Running time: 97 minutes
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Imelda Staunton, Sam Riley
Who to see it with: Someone hoping for a slightly dark, but still family-friendly fairy tale
Maleficent is a live-action re-imagining of Disney's Sleeping Beauty told from its villain's perspective. This time, you see a young Maleficent—a fairy happy to spend her days flying around a lushly animated fairy kingdom—go down a dark path following a betrayal by a meaner King Stefan, an event altering the reasoning for the cursing of the king's daughter Aurora. Angelina Jolie, creepy facial makeup, and the script make Maleficent menacing yet fun and darkly witty. As teenage Aurora, Elle Fanning is pleasant as the naive princess raised in the woods by three goofy pixies (Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville), though the roles of anyone other than Maleficent pale in comparison to Jolie's.
The un-Disney-like dark fantasy approach is smartly twisted, but the writers fail to provide a convincing narrative. Evil Maleficent, a newly dark Stefan and ignorant Aurora provide the story with two villains and a helpless damsel in distress. To give the audience someone to root for, Maleficent quickly changes from a self-proclaimed child-hater into an anti-villain whose icy heart begins melting after a brief close encounter with her cute target. The scenes developing the pair's bond are sweet, but Maleficent's transition from villain to conflicted fairy godmother is too abrupt. This isn't helped by the strange tone of the central conflict. Stefan may be a thieving jerk, but his actions don't justify Maleficent's newly well-intentioned but still unjust plans for the princess. The colorful ending is jarring considering what happens during the violent climax, one full of the great special effects found throughout the movie but lacking the cleverness of the story's earlier twists. It's nice to see a blockbuster with little filler but a longer length might have resulted in improved character and plot development.
Maleficent is a visual treat and Angelina Jolie carries the movie with her hot/cold performance as the popular villain; awkward character and tonal shifts weaken the cleverly dark premise.