It takes talent to walk around in a black leather-horned cap and not look silly. Angelina Jolie turns in a magnificent performance in “Maleficent” as the (now we are told) misunderstood villain of the “Sleeping Beauty” tale.
Despite the odd look — inspired by the drawings of Marc Davis for the 1959 animated Disney film — Jolie makes the character equally sinister and sweet.
This is still the story of Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), who is cursed at her christening by Maleficent to fall into a deep slumber. Only the kiss of her true love can wake her. But the story looks more at how Maleficent — with cheekbones sharp enough to cut diamonds — goes from star-crossed lover to vindictive party crasher.
Jolie rules this film with a powerful acting grace accented by director Robert Stromberg’s film style that shifts from film noir to children’s comedy without a flinch. There’s just not enough fleshing out of the story to support these elements.
The villain of this film is the script by Linda Woolverton, which promises Maleficent’s real story but delivers little more than a couple variations on the original theme. Woolverton should have aggressively adapted the story to add something more original. The times when she does stretch, she falls so short it’s obvious this writing task exceeded her grasp.
One of the biggest blunders comes when Aurora pricks her finger and falls into the deep sleep. Not to give anything away, but this is the story of a “sleeping” beauty — not a “napping” or “nodding off” beauty. Part of the drama is how long the kingdom waits for the powerful kiss to end the spell.
There’s also a major moment near the end that should have touched Aurora deeply, but her reaction is less enthusiastic than a teen learning the shoes she wants to buy are no longer on sale.
Woolverton needed to push, twist and reshape the story into something bigger and better. As is, the film is fun but not memorable. Yet young children also might have trouble forgetting the movie, which has intense live-action scenes.
Fewer predictable battles and more original writing would have made “Maleficent” magnificent. If only the script had been as good as Jolie’s performance and the beautiful visuals from Stromberg, this would have been a summer sleeper beauty.