Many movies and books take a "sympathy for the devil" position, transforming the villain into the protagonist, or at least giving them more understanding and sympathy.  Maleficent takes this for the classic Disney cartoon Sleeping Beauty -- and creates something new and magical.
There are two neighboring kindgoms: the Moors, filled with magic creatures, peace, and equality; and the human kingdom, filled with greed and fears.  At the start of the film the 12-year-old human thief Stefan (Michael Higgins) intrudes in the Moors and is rescued by the young fairy Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy).  The two seem to be in love, but that is certainly not the case: Years later, when the human king is humiliated by the fully-grown Maleficent (Angelina Jolie), he offers his kingdom to whoever kills her -- and while Stefan (Sharlto Copley) can't bring himself to kill his former love, he does cut off her wings and offer them as a trophy, gaining his kingship in the process.  This drives Maleficent evil and vengeful, as she becomes the feared queen of the Moors.  She also recruits the crow Diaval (Sam Riley) to be her spy, transforming him into whatever animal she needs.

When Stefan and his queen have a daughter, Aurora, Maleficent crashes the celebration and offers a "gift:" When the girl turns sixteen, she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel spindle and fall into a sleep like death, only to be woken by true love's kiss.  Stefan tries to prevent the curse by not only having all spindles destroyed, but also by having Aurora hidden in the woods and raised by three fairies in human form.  Maleficent finds them easily enough - calling the child "beastie," and winds up saving Aurora from the dangers of her unqualified pretend parents.  When Aurora (Elle Fanning) is sixteen, she assumed Maleficent is her fairy godmother (since Maleficent had been saving her from danger) -- and Maleficent begins to regret her curse.  And Stefan becomes more and more paranoid and obsessed with killing Maleficent...

I was pretty impressed with Maleficent.  The movie manages to follow most of the story of Sleeping Beauty closely, while providing a different perspective on why the villain became the villain.  Angelina Jolie is terrific as the title character, a woman whose role shifts from protector to avenger, and then back as she grows and feels.  Elle Fanning is decent as the almost too-goody goody role of Aurora, while Sharlto Copley is one-dimensional as the movie's true villain.  The visual effects are stunning -- from enchanting creatures to Maleficent casually casting spells and making folks drift through the air -- and the movie approaches its fairy tale roots with reverence instead of irony or sarcasm.  Maleficent isn't perfect, but it is an enjoyable modern-day fairy with a wonderful main character.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch

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