It’s fair to say that Disney’s Maleficent plays to an extent as warmed-over Frozen. Maleficent is the latest dark, subversive live-action retelling of a classic fairy tale — in this case, Sleeping Beauty, as told in the classic 1959 Disney cartoon.

Practically every character in Frozen is more interesting than anyone in Maleficent, though the latter has one great asset towering above its defects: Angelina Jolie as the title character. Through sheer charisma, she makes the film watchable when nothing else does.

Alas, Jolie is only allowed to play the iconic title character in any way approaching the figure we know from Sleeping Beauty in one sequence: the nominal christening scene in which the good fairies give the newborn princess Aurora their gifts, and Maleficent curses her to prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel before the sun sets on her 16th birthday and die — or, as the curse runs here, to fall into an eternal sleep from which only true love’s kiss will awaken her.

Maleficent (I’ll call her M for short) has become a bitter soul who no longer believes in true love, which is why she places the seemingly merciful clause into the curse on the princess. When M actually meets the 15-year-old Aurora (Elle Fanning), she’s quickly won over by the latter’s goodness and sweetness. Aurora, correctly recognizing M as the protective presence hovering over her since infancy, actually calls her "my fairy godmother." Pretty soon, M is regretting ever cursing the girl; she even tries to revoke the enchantment, but alas, she made it too strong.

Strangely, despite the film’s feminist leanings, Aurora herself is a passive princess of the old-school type, whose most subversive act is loving the title character.

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Steven D. Greydanus is the Register’s film critic.


Caveat Spectator: Fantasy action violence and some disturbing images. Too much for younger kids.