‘Maleficent’ movie review: jarring

The movie is a mix of fantasy epic and comedy, not always in a successful way.

“Maleficent” is a live-action retelling of Disney’s classic 1959 animated feature “Sleeping Beauty,” here told from the perspective of the evil fairy Maleficent, played by Angelina Jolie.

Or is she evil? Maybe she’s just had a bad lot in life. Misunderstood. Scorned. Hurt.

Anyone who has seen “Wicked” or any other tale showing the origin of a storied film villain, be it Magneto or Darth Vader, will pretty quickly be able to see where this movie is going.

Young Maleficent is a happy fairy living in the moors, while the humans live in a kingdom nearby. The two groups keep their distance, except for a young boy, Stefan, who ventures to the moors and meets the young winged fairy, sparking a long-distance, years-spanning relationship.

As they grow older, they grow apart, and the adult Stefan (a terribly miscast Sharlto Copley) becomes more focused on his aspiration to become king. That comes at a price: turning on his one-time amour.

The newly crowned King Stefan and the queen have a child, Aurora (played as a 5-year-old by Jolie’s own daughter, Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, and as a teen by Elle Fanning), who is blessed by three good fairies and cursed by Maleficent. A prick to the finger on Aurora’s 16th birthday will send her into a sleep, and she can only be awoken by true love. You know this already.

Jolie is cold and calculating as Maleficent, but also shows a comedic touch, all part of the jarring dichotomy of the film. At times it’s a “Lord of the Rings”-style epic fantasy and at times it’s a comedy. Neither aspect is particularly successful. It looks good, though, with some impressive visual effects.

Some things have changed from “Sleeping Beauty,” which the narration is quick to point out. Devout fans of the original will likely be nitpicking.

I hesitate to quibble with the changes, having not seen the animated film in a long time, but if there’s anything “Maleficent” accomplished, it’s making me want to watch the cartoon again.

2 stars
Directed by Robert Stromberg | Starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley | Rated PG

Scott A. Rosenberg