Young Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy) is a strong, young orphan fairy whose story begins with the tale of two adjacent lands. Her magical land, the Moors, is full of wonder, light, and magical creatures, but borders a mundane human kingdom, seemingly weighed down by the problems of men. When a poor, young orphan boy, Stefan (Michael Higgins), makes his lonely way into the the magical Moors, Maleficent takes interest in him, and together, they forge a cross-creature friendship. Over the years, their secret friendship blooms into first love until the maturing Stefan’s ambition for power takes his attention elsewhere. Strong, winged adult Maleficent (embodied entirely by the regal-appearing Angelina Jolie), meanwhile, has become the protector of the Moors and is preoccupied with protecting her land from the increasingly aggressive human king, power-bent on taking her land for his kingdom.
Adult Stefan (played by Sharlto Copley of “District 9”) realizes he can make a power grab for control of the kingdom if is he able to defeat his once “true love.” Using his favored status with Maleficent, Stefan revisits the Moors only to drug the powerful fairy and cut off her wings (a very dark scene for a PG-rated movie that may precipitate discussion about assault against women with older teens). Maleficent survives but channels her former protective and life-affirming focus into revenge, hatred, and isolation. When Stefan later becomes king and announces the birth of his daughter, Aurora, Maleficent takes her revenge by “gifting” the young princess with the curse of eternal sleep at age 16 until she can receive a kiss from her “true love.” As the princess grows, Aurora (played as a teen by Elle Fanning) is followed by Maleficent, who always watches the young girl’s predestined path as it slowly unfurls.
“Maleficent” is fairly intriguing upon its opening but slowly begins to drag its wings as the well-known story of “Sleeping Beauty” is forced to play out. It seems the audience spends a good period of time fruitlessly waiting for something new to come out of its second act, and the simple addition of three slapstick fairy guardians to protect the growing Aurora does not fully fit the bill. So, too, the supporting actors are relatively stereotypical, given little to work with to flesh out their simple character descriptions. The often-wonderful Elle Fanning seemingly does her best as the princess gifted also with beauty and happiness, but she comes across more bubble-headed than simply naive. And, Sharlto Copley’s bad-guy routine is very reminiscent of many sour individuals he has played before, having just added an over-the-top Scottish accent to differentiate this character.
But, fully, and without a doubt, the redeeming element of this film that makes it eminently watchable is the grand regality of Maleficent, fully incarnated by Angelina Jolie. Jolie’s British accent, her straight-outta-Gaga enhanced cheekbones, and her statuesque nature enliven what would have been otherwise dull scenes. Jolie’s performance commands attention throughout the film, an appreciated change from the male-centric princess films of the past. Truly, in a post-”Frozen” Disney world, Jolie as Maleficent shows she, alone, holds the greatest power to determine her own fate. Disney’s “Maleficent” is rated 3+ of 5 stars.
Parents, take note: Although “Maleficent” is rated PG, the film contains some strong, emotionally charged scenes along with some violent fighting (without significant bloodletting). Although such scenes are likely very tolerable by older children, the film’s content may be very intense for the younger viewers in your family. “Maleficent” is rated “PG” by the MPAA for “sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images.”
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