Fantasy is a finicky thing. The entire idea of creating an unbelievable world that somehow maintains a believable story seems like an oxymoron. The key to maintaining that illusion is making the characters believable even if the world is not. This is exactly what Maleficent did.
The World is unimportant
Thinking back to many of the scenes in the moor, the animation was overdone and a bit cheesy. Yes, this is a “children’s movie” but it was also “live action.” The thing is, it didn’t matter. These were the unbelievable aspects to create a fantasy world. They didn’t have to fit any mold or be believable in any way because they were purely fantasy.
By contrast, the castle was very believable. It felt like a “real” fairy tale castle where the greatest of kings and queens have ruled over their subjects. Maleficent let fantasy be fantasy.
A Super Powerful queen is believable?
I’d like to keep this spoiler free, so I’m not going to get into details. The key here is that the circumstances of a fantasy story may be unbelievable but the reactions and the motives of the characters can be very human. An unrelated example: If a character’s best friend is unexpectedly brought back to life how would you expect that character to react? It doesn’t really matter if the thing that brought him back to life was CPR, defibrillation or a magic spell. It’s the reaction to the event that matters.
Queen Maleficent is a well developed and believable character surrounded by other characters with believable motives.
It’s not as simple as good & evil or black & white
These days, simple fairy tales are not interesting. A good story needs depth. It needs to have excellent back story to allow the viewer to fill in gaps in the character’s history. Saying a character is “evil” isn’t enough. Why is she evil? In the best of these, you can find yourself rooting for the bad guy.
This movie answers those questions about the story of Sleeping Beauty.
But I know the story of Sleeping Beauty
Think of this like an evolution of the original story. Or possibly even telling the same story from a different point of view. I felt that it stayed true to the original while being original itself.
I highly recommend seeing this movie with an open mind. It was a phenomenally good re-telling of a classic fantasy.