OK, so maybe she overreacted.

In Maleficent, an imaginative, albeit somewhat belabored reimagining of Disney's midcentury animated classic Sleeping Beauty, the motives behind that most notorious of magic spells - the princess turning 16, getting pricked by a needle, falling into eternal slumber - are explained in detail.

Lengthy detail. Novelistic detail. Call-in-the-armies-of-animators-and-visual-effects-teams-and-actors-with-English-accents detail.

And all to find out that that pique of jealousy, envy, and lightning-bolt rage at the birth of a king's child was a bit much. Spellcaster's regret, anyone?

Angelina Jolie, in case you hadn't heard, plays Maleficent - the fairy godmother who put that curse on Princess Aurora in the 1959 cartoon. Here, at the start of director Robert Stromberg's flip-side reboot, she is a beaming lass with wings, flitting around her fairy kingdom, a flower-powered pixie (played, in this youngish incarnation, by Isobelle Molloy). All is right with the world until a mopey human boy named Stefan (Michael Higgins) enters the picture. Humans and fairies live in their respective worlds, and commingling is frowned upon. But commingle Maleficent and Stefan do (in a purely innocent way).

Then they grow up.

Stefan turns into District 9's Sharlto Copley, which does not bode well for anyone, and Maleficent turns into Mrs. Brad Pitt - with horns that belong on a mountain goat, and cheekbones that would be snow-capped were they any more altitudinous. (As for Aurora, she's portrayed, with a bit too much wide-eyed wonderment, by the talented Elle Fanning.) Stefan becomes king, finds a queen, and has a daughter, and Maleficent becomes embittered.

It should be said right here and now that the best reason to see Maleficent is to watch Jolie (aided and abetted by terabytes of digital artistry) as she goes through her storybook throes of villainy, nobility, and, yes, vulnerability, hurt, and love. In the blood-red lipstick and midnight-black gown and cowl of her Sleeping Beauty antecedent, Jolie's Maleficent is magnificent.

She's also kind of tragic, as one thing leads to another and those wings she had as a flower child are literally shorn from her back. What's a fairy queen to do without her majestic flappers? Turn vengeful, of course.

Linda Woolverton, Disney's go-to screenwriter (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King), weaves in many of the signature threads of the studio's 1959 animated feature (yes, there's a fire-breathing dragon; yes, a kooky trio of fairy guardians), inventing a backstory that can be seen as either bringing humanity to a villainess, or bringing fuzzy equivocation into what was once a clearly defined good-vs.-evil yarn.

But these are more complicated times. Empathy for such an enchantress? Why not?




Maleficent *** (Out of four stars)

Directed by Robert Stromberg. With Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley. Distributed by Walt Disney.
Running time: 1 hour, 37 mins.
Parent's guide: PG (violence, scary images, adult themes).
Playing at: area theaters.