MALEFICENT (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Sequences of Fantasy Action and Violence, including Frightening Images

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Directed by: Robert Stromberg

Written by: Linda Woolverton

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley, Brenton Thwaites, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville, Miranda Richardson & Peter Capaldi

Disney is the biggest thing to ever happen to family entertainment! From the history making first-ever animated feature (SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS) to a well-known golden streak from ’89 to ’94 (including LITTLE MERMAID, ALADDIN, and THE LION KING), the studio has revolutionized fairy tales and made kids films into movies that every generation can enjoy on different levels. MALEFICENT is the first instance of Disney taking one of their own cartoons (which in turn was based on a Brothers Grimm story) and translating it into a live action adaptation with a twist. The cool spin being that this actually one of the darker Disney films as it follows the villainess of that original 1959 animated film and treats princess Aurora as a secondary character. Everything focuses on Maleficent’s view instead of the traditional story that everyone has become accustomed to. It may be receiving some mixed response from critics and general audiences, but I absolutely adored this new take on an old fairy tale.

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In a far away land, there exists two kingdoms at odds with each other. One is ruled by a greedy king and the neighboring kingdom is a wondrous place populated by magical creatures. A young fairy named Maleficent adores her massive wings and finds what she believes to be kindness in the beastly mankind, only be hideously betrayed. A wicked side is born within this once peaceful fairy and an unbreakable curse is placed on the newborn princess Aurora. From there on the tropes that everybody knows and loves are retold, but from a fresh perspective. The story is turned in significant ways that completely changes the flow and ultimate message behind the tale.

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To be perfectly honest, I think that Disney’s 1959 SLEEPING BEAUTY is actually one of the studio’s lesser films. It’s bland as bland can be, despite some pretty cool scenes. Every single thing that was done differently in MALEFICENT actually benefitted the well-worn story in more ways than one might have anticipated. Of course, this move might displease a lot of Disney diehards, but it signifies a step in a new direction for the fairy tale brand. With another originally bland cartoon being turned into a live-action film on the way (CINDERELLA), Disney seems to be moving forward into exciting new territory. MALEFICENT is a family friendly, dark (but not too dark) fantasy that absolutely delighted me and seems to be working on a number of others.

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Taken on a purely spectacle level, MALEFICENT is visually gorgeous. The effects are incredible and fantastical creatures (of which there are plenty) are brought to life in awesome fashion. As the title character, Angelina Jolie fully inhabits the role of Maleficent. Everyone else plays second fiddle, some more than others, but that’s a necessity to the story being told. The character of the cursed princess herself is filled by Elle Fanning (younger sister to Dakota Fanning) and she does a wonderful job in the role of the kind, naïve girl who is far more fleshed out than her animated counter part. As the three good fairies, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville are essentially comic relief, but they hit the marks with some very funny moments. Meanwhile, Sharlto Copley is a tad underused as the king with a lot of motivation to kill Maleficent, but does shine in the scenes he’s fully used in. A new character added is Sam Riley playing Maleficent’s shape-shifting servant (mainly seen as a crow or a human) and I dug the little details on the design of this bird-turned-man (a beak-like nose among other subtle touches).

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An area where MALEFICENT excels is carving out a new mythology for the well-known villainess. Certain fantasy plot points are thrown in that were either glanced over in the animated film or completely new to this version. The film is very in sync with the fantastical atmosphere that it maintains for the running time. Originally, the running time was listed at being over two hours long, which would make for a more epic approach. This is one of the few cases where I will say that the rumored studio interference with the final cut may have been far more of a benefit than a curse. The pacing is fast, but I never felt it was going at a hectic speed that one might not be able to keep up with. It’s short, not too complicated with the heart of the story being front and center.

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The movie isn’t a masterpiece. There’s some voice narration that felt tacky, especially in the closing. Some whimsical moments are used purely to supply some laughs that some may argue that detract from the dark fantasy being told. The movie is also very cartoony in moments and by this, I mean that the creature design can be so creative that some may find these creations to come off as too cheesy. I will defend my stance on this film and why all of these supposed problems can be seen as invalid. MALEFICENT is essentially a live-action Disney cartoon that was adapted from a well-known fairy tale. One can expect all of these things to come with the territory and I actually appreciated the film even more for including some of these tropes.

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It will be interesting to see what the general consensus is on MALEFICENT after a huge amount of people see it this weekend. I think it could go either way (being considered great or terrible) or it just might wind up with indifference. At any rate, I can see a group of moviegoers (Disney fans, fans of dark fantasy, and those just looking for an imaginative ride) loving this film. The few flaws that I spotted can easily be forgiven on the basic level that this is at heart a family film and a live-action version of a Disney cartoon. I loved this movie. MALEFICENT is magnificent!

Grade: A

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