‘Maleficent’ Reviews: Angelina Jolie Delivers – But Does the Rest of the Movie?

The story and visual effects are up for debate as critics put out mixed reviews on Disney’s latest release

Angelina Jolie makes a perfect “Maleficent,” but critics are wishing Disney would make a better movie for her to star in.

The live-action adaptation of 1959 animated classic “Sleeping Beauty” currently holds a 47 percent “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and most of the praise is directed strictly at its star.

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Instead of focusing on Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), director Robert Stromberg‘s film revolves around the eponymous forest fairy who turns to the dark side after a man (Sharlto Copley) steals her wings to gain the crown from a dying king. As an act of retribution, Maleficent places a curse on baby Aurora, but grows to regret the spell that even she can’t break.

Although TheWrap‘s Alonso Duralde found the film to be “visually hideous,” he was enthralled by Jolie’s performance and a story that is a fresh take on a old tale.

“The premise of turning the memorably wicked witch from ‘Sleeping Beauty’ into a protagonist might seem like a gimmick that would quickly fizzle out, but screenwriter Linda Woolverton (‘Beauty and the Beast’), with a great assist from Angelina Jolie, offers a ‘Wicked’-style do-over that results in a movie that’s as entertaining as it is bold,” Duralde wrote in his review. “While the visuals fall prey to some unpleasant trends in modern moviemaking — several CG characters have an ugly misshapenness that recalls ‘Jack the Giant Slayer,’ and the magical forest lands resemble a toilet-paper commercial — ‘Maleficent’ throws out much of the original tale’s bathwater without losing the baby.”

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Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips also found that “the formula works,” and so does Jolie’s performance. Although, his 2-and-a-half-star score doesn’t suggest he was overly fond of it.

“The formula works. It worked with ‘Wicked’ on stage and it worked with ‘Frozen’ on film… So it goes with “Maleficent,” the Disney corporation’s bombastic, moderately entertaining explanation of why the “queen of all evil” from its 1959 animated “Sleeping Beauty” got that way, and why she wasn’t, really,” Phillips wrote.  “This is almost entirely Angelina Jolie‘s show. ‘Maleficent’ is her first picture in four years, and from the tip of her character’s prosthetic cheekbones to the needle-sharp tippy-top of one of the massive horns (like party favors that got out of control) approximately 14 inches north of her skull, truly this is a performance that goes from point A to point B without seeming rote, or ho-hum.”

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Newsday critic Frank Lovece proclaimed Jolie’s performance to be “magical,” while the rest of the movie was “a snooze.”

“The film’s best moments, in fact, are those powered by emotion, not plot… Yet, for all such emotional resonance, and as Shakespearean as Copley makes King Stefan’s ambitions, ‘Maleficent’ misses the mark,” Lovece wrote. “Though first-time director Robert Stromberg is an Oscar-winning production designer, the landscapes are video-gamey, the trolls and gremlins look like 1980s animatronics, and the digital matting at times recalls the 1950s Superman TV series. Curse this film. No, that’s a little strong. Banish it to video.”

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USA Today critic Claudia Puig, on the other hand, was impressed by the visuals, but panned the plot.

“Billed as the untold story of the malevolent character from the 1959 animated Disney movie Sleeping Beauty, its cobbled-together plot meanders more than a stroll through an enchanted forest, presumably the result of a few too many rewrites,” Puig wrote. “Jolie pulls off the thinly written part by adopting a commanding presence. When the role calls for her to bellow the curse, her character vividly comes alive. Disney missed a golden opportunity to tell a bewitching story and instead gives audiences a muddled revisionist tale with stunning visuals.”

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Arizona Republic critic Bill Goodykoontz also appreciated the special effects, but didn’t “really care” for much else outside of Jolie’s magnetic performance.

“Jolie’s performance so overshadows the rest of the cast (and the rest of the movie) that you sometimes feel as if the other characters are, like us, just standing around watching her. This is not, however, the fault of the other actors. It’s the fault of screenwriter Linda Woolverton, who doesn’t give them much to do that’s challenging or interesting,” Goodykoontz wrote. “The last act, once the fairy-tale business is taken care of, descends into one long fight scene, making the film play like yet another superhero reboot instead of a reimagining of a classic story. So Maleficent isn’t really evil. Or was, and then wasn’t. Or was made to be. In the end, it’s kind of hard to tell, and despite Jolie’s performance, even harder to really care.”