Movie Review: Maleficent casts an uneven spell

This most recent fairy tale update starring Angelina Jolie yields mixed results.

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We all know the story of Sleeping Beauty: A princess is born, a curse cast. As the story goes, Maleficent cursed Princess Aurora because the fairy had not been invited to the royal christening. But an evil fairy certainly wouldn’t curse an innocent child over such a minor offense, right?

Maleficent, the dark re-imagining of Disney's 1959 animated classic, attempts to set the story straight. Starring Angelina Jolie — possibly as infamous a personage as her eponymous character — the film reveals the more complicated story of how Maleficent went from pure-hearted protector to Disney's original, and arguably most iconic, supervillain.
The film opens on an idyllic scene of the Moors, a magical and autonomous alcove on the edge of the human kingdom. Home to a whole universe of unusual creatures, the mystery of the Moors and its inhabitants invoke curiosity and fear within its human neighbors. While the Moor populace is cautious toward the humans and their wars, a young, beloved fairy named Maleficent befriends a human boy named Stefan.

Although the friends become close, they eventually grow apart. Stefan pursues his ambitions and Maleficent grows more powerful, rising to protect the Moors from the arrogant attacks from the human realm. It is only after Maleficent suffers an unimaginable betrayal that she becomes the ruthless villainess we all know. 

The lush, mythical setting of Maleficent seems a perfect fit for its first-time director Robert Stromberg, who previously served as production designer on similar fairy tale interpretations Alice in Wonderland (2010) and Oz the Great and Powerful (2013). While the film’s visual effects — from epic battles to the recreation of classic images from the original Disney film — are stunning, the substance behind Maleficent is unfortunately lacking. 

Jolie (who also executive produced the film) conveys Maleficent’s layered personality — her resolve, pain, humor, remorse — impeccably via her body language and verbal delivery. As the title would suggest, the film focuses primarily on Maleficent and her story. Any emotional development provided the other characters, however, is either weak or nonexistent. This is particularly true of the dim-witted fairies charged with caring for Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), and the princess herself. I get that the princess is supposed to be this sanguine, nymph-like creature who's always cheerful and somehow content having no friends and rolling around in fields all day, but even by those standards Fanning REALLY hammed it up. It was almost unbearable. 

The point of the film is to tell the other side of the story, and thus develop Maleficent’s character. You’d think a film that makes the point to develop a character would try to do the same for the supporting cast.

The story itself is fairly predictable, disregards several minor holes in the plot, and relies a bit too much on exposition. That being said, there are some genuinely engaging aspects to the story. Maleficent the character is very interesting, I just wish the other characters and story over all were as well. The story may be weak, but Maleficent is fast-paced, and packs in enough action, magic, and special effects to keep your interest. 

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