Release date: May 30, 2014
Directed by: Robert Stromberg
Written by: Linda Woolverton
Bad news. This one gets ugly fast. No, not in that awful train wreck of a movie type ugly. Sadly, "Maleficent" is, for the most part, an awful movie -- but it's also ugly as in unattractive and visually unpleasant. At least most of it is, which is a shame because there are fleeting scenes of visual brilliance. Unfortunately, it's all wasted on a rushed and sloppy adaptation Disney's own classic animated feature, "Sleeping Beauty".
"Maleficent" is the latest in the bizarre trend of rebooting a familiar fairy tale story and giving the villain a twist of sympathy. Played by the steely eyed Angelina Jolie, Maleficent is portrayed as a fallen fairy who, when scorned by her cruel experience with "true love", goes a little overboard and says a bunch of stuff in the heat of the moment that she really doesn't mean, but hey -- it's out there.
Of course, this is the curse she places on little baby Aurora, the little princess who would grow up to be a somewhat version of the Sleeping Beauty Disney tale princess and played with wide eyed bewilderment by Elle Fanning (Super 8). The three fairies are there. So briefly is Prince Phillip. But these characters feel more like heavy handed references to the animated flick more than actual living characters within this gloomy universe.
These references are both highlights and detractions in what is mostly a sloppily written film. The movie spends most of its brief 97 minute running time establishing an enchanted, fairy godmother type relationship between Aurora and the seemingly wicked Maleficent. There are a few scenes that are straight out of the source material, but for the most part, this is an entire re-imagining of the Disney tale you grew up with. And that's not exactly a good thing.
The one detail to which pristine attention was payed is in the visualization and execution of the character Maleficent herself. Angelina Jolie is perfect to bring a little beauty to the mistress of all evil. But there's too much being rewritten here. Maleficent was always one of the most memorable and evil villains from those early Disney movies. She's the hero here. Yes, the hero. Which is all fine and good, but this is Sleeping Beauty and Maleficent is supposed to be horrible and evil. Make her tortured and conflicted, fine. But why does Hollywood insist on making all the bad guys into good guys?
Director Robert Stromberg, making his feature debut here, seems to struggle with an identity for the film. Is it a live re-telling of the 1959 classic? Or is it a backstory about why Maleficent became the source of evil she was? It's actually kind of both, using the basic themes to completely redefine her as a misunderstood and vengeful fairy with a broken heart in order to sell more merchandise at the Disney Store probably. Stromberg has always been known for his visual effects work and "Maleficent" looks mostly fantastic, as long as everything is fairly stationary. One the action kicks in, it gets a little messy. And avoid the 3D up-charge this time around.
For what it is, it's not bad. But those going in hoping to find a somewhat faithful adaptation of the beloved classic are going to be disappointed. But Jolie is pretty magnificent even though she isn't quite playing the Maleficent everyone knows and loves to hate. But it's dark and gloomy, but ultimately it's pretty kid friendly. At least until they grow up and realize it was a missed opportunity to retell the real story of Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent, and true love's first kiss.
Running time: 97 minutes.
Rating: Rated PG for sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images.