*** (out of 5)
May 30, 2014
Angelina Jolie as MALEFICENT
Elle Fanning as AURORA
Sharlto Copley as STEFAN
Lesley Manville as FLITTLE
Imedla Staunton as KNOTGRASS
Juno Temple as THISTLETWIT
Sam Riley as DIAVAL
Brenton Thwaites as PRINCE PHILLIP
Directed by: Robert Stromberg
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
One of the latest crazes going on in Hollywood is the retrofitting of classic children’s movies into modern mainstream blockbusters. We saw films like “Snow White and the Huntsman” and “Jack the Giant Slayer” get their day on screens, and Disney has already thrown its hat into the ring with movies like “Alice in Wonderland” and last year’s “Oz: The Great and Powerful.”
Now, Disney gets to play in its own backyard again with “Maleficent.” This movie gives “Sleeping Beauty” the “Wicked” treatment by showing the other side of the story from the villain’s point of view. Angelina Jolie plays the title character, and we see how her relationship with the future king (Sharlto Copley) turns sour with betrayal.
As Maleficent seethes with anger at King Stefan, she is determined to get revenge, which results in her cursing his daughter Aurora. Of course, unlike “Sleeping Beauty,” we see how Maleficent isn’t really evil; she’s just misunderstood, and she ends up serving as Aurora’s guardian angel as she grows up.
Like the other Disney films of this nature, “Maleficent” looks fantastic with special effects worthy of their play on the IMAX screens. The world-building is fantastic, giving the retro look of “Legend” and mixing in some of the elements we’ve already seen in “Oz: The Great and Powerful” as well as the far inferior “Jack the Giant Slayer.”
Of course, Jolie is the star of the film, and her performance makes the film worthwhile. Sure, she chews the scenery in some scenes, going over the top, but it is these moments where she’s paying homage to the original performance in 1959’s “Sleeping Beauty,” so I can forgive a bit of overacting there. Trust me, this is nothing like the sometimes painful performance of Charlize Theron as the evil queen in “Snow White and the Huntsman.” In this film, Jolie does her best to keep her performance grounded, taking it seriously but still with the understanding she’s just making a fantasy film.
Of course, the fantasy element is pretty intense. I’d still consider this movie appropriate for kids, but if you have a young child who is easily scared, you may want to preview the battle violence, fantasy monsters and fire-breathing dragon before taking them.
Unfortunately, “Maleficent” starts to have serious problems when Jolie isn’t on the screen. The scenes with King Stefan become overly grim and exhaustingly morose, feeling more like they were cut from the aforementioned Snow White movie than have a proper place in this film.
The Sleeping Beauty character of Aurora (Elle Fanning) is woefully underdeveloped, reducing the young actress to nothing more than a grinning idiot by no fault of her own. She’s given almost nothing to work with except to smile and giggle, even at the most dangerous times.
The worst of the bunch, however, are the three good fairies who were so charming in the original film. Their modern versions – played by Lesley Manville, Imedla Staunton and Juno Temple – are alarmingly annoying. When they’re digital fairies, they live in the uncanny valley. When they take normal human size, they become shrill monsters. I suppose the director was going for slapstick comedy with them, but it doesn’t work. And the fact that they pretty much disappear half-way through the movie is evidence enough that most of their scenes never worked well enough to make it to the final cut.
As Maleficent’s movie, “Maleficent” works. However, if Angelina Jolie is not there to carry the scene, it’s a chore to watch. Still, for the big screen spectacle and love of the original source material, “Maleficent” is decent enough.