There is an old saw about movies that goes, “Dont tell, show” and, alas, MALEFICENT has gotten that backwards. wtih an incessant, distracting, and otherwise unhelpful narration. Its an unfortunate irony in that the film seeks to inform us of the other side of the Sleeping Beauty story, that of the evil fairy who cursed a princess to perpetual somnambulance. Taking as its visual reference the classic Disney animated film about Sleeping Beauty, it is a much darker tale, and far less interesting, despite an arresting performance by Executive Producer Angelina Jolie.
Not many women could make an exuberant pair of water-buffalo horns work as a viable fashion accessory, but Jolie makes them positively seductive decked out as she is in dominatrix-light outfits that cling from neck to wrist to ankle without revealing skin, yet sharing a wealth of information about what is beneath. She is the eponymous fairy, who was done wrong by the mortal man she trusted, returning that trust by cutting off her wings and leaving her bent on revenge. This being a fairy tale, and a Disney one with a moral to be told, she takes out her rage not on the man, Stefan (Sharlto Copely), but upon his innocent daughter, Aurora (Elle Fanning), a decision she comes to regret when the child grows into an innocent beam of sunshine that melts even Maleficents cold, cold heart.
Fans of the original Disney film will recognize several of the visual flourishes, especially that wonderfully evil-looking green mist that Maleficent conjures when shes working her spells. Yet, for all of Jolies preternatural beauty, and the rigorous detail in bringing the animated character to live action, there is little passion to be found in her performance. Nor in Fanning’s, though to be fair the part of a sweet sixteen-year-old devoid of spunk or humor does not give any actress much with which to work. She is reduced to a enchantingly rendered grinning idiot. The engaging part of the film belongs to the three good fairies played with cheeky discombobulation as both pixies and full-sized human beings by Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Leslie Manville).
The pacing is as leaden as the color palette of Maleficents wardrobe, and the tone a hushed reflection of same. What should be the moments of greatest tension and suspense have the feeling of a rote lesson repeated for the umpteenth time, after all meaning has been drilled out of it. Although no expense has been spared with the requisite special effects necessary to underscore this story, they fail to spark any life into it, even the truly remarkable way that Diaval (Sam Riley) morphs in and out of his raven shape after becoming Maleficents surrogate wings.
Brooding and moribund, MALEFICENT offers few new insights, and less novelty in its sub-genre of telling a well-known tale from the villains point of view. Heres hoping theres a spin-off with those three pixies.