Sunday, June 1, 2014

Review: Maleficent

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.
As far as reboots of beloved children's stories go, "Maleficent" is a little better than some of the more recent examples, such as "Snow White and the Huntsmen," Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" and "Oz: The Great and Powerful." In fact, if it's closest to anything, the picture feels like a retread of Broadway's "Wicked," which re-imagined "The Wizard of Oz" through the eyes of the Wicked Witch.

The film, which retells the story of "Sleeping Beauty," does not get off to the greatest start. We are told that Maleficent, a young, good natured fairy girl, helps watch over the forest. One day, she meets a young urchin boy named Stefan who is lost there and she helps him find his way out. The two promise to remain friends and they do - for a while.

Some years later, Maleficent has grown up to look like Angelina Jolie and Stefan (now played by Sharlto Copley) is nowhere in sight. The king of the nearby kingdom wants to take over and develop the forest, so he and his army attempt an attack that is thwarted by Maleficent. We are then bombarded with the inevitable battle scene of CGI woodland creatures and men in armor clashing and flying through the air, a low point for the movie.

Stefan now plays a servant to the king and, out of greed and ambition, vows to kill his former friend in order to rise in the ranks. After slipping Maleficent the fairy tale equivalent of a mickey, he finds he cannot murder her, so instead he snips off her wings and, upon his return, shows them to the king, lying and saying that he killed the ruler of the forest.

Of course, King Stefan gives birth to a beautiful daughter named Aurora some years later and, at her christening, Maleficent puts a curse on her to fall into a death-like sleep at age 16. But when the girl (now played by Elle Fanning) grows up and finds her way to the forest, she and Maleficent end up becoming friends.

So, a fairy tale once about an evil woman putting a curse on a pure and helpless one has been retold as a story of mother and surrogate daughter bonding and it's the men who are (mostly) the real villains. It's a nice touch. And "Maleficent" works best when it's focusing on this element of the story as opposed to the numerous CGI effects in the fight sequences that open and close the movie.

The heart and soul of the movie lies with Angelina Jolie, who rises above a summer blockbuster type of role and gives Maleficent a personality, occasionally through words, but more often with her face. In the end, I'm not sure "Sleeping Beauty" needed a retelling that included large CGI walking trees or battle scenes straight out of "Lord of the Rings," but Jolie and Fanning bring enough depth to the relationship between the titular character and Aurora to make this one worth a sit.

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