Maleficent bills itself as a re-telling of the Disney classic Sleeping Beauty, but it doesn’t make a strong case for its existence outside of being a vehicle for its star Angelina Jolie. And, therein lies the problem. It’s gorgeous to look at and Jolie gives her first leading role in quite some time, but there’s never enough to latch onto beyond those two aspects. If as much time was spent crafting the story as was spent on its visuals, this could have been a solid film that children and adults alike could have enjoyed. Instead it’s a misstep doomed to an eternal slumber.
It doesn’t help that nearly fifty percent of the film’s short running time is spent on building up a story that eventually has little payoff. First, there’s the story of a young Maleficent (Jolie) falling for a human, Stefan (Sharlto Copley), an unusual relationship due to the separation of humanity and the magical world on the other side of the forest. Tempted by ambition, Stefan ultimately betrays Maleficent in order to become king and her broken heart leads to a life of anger and hatred, which she directs into casting a spell on King Stefan’s first born daughter Aurora (Elle Fanning). The curse states that on her 16th birthday she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall into a deep sleep, from which only true love’s kiss will wake her.
After Maleficent’s descent into darkness is played out, it’s then the backstory of Aurora’s childhood leading up to that fateful day. Maleficent, although turned into a villain, is easy to empathize with because of her hurt at Stefan. She’s never a truly bad person, only one who’s been hurt enough to be consumed with revenge. Stefan, on the other hand, is given almost no characterization and exists only as some metaphor that humanity is rife with temptation from which no one can escape. Unlike Maleficent — who is the only well rounded character in the entire film — Stefan is just some bad guy who has it coming. And although she’s his daughter, the struggle comes from Aurora’s innocence and because Stefan shipped her off into isolation until after she turns 16, exists outside of him.
Only anything in relation to Maleficent is given any significance. Sure, it’s the story from her point of view, but to give her a story worthy of inhabiting, she needs to have fully formed characters around her and a story strong enough to carry her. Instead, it’s all thrown without the emotional core it thinks it earns. Ultimately, it’s another in a long line of recent films that try to retell a classic story with a new twist, but ends up being more concerned with wowing the audience through incredible visuals rather than a breathtaking story.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5