I like the idea of the story Maleficent was trying to tell better than the actual execution. The idea of having a character acting in haste and later regretting it is a good simple idea, and one that can resonate with a lot of people. I feel like the movie would’ve worked better without the baggage of being a version of Sleeping Beauty. Making it a retelling increased the profile of the film and got people into the seats, but it also creates odd disconnects with the audience when the narrative strays from what’s expected. Ultimately, this is not a retelling of the animated Disney movie Sleeping Beauty, but really its own version of the whole thing. Though it borrows many elements from the Disney version.
The weakest part for me was the first act. I think the relationship between Stefan and Maleficent is glossed over a bit too fast for the audience to really connect with the characters and their relationship. I also feel like seeing more of Stephan might have been good so we understand more why he betrayed Maleficent. The film would’ve been better if this was allowed a bit more time to breathe.
I feel like the second act, with Maleficent’s turn to evil and Aurora growing up is where the film really shines. I liked seeing Maleficent change as she basically ends up watching Aurora grow up. That all worked for me. But, the scene with defeating the soldiers before showing Aurora the moors felt really unnecessary to me. The fairies were a little bit too useless for my tastes, but I can see why they did that, effectively forcing Maleficent to intervene. But some of their antics was good comic relief.
The bait and switch with Prince Phillip was fun, though I thought it was pretty obvious how the kiss of true love was going to play out. I did like the way the true loves kiss breaking the spell was set up. With it being an ironic echo of what Stephen told Maleficent. Which is another reason I think it would’ve been nice to actually see that scene, instead of just having it voiced over.
I wasn’t a fan of Stephen overall. He just felt too shallow a character. Ironically, in attempting to make the previously shallow villain deep, they end up creating another shallow villain to oppose her. Mostly he comes across as obsessed and crazy. It would’ve been a lot more interesting to me if he was driven more from love of his daughter. But even when she shows up he’s still more interested in fighting Maleficent. Having two sympathetic villains would’ve been a lot more interesting.
The final action climax felt more tacked on than anything. We had already reached the emotional climax of the movie earlier with waking Sleeping Beauty, so the action at the ends doesn’t have much purpose other than to kill of the king (in traditional Disney fashion). It would’ve been much better if they could’ve held of the emotional climax and made it a bigger part of the end. For example if Maleficent realized outside the castle that her own love for Aurora could break the curse, and then have to fight her way in to reach her that would’ve been much more satisfying.