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Maleficent Review: Angelina Jolie’s Villain Needs “Snappier Script”

Angelina Jolie in Maleficent
Angelina Jolie's live-action Maleficent needs a "snappier script" and unnecessarily gave the Disney classic's ending a "modern spin," writes Us Weekly's film critic Mara Reinstein Frank Connor/Disney

In theaters Friday, May 30

2 stars (out of 4 stars)

Consider this a wake-up call.

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Though a live-action, big-budget take on the Sleeping Beauty villain had the makings of a cinematic dream, it needs a fairy godmother equipped with a snappier script.

And not even Angelina Jolie's fantastically evil-chic wardrobe can rescue it.

She tries to tap into her sinister side as Maleficent, a powerfully winged fairy who's an outcast in her faraway land. Or is she just really misunderstood and brokenhearted that her former childhood sweetheart, Stefan, has snubbed her? Yes, that's it. Her loneliness turns into despair after Stefan (Sharlto Copley) drugs her with a magic potion and clips her wings.

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Maleficent seeks refuge in the wilderness, where beasts protect her and keep her posted on day-to-day life in the kingdom. When she's informed that the king has welcomed a baby girl (named Aurora), she snaps. Green with rage and unable to fly, the vindictive Maleficent shows up to the royal baby ceremony and delivers her most wicked curse: the princess will fall into a sleep upon her 16th birthday, and only the kiss of a true love can save her. The frightened king immediately ships her out of the palace and into the care of three fairies.

Parents with small kids in tow at the Cineplex may be put-off by this rather dark plot description. But rest assured the red flag here isn't the potential for nightmares—it's the long stretch of nothing that will lead to restless boredom. If anything, the movie could use more good ole' fashioned diabolical fun. Like 2012's Snow White & The Huntsmen, this drama takes itself far too seriously for a tale as old as time (only the three dopey fairies provide a speck of joy). Granted, the enchanted forest is bright and impeccably detailed, but what 7-year-old is going to walk out the theater raving about high-quality production design?

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Jolie, employing an English accent, wastes a chance to sink her teeth into a Disney villain role. Instead, she plays it earnest and humorless in a narrative that's as ho-hum as it is exasperating. Almost as soon as Maleficent casts her spell—we're talking, like, eight minutes—she regrets it and takes a sympathetic interest in the baby girl. (Jolie's own daughter, Vivienne, portrays her as a toddler. She's a cutie.) As years pass and Aurora grows up into a beautiful and bland teen (Elle Fanning), the alleged evil sorceress befriends her. What a cop out. You have black horns, girlfriend! Own it.

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More appalling, the filmmakers (who include co-producer Jolie) decide to rewrite the storybook. No spoilers, except a warning that there's an ultrasappy, unnecessary and modern spin on the classic happily ever after. You know, because so many people have complained for centuries that the end needed a do-over. Tsk, tsk. Just because an updated version is more PG-friendly doesn't mean it's splendid entertainment for kids of all ages.

So, who wants to watch Frozen again?

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