A "Wicked" for tweens, this live-action reimagining of Disney's animated "Sleeping Beauty," told from the villain's point of view, flips the elegant Maleficent from evil to tragically heroic. One might think that's a waste of a good villain or a denial of the existence of evil -- does it matter if the Joker or Osama bin Laden were traumatized as kids? -- but it works if the villain has been genuinely misunderstood. Don't try this at home with Hannibal Lecter.
So, once upon a time, the sorcerous fairy Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), uninvited to the christening of the king's daughter Aurora, casts a curse sending the girl to a death-like sleep at 16, to be awakened only by true love's kiss. Classic overreaction.
But not really: That wasn't pique but payback, for emotional reasons this retelling makes visceral. The film's best moments, in fact, are those powered by emotion, not plot, as Maleficent finds to her surprise she can't help but protect the girl, growing up in an isolated cottage. When the teenage Aurora (Elle Fanning) makes Maleficent's formal acquaintance, having always sensed her "fairy godmother," the love between them is palpable and moving.
Yet, for all such emotional resonance, and as Shakespearean as Copley makes King Stefan's ambitions, "Maleficent" misses the mark. Aurora's three "auntie" fairies (Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple) are third-rate Three Stooges. An "impenetrable" fence of living thorns seems to come and go whenever the plot requires characters to do so. And one climactic moment involving true love's kiss swipes directly from Disney's own "Frozen" (2013) -- the logical extension being, which the movie clearly didn't mean to suggest, that Aurora is simply settling for Prince Philip (a befuddled Brenton Thwaites, out of place in a throwaway role).
Nor is the look particularly magical. Though first-time director Robert Stromberg is an Oscar-winning production designer, the landscapes are video-gamey, the trolls and gremlins look like 1980s animatronics, and the digital matting at times recalls the 1950s Superman TV series.
Curse this film. No, that's a little strong. Banish it to video.
PLOT "Sleeping Beauty," told from the villainess' side.
CAST Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley
BOTTOM LINE Angelina Jolie is magical. The rest -- not so much.
A spell check on screen witches
With "Maleficent," Angelina Jolie has a wicked good time playing an evil enchantress making life anything but magical for someone younger and fairer than she. Here are four other films with spellbinding screen sorceresses.
THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) -- It wasn't easy being green for Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West. During one scene when her costume caught fire, the flames reached her copper-based makeup, leaving her with first-degree burns on the right side of her face.
I MARRIED A WITCH (1942) -- "Peek-a-boo Blonde" Veronica Lake had her best screen role as a mischievous witch who falls for politician Fredric March after a love-potion spell goes awry. Reportedly, there was no love lost between the two stars.
BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE (1958) -- Kim Novak and James Stewart reunited after the success of "Vertigo" for this bewitching comedy. It also was the last romantic lead for Stewart, who was 50 and becoming self-conscious about the age difference between him and his leading ladies, such as the 24-year-old Novak.
THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK (1987) -- Three stunning witches (Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer and Susan Sarandon) use their magical powers to raise Cain in their Rhode Island town, getting plenty of help from a devilish stranger (Jack Nicholson).