In nearly 80 years of delicious Disney animated villains threatening princesses, nobody’s ever been as truly frightening as Maleficent, the horn-headed sorceress who could transform into a dragon and cursed baby Aurora in 1959’s Sleeping Beauty. But much as Wicked did for the evil witch of The Wizard of Oz, Maleficent digs deeper into the backstory of the sharp-cheeked villainess, with Angelina Jolie bringing her to vivid life.
Of course, such revisionist fairy tales have become increasingly common. As EW’s Keith Staskiewicz notes in his review, “The first line of Maleficent [”Let us tell an old story anew and see how well you know it”] could be emblazoned on a sticker and slapped onto the back-bumper of Hollywood, an industry that has at this point become more interested in recycling than Ed Begley, Jr.”
But with a story credited to Linda Woolverton (Beauty and the Beast) and directed by Avatar production designer Robert Stromberg, Maleficent creates a different beast altogether, all the while staying true to the Disney brand. Elle Fanning plays the princess who really shouldn’t spin thread before turning 16 — but it’s Jolie, of course, that you’re aching to see at the baby’s christening. I’m sure she has her reasons for cursing a child, but I just want to hear that maniacal, echoing laugh.
Read more from Staskiewicz’s review, as well as a round-up of other notable critics, below.
Keith Staskiewicz (Entertainment Weekly)
“The characters are boiled down to their essentials, the humor is timelessly broad, and Jolie’s at her best when she’s curling her claws and elongating her vowels like a black-sabbath Tallulah Bankhead. Unfortunately, the story is more than a bit of a muddle, a string of sequences that shuttle the characters back and forth between the film’s sole two locations, a castle and a magic forest.”
Betsy Sharkey (Los Angeles Times)
“When [Jolie] is on the screen, she is all you really see. In addition to an uncanny resemblance to the animated queen … [she] creates a queen who may not be easy to love, but she is hard to hate. The black-and-white stereotypes are replaced by far more subtle shadings, the sneer that so characterized the original Disney queen is softened.”
Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle)
“Count Maleficent as one step further in the inevitable Joan Crawfordization of Angelina Jolie. Is anyone tougher — and I’m not talking about in the movies, but in the world? Her smooth face and big eyes, her natural composure and cold stare would be assets for any actress whose stock in trade is intimidation.”
Ann Hornaday (Washington Post)
“The drama, handsomely staged and filmed by director Robert Stromberg, is larded with now-requisite set pieces of wartime battles and slashing fights, but it’s the psychological interplay between Maleficent and Aurora — obsession, antagonist and lost mirror image — that throws off the most sparks.”
Andrew Barker (Variety)
“Uncertain of tone, and bearing visible scarring from what one imagines were multiple rewrites, the film fails to probe the psychology of its subject or set up a satisfying alternate history, but it sure is nice to look at for 97 minutes.”
Manohla Dargis (New York Times)
“Consciously or not, coherently or not, Maleficent tells a new kind of story about how we live now, not once upon another time. And it does so by suggesting, among other things, that budding girls and older women are not natural foes, even if that’s what fairy tales, Hollywood and the world like to tell us.”
Dana Stevens (Slate)
“Maleficent doesn’t reinvent any wheels when it comes to the fairy-tale genre … but the entire time I was watching it, I wished my 8-year-old was by my side, and that doesn’t happen often in this age of bombastic, overlong, mayhem-laden kids’ entertainments.
Matt Zoller Seitz (RogerEbert.com)
“There are [profoundly disturbing moments] that strike to the heart of human experience and create the kinds of memories that young children — young girls particularly — will obsess over, because on some level they’ll know, even without the benefit of adult experience, that the film is telling them a horrible sort of truth.”
Rene Rodriguez (Miami Herald) ▲
“The result is a rare live-action Disney movie that merits comparison to its beloved feature-length cartoons. Maleficent doles out some surprises in its second half, becoming its own film while still being worthy of the title Sleeping Beauty.”
Bilge Ebiri (New York – Vulture)
“[Stromberg and Woolverton are] a bit too enamored of their revisionism, and they don’t quite know what to do with the rest of the tale. … In robbing Maleficent of her cruelty, the film doesn’t really reject the notion of evil — it merely transfers it to King Stefan.”
Tom Russo (Boston Globe)
“Copley’s crazily paranoid king is just too much. Look for his untold backstory in Stefan, coming someday to a theater near you.”
Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 56
Rotten Tomatoes: 46 percent
Length: 97 minutes
Director: Robert Stromberg
Starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley