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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Movie Review - Maleficent

Maleficent (2014)
Starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville, Sam Riley, and Brenton Thwaites
Directed by Robert Stromberg

Perhaps it's faint praise to tout Maleficent as being better than Disney's recent live action interpretations of Alice in Wonderland and Oz: The Great and Powerful considering that the former was horrendous and the latter was nothing to write home about.  Still, if Disney's going to insist on reinterpreting family classics, they're gradually starting to learn from their previous disappointments.

Moreso than their previous attempts, Maleficent draws greatly from Disney's animated classic Sleeping Beauty (yes, the Disney Discussion will be returning in September after a very long hiatus), twisting that story to its own whims.  In the animated film, Maleficent was pure evil, but here this formerly friendly fairy only turns fiendish when a neighboring kingdom's ruler tries to take over her home.  Years later, still hellbent on revenge thanks to an additional subplot involving stolen fairy wings (naturally), Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) hears that King Stefan and his wife are expecting a baby.  When the young Aurora is born, Maleficent appears at the festivities and curses the girl to prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall into an unending sleep upon her sixteenth birthday only to be awakened by true love's kiss.  Sound familiar?  The remainder of the tale follows the storyline of Sleeping Beauty quite closely -- three fairies Knotgrass, Flittle, and Thistletwit (Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, and Juno Temple) -- raise the growing Aurora (played by Elle Fanning as a teen) in the woods away from all civilization in hopes that this will keep her safe.

However, unlike the previous Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent keeps a careful eye on Aurora and begins to feel sorry for what she's done to the girl who played no part in harming her.  This gentle, kind, magnanimous Maleficent is the change -- and it's not necessarily a change for the better.  For starters, Angelina Jolie is fantastic when she plays the title character for all her deliciously over-the-top scenery-chewing evilness.  Let's face it -- Maleficent is a quintessentially evil character and Jolie really embodies that aspect of the role.  However, when the film forces her character to downplay the nastiness and embrace niceness, things begin to falter a bit and become much less interesting.  Jolie certainly still is a presence, but it's not quite the presence we really long for her to be here.  Fortunately, as Jolie's Maleficent turns disappointingly kind, we're also able to see the innocence of Elle Fanning's Aurora which she displays perfectly to a tee.  You can almost see why Maleficent decides to befriend Aurora -- almost -- until you realize that this bastardization of a true cinematic villain is kind of boring to watch.

Still, despite my qualms which I admit are rather important in the grand scheme of the film, I liked Maleficent.  Maybe it's because I went in with such low expectations, but Jolie's performance certainly is solid.  I only wish she was able to be as gloriously evil as her title character should've been allowed to be.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

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