There's something to be said for giving even tiny tykes a good, old-fashioned fright in the name of good, clean fun. But Disney's Maleficent still feels like a sour miscalculation on somebody's part.
A dark, gloomy and quite violent riff on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, this time seen through the eyes of the evil fairy who put this beauty under a curse, it's a lovely-looking thing with most of the joy left out.
In short, it's the sort of movie we often get when somebody decides to promote a filmmaker from the visual-effects ranks into the director's chair.
The 3D wonderland created here has the texture and tone of time-worn three-strip Technicolor films from Hollywood's Golden Age -- think The Wizard of Oz or Gone With the Wind. But effects guru-turned-director Robert Stromberg rarely breathes life into the dazzling visuals he conjures up.
Angelina Jolie and her prosthetically augmented cheekbones have the title role, a fairy who grew up among assorted pixies, trolls and sprites, only to have her heart broken by the human boy who, to win the right to claim the throne, avenges a malevolent king who has battled Maleficent by whacking off her fairy wings.
The gruesome surgery takes place off-camera, for the most part.
That gives the fairy queen a grudge like no other. So when young Stefan (Sharlto Copley of District 9) becomes king, marries and his queen has a daughter, Maleficent storms her ex's baby's christening. And she lays on a curse. Young Princess Aurora will, when she turns 16, have an accident and "fall into a sleep like death."
Aurora will someday doze off and require -- wait for it -- "true love's kiss," something the cynically wingless Maleficent doubts will ever happen.
The Disney spin on the story is that Aurora, played by assorted adorable babies and toddlers, is sent to be raised by three incompetent pixies (Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville) to keep her from harm. Maleficent looks over her, gets mistaken by the child (Elle Fanning plays her as she reaches her teens) as her "fairy godmother" and develops feelings for the rugrat, whom she nicknames Beastie.
That situation is ripe for comedy, which this Linda Woolverton (Alice in Wonderland) script rarely delivers. Jolie can handle a withering putdown and a convincing Mistress of Mayhem, but rarely gets the chance to do either.
The pixies have their moments. Which are few. And the humourless humans have none.
Stromberg instead treats us to pretty little mud fights among Aurora and the froglike trolls of the swamp and big set-piece brawls between human soldiers and a forest turned into tree demons, battling to save the magic.
Impressive. And violent. Just not a lot of fun.
--McClatchy-Tribune News Service