Maleficent is the sort of movie that counts on the audience either being invested in the original Disney Sleeping Beauty, or unable to resist Angelina Jolie. I grew up on Sleeping Beauty, so I was more than a little curious to see what what Wicked would do with the classic story from a different perspective. Wait, I mean Maleficent.
For a movie that is meant to tell the backstory of a character who famously proclaimed herself to be the Mistress of All Evil and called upon the powers of Hell, this movie is strangely saccharine with a distinct lack of darkness. I'm not suggesting a completely grim Snow White and the Huntsman retelling, but a little less sparkle and shine might have served this movie well considering how it managed to be less dark than the animated version. Really, other than the whole curse of eternal slumber that can only be broken by true love's kiss, Maleficent never seemed all that bad-- just a woman scorned, and we all know what they say about that as regards Hell's fury. Seriously though, at no point did she seem like she was really the Mistress of All Evil. She just seemed really bitter and emotionally scarred from a traumatic event in her past.
Speaking of a traumatic event in her past, Angelina Jolie calls the clipping of Maleficent's wings "metaphorical of rape." In context, it makes perfect sense because of how it happens, and how she reacts to it. The disfiguring of her body by the loss of her wings is really symbolic of how the event disfigures her soul, as it is this event that ruthlessly crushes her innocence and forces her to an intimate acquaintance with the world of pain and evil. But once again, seen as a woman who has been marred by the man she loved, she really doesn't seem demonic as in the animated version, nor is her quest for vengeance all that convincing. Maybe this is because of how easily she is turned from hatred to love by her maternal protection of young Aurora. Predictably, the true love that breaks the spell isn't from the dashing prince. If you've seen Frozen, this twist should really not come as a surprise at all.
Back on point, I find that the backstory involving Maleficent and Stephan creates more inconsistency and weakness of plot than it adds any strength at all. For example, Maleficent casts a curse upon young Aurora to punish Stephan, but is unwavering in her kindness to Aurora throughout the girl's life. Considering the level of offense that initially transformed Maleficent from fairy to specter, her immediate attachment to Aurora undermines her alleged wickedness significantly, which then weakens the idea that her love for the girl had any real impact on Maleficent's renouncement of "evil." Basically, Maleficent comes off more as a woman playing evil rather than actually being evil.
In all reality, Jolie's version of the character Maleficent is so far removed from the villainess of Sleeping Beauty that had it not been for the references and imagery that tie the movies together, they could have passed for completely different stories. The backstory of Maleficent was clearly meant to add layers to her character and explain what is more or less the untold story from her perspective. Unfortunately, this movie's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness: Angelina Jolie. Certainly Jolie has the acting skills to make the character work, and she does this extremely well given what she had to work with. However, the movie focuses so exclusively on her without any development to other characters, yet doesn't really deepen her character at all. I can only conclude that the film-makers assumed that her presence alone would negate the need for further development, or that she could somehow make something spectacular out of mediocre material. This turns out to be a loss all the way around, because the young audiences most likely to be entertained by the glimmering world of fantasy and nitwit fairies are least likely to care what actress plays Maleficent, while the more mature audiences aware of Jolie's acting capabilities won't walk away impressed.
In the end it's not a terrible movie, but really not all that great, and certainly unlikely to affect the opinion of any kid who was scared during Sleeping Beauty.