As far as passive main characters go, Princess Aurora in Disney’s 1959 film “Sleeping Beauty” places high on the list. In “Sleeping Beauty”, Aurora sways, sings a tune, and can barely conjure up a few lines before she falls to her inevitable sleep. A reimagining of the fairy tale would have to give the main character role to someone else, but who? “Sleeping Beauty’s” main problem is it relied too heavily on all its supporting characters; one of the fairies who vows to protect Aurora comes out of the film seemingly as the default protagonist. Otherwise, it’s the tale of how women must be protected and shouldn’t worry because their prince is coming to rescue them.
“Sleeping Beauty” works wonders elsewhere, however. Taking a classic fairy tale and adding a dark twist is not just a cliché, it’s also redundant. With plot devices like an eternal slumber in the original incarnation, you only have to squint a bit to see just how disturbed the Disney versions are too. Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” plays like a dream itself, or perhaps it plays more like a nightmare.
It’s a shame that “Maleficent” is a saccharine piece of work.
Television has paved the way for the antihero. This year, one of those characters even transitioned to the big screen in the excellent “Veronica Mars” film. Those risks seem greater when it comes to movies. But if there were ever a film to gamble it on, and if there were ever an actor to gamble it with, it’s most likely “Maleficent” and Angelina Jolie.
Jolie seems to be having the time of her life with the material she’s given. She gets to play it all—in love and heartbroken, maternal and ruthless. She has to hold back winking at the camera at times, and it’s all truly a delight to watch her command the screen.
But if you were hoping for a no-holds-back epic, you might just be a bit disappointed.
Reportedly, Jolie’s favorite cartoon character growing up was Maleficent. Watching “Sleeping Beauty”, it’s not difficult to understand why. Maleficent is both ethereal and divisive. Her laugh screeches through the speakers, and yet the glow of her curse seduces both Aurora and audiences alike.
“Maleficent” takes a disturbing yet quaint film and somehow manages to remove some whimsy without adding much flair.
“Maleficent” attempts giving some layers to its titular character. Though those layers are as predictable as the plot, including a couple surprise twists you’ll see coming, the attempt is still very much welcomed. The film might even make you chuckle a few times, too. It’s Jolie, however, who is worth the price of admission. You’ll probably have just as much fun as she did chewing up the scenes and hamming it up for the camera.
That said, even the 1959 animation works in “Sleeping Beauty’s” favor. Everything operates in a slow rhythm, mimicking the moments before a slumber. When the credits roll after “Sleeping Beauty”, I feel slightly distressed. When the credits rolled after “Maleficent”, I could barely muster a shrug.
Jolie is outstanding as Maleficent, but even she can’t make up for all of “Maleficent’s” misgivings.
“Maleficent” is playing in theaters everywhere.
This review originally appeared on FIUSM.com.