DVD Release Date: November 4, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: May 30, 2014
Rating: PG (for sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images)
Run Time: 97 min.
Director: Robert Stromberg
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Sam Riley, Michael Higgins
After playing a spy in the ho-hum Salt and having next to no chemistry with Johnny Depp in The Tourist back in 2010, Angelina Jolie hasn't starred in anything that wasn't animated for four years now. But with Disney's Maleficent, a live-action fantasy that flips the script on the original Sleeping Beauty, Jolie has finally found her perfect role as a vengeful fairy-queen determined to teach power-hungry humans a lesson.
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Before Maleficent opts for the dark side, however, she's a kind-hearted protector of a strange, fantastical kingdom. Kind to every sprite, tree-person and troll who inhabits her peaceful world, Maleficent's fairy existence, despite having lost both of her parents at a young age, is full of harmony and wonder. Until she meets Stefan, that is.
At first blush, young Stefan is the kindred spirit for whom Maleficent has always hoped. Although they're quite literally from different worlds, they have shared experiences (he, too, is an orphan) and love spending time together. Further confirming her affection, Maleficent is moved by Stefan's seemingly sacrificial nature. After discovering the metal of his ring burns Maleficent's skin if they touch, Stefan, who doesn't have much in the way of worldly wealth, takes it off and tosses it into the wind. To her, that's a sign he'll never hurt her.
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Not surprisingly, a relationship between fairy and human will have challenges in the long run, and as Stefan gets older, his priorities change. As a war rages on in his world, Stefan is tempted by an offer he simply can't refuse: whoever is crafty and strong enough to kill Maleficent - now perceived as his world's greatest threat - will assume the throne. And since Stefan already has a connection with Maleficent, he believes he's just the guy to complete the challenge.
Picking right up where they left off, or so she thinks, Maleficent trusts Stefan enough to accept the drink he's offering. As she dozes off to sleep, however, Stefan finds it difficult to actually go through with ending her life, so he does the next best thing. Like Delilah did so callously to Samson in the Book of Judges, Stefan cuts off the source of Maleficent's strength, her wings.
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When Maleficent wakes up in extreme pain and discovers exactly what Stefan did, her squeal of anguish is downright terrifying. It's then when her sweet spirit and purity of heart basically turn to stone. Bent on retaliation, she recruits Diaval (Brit actor Sam Riley) to be her "wings" and sets out to ruin Stefan's life.
It's here where Maleficent, thanks to Jolie's commanding performance, finds its footing. Being bad clearly agrees with Jolie, who as Maleficent is armed with fierce cheekbones, leathery horns and a whipsmart demeanor to match. In a scene with Jolie's real-life daughter Vivienne Jolie-Pitt as the young Aurora (more on Aurora in a minute), Maleficent's declaration of how much she hates children is especially entertaining. The only flaw revealed by a scene like this is realizing the script could've benefitted from a little more dry humor to balance the oh-so-serious proceedings.
Just as in the original Sleeping Beauty (but with a twist, naturally), a curse is cast upon Stefan's infant daughter, Aurora. Maleficent wasn't invited to the baby's christening but she ends up being quite the party crasher anyway. Working her magic so Aurora won't live past her 16th birthday (and yes, the deadly spindle still plays a starring role), Stefan and his young wife entrust three fairies (still annoying as ever) to raise Aurora in a secret locale.
Trouble is, Maleficent knows exactly where Aurora is, something that's confirmed when the nearly 16-year-old Aurora (played perfectly by Elle Fanning, Super 8) emerges. Aurora believes Maleficent to be her guardian angel because Aurora has always sensed her presence nearby as she's grown. Eventually, these two form an unlikely friendship. But that's as far as we'll go with the storyline here.
There are plenty of positive themes to counter some of the darkness in Maleficent, most notably the high price of pursuing revenge instead of peace. Like Frozen before it, there's also a refreshing lack of the traditional confusion between true love and superficial boy/girl physical attraction, a far better message for young girls than the typical "don't worry, the prince you barely know will save you."
Make no mistake, though, as entertaining and well-performed as Maleficent is, it remains a story about good and evil. Filled with ornately gothic, often-nightmarish imagery, it's the sort of stuff that could scare younger children long after the credits roll. But for those who aren't quite as impressionable, Maleficent manages to inject new life into a familiar tale.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):
Publication date: May 29, 2014