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Following in the footsteps of Tim Burton’s wildly successful Alice in Wonderland and Sam Raimi’s equally entertaining Oz the Great and Powerful, Maleficent attempts to tell a classic story in an exciting new way. But unlike Alice and Oz, Maleficent simply isn’t that interesting. There’s a been-there, done-that feeling to this retelling of Sleeping Beauty and most of the minor changes that have been made to the story are a detriment to the final product. It’s great to watch Angelina Jolie in the lead role; it’s just a shame that everything around her feels so uninspired.

Attempting to give a back story to Sleeping Beauty’s main antagonist, we are introduced to the faerie Maleficent when she is just a young girl. When a human boy named Stefan walks into her forest, the two of them become friends and eventually fall in love as they grow old together, but the love fades away over time. The adult version of Stefan (Sharlto Copley) works for the King and is tasked with killing Maleficent (Angelina Jolie). Unable to kill her, he clips off her wings and presents them to the King. Stefan is given the throne and he gives birth to a young girl named Aurora. In an act of revenge against Stefan, Maleficent places a curse on Aurora, declaring that she will enter a deep sleep on her 16th birthday that can only be broken by true love’s kiss.

It’s clear that Maleficent wants to be a new spin on an old tale, but aside from an increased focus on Maleficent’s character, this is the same Sleeping Beauty tale that we’re all familiar with. It’s a shame that screenwriter Linda Woolverton doesn’t take any risks; what could have been a fresh perspective, instead feels like a dull retread. All of this is told through a narrator who interjects herself into the story so many times that it becomes frustrating. A script that relies on its narrator to explain the plot to the audience again and again is nothing short of a crutch for lazy storytelling.

Having previously worked as the production designer on both Alice in Wonderland and Oz the Great and Powerful, director Robert Stromberg knows how to make a good looking film. In his directorial debut, Stromberg successfully creates visuals that turn this fairy tale to life: the colors of nature are absolutely radiant and the visual effects will have viewers eyeing every inch of the screen. An early scene that showcases Maleficent flying through her natural forest is a sight to behold.

While the visuals may be wonderful, Stromberg lacks a sense of style, thus creating a film that feels familiar and ordinary. Once the luster of the shiny visual effects wear off, it becomes increasingly clear that this film isn’t as fun or as stylistic as it should have been. Like the script, Stromberg’s direction feels safe and mundane. This is a tale as old as time, but that doesn’t excuse the uninteresting structure and presentation. Because of this, the film feels far longer than it should be, even with a relatively short runtime. It isn’t until the film’s final moments that things actually pick up and become interesting again.

In her first onscreen appearance in nearly four years, Jolie is perfectly cast as Maleficent. Not only does she have the perfect look for the character, she also nails her performance, allowing her character’s backstory to feel real and affecting. The scene where she awakens to find her wings stolen is heartbreaking and it’s tough to imagine an actress pulling it off better than Jolie has. Jolie is at her best when she is bringing out the evil in Maleficent, so it’s a shame that the filmmakers believed it was necessary to force in a redemption story for her character. Giving Maleficent a backstory and then truly embracing her wicked ways without redemption would have made for a much more interesting movie.

But this is a family film after all, so it’s not surprising that they choose to take the safe, feel-good route. Instead of taking the story into exciting new territory, the filmmakers seem content to repackage the same essential elements with a slightly different ending. Despite great visuals, a fantastic score from James Newton Howard and a deliciously fun performance from Jolie, Maleficent simply doesn’t have the magic.

Maleficent receives 2/4

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