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Maleficent doesn't have this sort of faith in its audience. Its commercials promise that we will now know the true story. The movie doesn't invite us to look at Sleeping Beauty from a different perspective; it just dismisses that original story as a lie and substitutes another story, in which the original victims are revealed to be the depraved ones and the original demon-witch is revealed as the fullest embodiment of true love.

Elle Fanning in 'Maleficent'
Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Elle Fanning in 'Maleficent'

The opening narration tells of two kingdoms, the marshes populated by benevolent fairies and walking trees and a worldly kingdom filled with "folks like you and me." It's telling that in this setup, neither the marsh nor the human kingdom is said to be populated with a mix of good and bad souls. King Stefan is not supposed to be a singularly bad guy; he is representative of his race. As a child he has a rudimentary knowledge of right and wrong, but he is overcome by the "temptations of the human kingdom" and "the greed and envy of men." (The vision of man's nature and moral development here is much more Blakean than Biblical.)

Mix in a little political allegorizing—Stefan's father decides to wage a preemptive military campaign to strike down "a growing power in the moors"—and throw in a shockingly bungled rape metaphor, and the audience may start wishing that the powers of some supernatural entity would be invoked against someone. It's dark, dark stuff, with Stefan, the representative of power and patriarchy, every bit the monster that Maleficent was once thought to be.

It's always a dicey proposition to dramatically invert politically and socially conservative stories. But Maleficent suffers from particularly bad timing. Fresh off of one big Hollywood epic (Noah) in which demons were humanized and men were demonized, another Disney blockbuster (Frozen) that suggests all men are cads and true love only exists in sisterhood, and a series of dystopian fantasy franchises (Divergent, The Hunger Games, Star Trek: Into Darkness) that portray totalitarian governments labeling conscience-stricken truth seekers as terrorists, audiences may be more prone to recognize Maleficent's evil is good/good is evil trope as the stale regurgitation it really is.

Even so, much of this might have been mitigated if the movie was better. But it's hard to believe this movie had a reported $200 million budget. The screenplay needs another draft. The second act drags mightily. Even in the best circumstances, 3D tends to wash out the colors and make everything in a film look darker. In a horror or action film, that is annoying. But for those of us whose fondest memories of Sleeping Beauty are tied up in its stained glass color palette, the murky blue-grey haze that covers everything in Maleficent is a major disappointment.

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