Directed by: Robert Stromberg

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Lesley Manville

The latest trend is for movie studios to reinvent old fairy tales by making them darker and edgier. Snow White and the Huntsman, Jack the Giant Slayer and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters are the most recent examples.  Some adaptations have been successful, while others have floundered.  On the one hand, it is refreshing to see familiar tales told from different perspectives or with new twists.  On the other hand, it feels as if filmmakers are out of creative ideas, and are simply re-packaging the same old tales.  Angelina Jolie’s new film Maleficent follows this trend.  Although the film has some interesting moments, it ultimately is just a simple retelling of Sleeping Beauty from the evil faerie’s perspective. 

Maleficent (Isobelle Malloy/Ella Purnell/Angelina Jolie) is a powerful faerie living in a magical world called the Moors.  As a young girl, Maleficent is beloved by all of the magical creatures in her kingdom. Even though she is a child, as the strongest faerie, she is responsible for the protection of the Moors. Humans nearby fear the Moors and generally keep their distance.  However, a poor young boy, Stefan (Michael Higgins) ventures into the Moors and meets Maleficent. Stefan and Maleficent become friends and as they grow older, they fall in love.

However, the lure of power in the human world is too strong for the ambitious Stefan (Sharlto Copley) once he becomes an adult.  He leaves Maleficent behind and works to climb the royal ladder. Meanwhile, Maleficent’s powers grow immensely, and the human king feels threatened by her presence.  The king attempts to attack her and conquer the Moors. Maleficent handily defeats the king and his soldiers, weakening him so much that he is on the verge of death.  The king offers his throne to any man who can avenge him by killing Maleficent.  Hungry for power, Stefan visits Maleficent, drugs her and cuts off her wings to take back to the king.  

Stefan subsequently ascends to the throne, and the once happy and loving Maleficent is turned into a vengeful, harsh villain by her first love’s betrayal.  King Stefan and his new queen have a baby girl, Aurora.  Thirsty for revenge, Maleficent crashes Aurora’s christening and delivers a curse that when Aurora turns sixteen years old, she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel spindle and fall into a deep sleep that will only be broken by true love’s kiss. 

Maleficent has some shining moments.  The cinematography is well done as the setting shifts with Maleficent’s moods.  When Maleficent is young and full of love, the magical kingdom is filled with wondrously vivid colors.  When Maleficent’s heart is broken, the Moors and the entire kingdom become a dark, grey place reflecting her power. The filmmakers create a visually intriguing world.   

Moreover, Angelina Jolie is decidedly more interesting as Maleficent than Julia Roberts was as a villain in the disastrous Mirror, Mirror.  Bizarre accent aside, Jolie is a delight to watch as the evil Maleficent.  She shines most in the film when she is destroying armies and unleashing powerful magic. Jolie as Maleficent continues the positive feminist shift in Disney films.  Female characters, like Anna and Elsa in Frozen, are not simply waiting for a knight in shining armor to save them.  Instead, women are strong enough to save themselves.

However, Maleficent has some flaws.  The film struggles to find its tone.  It is a PG rated Disney film that is darker than most Disney fare.  The film’s attempts at light humor generally fail, so the film feels heavy throughout.  As a mom and a frequent critic of children’s movies, I suspect younger children may not enjoy Maleficent.  Although it is not scary, much of the film is bogged down by angst, revenge and Jolie skulking around in the forest.  There is not enough humor, beyond some bumbling faeries, to keep kids engaged.  Older children may be better equipped to appreciate the film’s pacing and themes.  Ironically, as an adult viewer, I did not think the film was dark enough as there was not enough wicked Jolie for my tastes.  It felt like the filmmakers wanted to do a different kind of Disney film that was layered and not full of sunshine and light, but Maleficent did not go far enough.  When I left the theater, I truly felt ambivalent about the film.  I did not love it.  I did not hate it.  

Maleficent earns a 0.09% rating.  I would not rush out to theaters to see this, but if you do, enjoy a flaming dragon with this one.