* (out of four)
Plenty of stories covered in animated Disney movies have become live-action adventures. “101 Dalmatians.” “Alice in Wonderland.” “Mirror Mirror” and “Snow White and the Huntsman.” “Hook.” “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” Next year's live-action “Jungle Book.” I wouldn’t bet against a live-action “Lady and the Tramp” starring Uggie from “The Artist.”
What makes “Maleficent” special is that it makes no freakin’ sense. None. Anyone who pays even mild attention to the story should be saying, “Huh?” and “Yikes” and “That doesn’t work at all” throughout a plodding 97 minutes.
They won’t be visually spellbound either. There’s CGI aplenty, none of it wondrous. Gratuitous battle sequences are lifted from “Lord of the Rings.” As the titular character, woefully underdeveloped in 1959’s poorly told “Sleeping Beauty,” Angelina Jolie sports enhanced cheekbones that in the real world would make her say, “Hey, my eyes are over here, buddy.” In this bland fantasy world, she spends her first scenes yelling and then cry-screaming. Soon, because no thought has been put into “Maleficent” at all, the movie reconsiders giving the actress a juicy role and decides the baddie isn’t so bad after all. Practical jokes and unearned sentimentality ensue.
Penned by one of the writers of “The Lion King,” the film is wishy-washy and confounding, part prequel, part remake and all baloney. We learn Maleficent is an orphan but not what happened to her parents. Her childhood squeeze grows up to be the throne-craving Stefan (Sharlto Copley), a shady moron Maleficent should be glad to be rid of—or at least firm in her strongest moment of revenge-seeking. I won’t give away who narrates the movie in extraneous voiceover, but it’s someone who isn’t alive for most of what they’re describing.
It’s Maleficent, not the kind fairies, who determines that true love’s kiss can wake Aurora (forgettably played as a teenager by Elle Fanning) from eternal slumber after pricking her finger on a spindle. First-time director Robert Stromberg doesn’t show the efficiency slowdown of destroying hundreds of the pointy devices, but does show a room packed with them. Apparently it would have taken too much effort to eliminate the one thing guaranteed to harm the princess.
Only minor effort would have kept “Maleficent” from becoming a pathetic reminder of both “Wicked” and “Oz, the Great and Powerful,” with evidence that Disney is already biting from “Frozen.” That was fast.
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