Directed by Robert Styromberg. Starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Brenton Thwaites, Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Sam Riley. (2014, PG, 97 min.)

REVIEWED By Louis Black, Fri., June 6, 2014

Sure, Maleficent is too damn cute in that Disney way, and overly pretty in every way (lush landscapes, fascinating creatures) – especially the damn prince and princess (Thwaites and Fanning), who would be considered too noxiously perfect for a television ad. Still, the damn thing works, the visuals are stunning, and the otherworldly creatures not only have interesting appearances but also possess an emotional reality.

It’s Jolie, however, who brings it home. She dominates every scene she is in from her opening appearance, in which she literally bursts across the screen. She does look a little too gaunt, especially around the cheekbones, but given the amount of money, energy, and brilliance poured into this film in a quest for “better than pretty,” this may well be intentional. Jolie is a movie star giving a majestic movie-star turn.

Maleficent is what it is, but it is effortlessly good at it. The story intrigues, and the characters involve us. Even the damn princess, too perfect by half, is engaging. The three fairy-godmother types – the latest in a long lineage of Disney groupings of overly cute characters in slaphappy supporting roles – are at least as entertaining as they are hard to handle.

I’m unfamiliar with Wicked, but this film takes the Sleeping Beauty story and twists it completely around so that it is textured in a way it never has been before. Imaginatively, it places all the known elements of the story in different contexts, completely recasting this familiar fairy tale into a more poignant and resonant work.

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