For the life of me, I don’t know who MALEFICENT was made for. It seems like it wants to be for fans of the titular villain, but while Jolie is fantastic in the horns, she is Maleficent in iconography alone. It seems like it wants to be made for fans of the stage play WICKED, aping a similar fan-fic-that-absolves-the-villain plot gimmick, but unlike WICKED, it doesn’t even attempt to honor the source material. In this it seems to actively oppose catering to fans of Disney’s original SLEEPING BEAUTY. Its plot is so divergent, it seems its goal is that the audience should forget that another version of the story ever existed. MALEFICENT confoundingly seems to expect you to accept it on its own merits, while appreciating it primarily due to nostalgia.
The plot falls into the (increasingly common for films) uncanny valley between classic iconographic storytelling and a more fleshed out modern sensibility (i.e. “gritty” and “grounded”). In SLEEPING BEAUTY you could accept that the Princess Aurora could fall in love with Prince Philip at first sight, because the minimalistic characters were acting out a minimalistic story structure exploring the concept of fate. MALEFICENT aims to make these archetypal characters relatable, and in the process just makes them boring and shallow. (They don’t even bother to give Aurora a personality, instead altering her birthday gift so that she’s cursed with mania.) The film’s special effects fall into the same uncanny valley. They can’t seem to decide if they want to be realistic or cartoony, and thus settle on occasionally pretty but more often hideously malformed, shrunken versions of middle aged fairy women.
In short, if all you expect from the film is star power, high budget fairy dust, and a trite representation of girl power, MALEFICENT may suit you fine. But for anyone expecting more, do yourself a favor and stay clear of this abortion of both a classic Disney story and villain.
3D Recommendation: I didn’t notice a single flaw in this department, and it enhanced the film’s striking visuals considerably. (Congrats to my Legend folk on the small portion we dominated!)