Once upon a time—OK, fine, 1959—in a Magic Kingdom, an animated version of Sleeping Beauty arose from storyboards and cels. And now, 55 years later, thanks to the wonder of green-screen and CGI, the 21st-century adaptation of a 19th-century fairy tale has been well and truly $*@ked up.
The best thing about Disney’s retelling of everyone’s favourite princess-goes-comatose-after-pricking-her-finger-on-an-obvious-symbol-of-lower-class-women’s-work story is Angelina Jolie. She glares and scowls and vamps and does her devilish best to turn a vengeful fairy queen into more than just razor-sharp cheekbones and a black cape. But she’s smothered by a ploddingly safe movie insisting on vague goodness and badness, utterly redeeming a villain, and children being the very cutest-shmoopiest creatures in the world, oh-aren’t-they-just? (This wasn’t, apparently, made by anyone remotely resembling a real parent.)
As a (lipsticked, for some reason) little fairy girl, Maleficent falls for a human boy, Stefan, who grows up to become so power-lusting that he betrays her, cutting off her wings so he’ll get to be the king’s successor. And, apart from some F/X creatures, that’s pretty much how the first half-hour of this flick goes, with scarcely more depth or detail throughout. Yet questions remain. Why are the horrible humans Scottish, while Maleficent and three silly pixies—given Stefan’s daughter Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) to protect from Maleficent’s curse—speak with English accents? How, over three years of film-development, did super-treacle like “Thus did the young thief, who hoped to steal a jewel, steal something far more precious” sap its way past the sharp-eared?
And beyond all the twee-ness and preciousness is the movie’s eagerness to make Maleficent a regretful woman scorned. She quickly rues the curse she’s placed on Aurora—all because she hates that dastardly prick Stefan—and acts like a fairy godmother to the princess before it dawns on her that “true love” is her mother-like love for Aurora. She repents because of Aurora’s cute purity and pure cuteness (her smile as a baby in her crib, her sunny perfect-ness as a blonde teenager, etc.). And so the angelic-ness of children makes evil—never understandable, complex or interesting here—simply regrettable. And that’s how, unhappily ever after, this pointless Sleeping Beauty Redux turned malevolence into some stupid Mickey Mouse game.