In this intriguing, revisionist riff on "Sleeping Beauty," the heroine/villain is the angry enchantress who cast a spell on newborn Aurora. Who was she? And why was she seeking vengeance?
As narrated by Janet McTeer, a carefree young fairy, Maleficent, was frolicking happily through the Moors, teasing toad-goblins and twiggy tree-guardians -- until she met a young human named Stefan and fell in love. But he was greedy and ambitious. So when they're full-grown, Stefan (Sharlto Copley) betrays Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) -- violating her physically and emotionally by cutting off her wings and marrying the King's daughter. So at the christening of baby Aurora, spurned Maleficent arrives, uninvited, and delivers the curse that can only be broken by true love's kiss.
That's where this fable takes an abrupt turn. Maleficent watches beautiful, blonde Aurora as she grows up, easily outwitting three bickering pixies (Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, Juno Temple), her nursemaids in a forest cottage. Instead of being afraid, young Aurora (played in one scene by the star's daughter, Vivienne Jolie-Pitt) innocently believes that shadowy Maleficent is her fairy godmother. Eventually, Maleficent develops a distinct fondness for the youngster whom she always refers to as "a beastie." But, as her 16th birthday approaches, Aurora (Elle Fanning) learns the truth -- and it's too late for Maleficent to recant the curse.
Female-centrically scripted by Linda Woolverton ("Beauty and the Beast," "The Lion King") with Jolie utterly bewitching in a convincing Mommy Dearest mode, it's humorlessly helmed and oddly paced by first-time feature film director Robert Stromberg, winner of art direction Oscars for "Avatar" and "Alice in Wonderland." The lush, visual beauty cannot be overstated.
Wearing twisted, ink-black horns, crimson lipstick and a sneering, scornful expression, alabaster-skinned Jolie is awesomely transformed by special makeup effects artist Rick Baker.
But on the downside, ploddingly miscast Copley mumbles incoherently, while Aurora's handsome Prince (Brenton Thwaites) is barely a bystander.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Maleficent" is a darkly dazzling 7. Because of intense, sometimes terrifying imagery, it should be PG-13, not PG.