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'Maleficent' review: Trading a tiara for horns

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Maleficent

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Schools are ending and “Maleficent” is ready to entertain the whole family. Still recognizably tied to the classic Disney film, “Maleficent” fills out more of the background (mostly of Maleficent’s youth and as Aurora grows up) than alters the previously established story.

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A retelling of the fairy tale from a different perspective, “Maleficent” begins during the title character’s childhood spent in the magical Moors. A strong, winged and horned fairy, Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy) serves the Moors as a guardian and much loved friend. She faces a human (Michael Higgins) attempting to steal a gem but becomes friends with this young man, later to become King Stefan (Sharlto Copley), and they share a love for many years. However, the king of the world of man challenges his men to kill Maleficent in order to conquer the Moors and declare a successor for the wounded king. Youthful Stefan cannot bring himself to slay his love, but he takes her wings as a trophy for his king. Becoming the new king while Maleficent’s spirit is full of evil vengeance, the feud between the two regions grows stronger. As time goes by, Maleficent saves the life of a crow, Diaval, and transforms him into a man (Sam Riley) to become her servant. Diaval alerts Maleficent of the birth of Stefan’s daughter, inspiring her to crash the christening ceremony to curse the infant Aurora. Taken away to be raised by three inept fairies (Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville, and Juno Temple), Aurora (Elle Fanning) grows into a loveable young woman thanks to shadowy guardian Maleficent. Maleficent’s feelings towards the child change over fifteen years, leaving her to face the weight of her curse on the poor, personable young lady.

“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.” And so explains the evil of Maleficent. Rationalizing Maleficent’s coldness, “Maleficent” explains that the character has extreme goodness and extreme evil in her. Building her goodness before showing her vengeful side manages to keep her a little less scary for children, but Maleficent was always the most plainly evil character of Disney’s villains and now is not so; Maleficent has a legitimate cause for her evil rather than being the evil balance to Aurora’s goodness (Elle Fanning totally embodies the innocence of Aurora). She is humanized. Angelina Jolie plays her extremes rather well to create an understandable, likeable character.

Director Robert Stromberg has won two Academy Awards for art direction, so it makes sense that his “Maleficent” is vibrant and vast. Maybe his film isn’t perfect, but it is a remarkable first feature as director. It has the same kind of reliance on visual effects like “Oz the Great and Powerful” and “Alice in Wonderland,” but “Maleficent” is surprisingly shorter and simpler and therefore more enjoyable. It is most similar to “Snow White and the Huntsman” but has considerably less overacting (Sharlto Copley reaches a too malicious max). The amount of comedy, mostly aided by the three clumsy, oddball fairies, is under-utilized for balancing the scariness in this family film, though skipping the 3D will help combat the more frightening scenes.

These kinds of remakes, re-imaginings, have to be careful and must have a purpose for the new take; “Maleficent” removes the romanticism of the original tale and feminizes it, a smart idea after the hugely successful “Frozen.” Like “Frozen,” “Maleficent” creates a dangerous, hugely powerful female that needs love. It is another film of the female bond, refusing to allow the heroines to be damsels waiting for men to be saved. They have their own strength. The film denies the idea of “love at first” but is inconclusive about “true love.”

“Maleficent” has purpose, has fun special effects, and has one very strong heroine. It subtly suggests the flaw of man is ambition, which leads to the destruction of nature, but the morals aren’t over-the-top. The story may be kept too simple, but this is forgivable in a family film. Overall, “Maleficent” should be an enjoyable watch for most audiences.

Rating for “Maleficent:” B+

For more information on this film or to view its trailer, click here.

“Maleficent” is playing across Columbus but is only in IMAX 3D at AMC Lennox and Easton. For showtimes, click here.

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