Credit: Greg Williams

Angelina Jolie says she frightened numerous small children while playing the lead role in Maleficent, Disney’s villain-themed take on Sleeping Beauty‘s fairy tale.

“The strange thing was people with little kids would visit the set and I would think, ‘I’m a Disney character!'” Jolie said at the D23 fan convention in Anaheim, Calif., right next to Disneyland, where far less-famous actors play such characters.

“I’d go over to the children and say hi,” she told the crowd. “And they would scream and run off. One little boy actually said Mommy, ‘Please, tell the mean witch to please stop talking to me.'”

Hey, kid — purists would tell you Maleficent is an evil fairy. Not a witch. But okay.

Before showing off footage from the 2014 film, Jolie said it was slightly easier acting opposite the very young version of Princess Aurora/Briar Rose, since it was played by her daughter, Vivienne.

“She was the only 4-year-old who wouldn’t scream,” Jolie said. Elle Fanning (Super 8) plays the teenage Aurora.

The film, directed by Oscar-winning production designer Robert Stromberg, is a shift on the Disney animated version from 1959. Jolie said he brought a particularly acute sense of detail to the fairy tale world. “But It has to be from the point of view of the villain, so as beautiful as it was it also needed the edge, and to be a little sexy and little darker.”

Studio production chief Sean Bailey said it will include many allusions to that earlier film, however. “We’ll see the epic battle with of the dragon, but this time, just maybe, we may find ourselves rooting for the other side,” he says.

Although she may have been a bracing presence in real life, Jolie — speaking as a mom of many — said she hoped families would warm to the villainess — who was one of her favorites from childhood.

“My children love Disney,” she said. “You know you can bring your kids to a Disney film.”

She said she always was drawn to the scary Maleficent from the cartoon version as a child herself.

“Since I was a little girl, Maleficent was always my favorite. I was terrified of her, but I was so drawn to her. I wanted to know more about her, know what she was like and who she was,” Jolie said. “She had this elegance and grace, and yet she was so cruel, Just wonderfully and deliciously cruel.”

When word came out that Disney was developing a live-action version, she said members of her family remembered her fascination. “I got a call form my brother who said, ‘You’ve got to try to get in on this,'” Jolie said.

The footage previewed at D23 corresponded closely to the animated classic.

It begins with good fairies Flora, Fauna and Merryweather, flitting through the castle on their way to bestow gifts on the newborn Princess Aurora while a sinister looking king played by Sharlto Copely (District 9) glowers on.

While they bless her with spells wishing for a happy life, a dark wind blows through the castle, swaying iron chandeliers and sending the inhabitants cowering. A shadow rises, with two familiar curled horns.

Jolie’s black-clad Maleficent, who had a much earlier, uglier encounter with the king, has arrived before the court.

“Well, well …” she says, and smiles. “I must say I really felt quite distressed at not receiving an invitation.”

“You’re not welcome here,” the king snarls.

Maleficent sighs, looking back at the frightened court denizens. “What an awkward situation!” she says, as her crow lands on the baby’s bassinet.

“Listen well, all of you,” she says, in a voice eerily reminiscent of Eleanor Audley, who voiced the animated character. “The princess shall indeed grow in grace and beauty. But before the sun sets on her 16th birthday, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel — and fall into a sleeplike death … woken only by true love’s kiss.”

She cackles as the footage fades to the title: MALEFICENT.

The film opens July 2, 2014.

  • Movie
  • 135 minutes