Maleficent – 2014

Director Robert Stromberg
Starring Angelina Jolie, Sharlto Copley, Elle Fanning, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville
Screenplay by Linda Woolverton based on Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault

 While watching Angelia Jolie’s re-imagining of Maleficent, part of me is amazed at the myriad ways one is allowed to see beyond what is really Disney’s most incomplete Princess story.. Almost at the same moment, one can’t help but to want to scream out at the very thought that they have turned the tale into yet another diatribe about how humans destroy everything good world, even the mystical fairy who only wanted to keep everything – you know it – green.

The movie is entertaining. There is a beautiful clarity to everything at first. We get to see the young titular hero / villain wandering the good part of the woods, enjoying all the cute little beings who live peacefully…until a boy happens by looking for treasure. She talks to him a bit, convinces him to give up his ill-gotten loot. Then, after finding out that lead is her weakness, he discards his lead ring immediately. What a nice little boy.

That boy, though, grows into Sharlto Copley who, as the future King Stefan, betrays Maleficent (Jolie). I have seen Copely in three films so far and he’s played nutjobs in all three. This time he holds it together for about 30 minutes. That’s long enough for him to have a daughter and Maleficent to swear her revenge. Much of what took place in the original animated film happens here. Somewhere between when she goes into hiding and the fairies start taking care of her, young Aurora (Fanning) wins over Maleficent’s heart.

From here the film goes every which way but where we expect. There still is a young prince on a quest, and the three fairies still try to help. There is still a wall of briers. There still is a dragon. There’s still a dark kingdom. That’s where the similarities end.

The choices made, while kind of amusing, fit right in line with anyone who understands the person playing the main character. There is no real strong love for the source material, so it matters not that they tweaked it a little. The world needs more female heroes, too, so that she turns for the good isn’t a huge concern either. Fanning is a beautiful girl who can portray joy like no other. Much of this is good. Little of this is great.

As with many of the Disney animated features that are remade in live action, this looks like a cartoon with people much of the time. It’s not ridiculous like Tim Burton would do. Thank goodness he turned it down, else wise it might have been unwatchable. It’s bad enough to see Jolie’s digitally enhanced cheeks. Then again, those could be real. Most of the last 20 minutes is goofy, crammed with “how can we make the hero look good moments.” They go so far a to have the antagonist fall from a great height after being given one last chance. After the last battle, the sheen upon the screen is as bad as the glow around Robert Redford on Indecent Proposal. The definition of true love’s kiss may have been original when they wrote it, but someone should have talked to someone at headquarters.

Still, this movie has enough going for it to say give it a shot. While never looking forward to seeing her, Jolie is rarely unwatchable (The Tourist aside). Sam Riley is good as one of those characters that one wishes would get the girl. The script has way more going on than the original, but that is definitely not saying much. Give it a shot and you will be disappointed, but not that disappointed.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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