Stromberg (a veteran visual effects artist in a feature directorial debut that would have done well to drop the garish, hideous 3-D presentation from the start) unable to rein in a tone that alternately resembles both cotton candy and the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. The visual style is an orgy of visual effects that start to wear thin, the trio of pixies holds disturbing digital approximations of the three actresses within it, and Prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaites) is introduced so inconsequentially that the crucial climactic scene (You know the one already) threatens to dissipate into a puff of 3-D smoke. "Maleficent" isn't without its merits--mainly Maleficent herself, as effectively played by Jolie--but the whole is uneven and too disjointed in its entire first half to really work.

Film Information

Angelina Jolie (Maleficent), Elle Fanning (Aurora), Sharlto Copley (King Stefan), Lesley Manville (Flittle), Imelda Staunton (Knotgrass), Juno Temple (Thistletwit), Sam Riley (Diaval), Brenton Thwaites (Prince Phillip), Kenneth Cranham (King Phillip), Hannah New (Princess Leila), Ella Purnell (Teenage Maleficent), Jackson Bews (Teenage Stefan), Isabelle Molloy (Young Maleficent), Michael Higgins (Young Stefan), Eleanor Worthington-Cox (Aurora at Eight), Vivienne Jolie-Pitt (Aurora at Five).

Featuring narration by Janet McTeer.

Directed by Robert Stromberg and written by Linda Woolverton, based on the story "La Belle au bois dormant" by Charles Perrault, the story "Little Briar Rose" by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, and the screenplay for "Sleeping Beauty" by Milt Banta, Winston Hibler, Bill Peet, Joe Rinaldi, Ted Sears, and Ralph Wright.

Rated PG (fantasy action/violence including frightening images).

97 minutes.

Released on May 30, 2014.