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'Maleficient' not magnificent (except for fashionistas)

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Disney's new live-action CGI-resplendent "Maleficent" borrows on some of those Disney traditions, for an uneven pro-woman portrayal of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. The point of view character is the so-called evil fairy and fashion-wise, this movies has a lot to recommend it. Plotwise, it suffers from some breaks of logic and a jumble of genre mixing.

Disney's 1959 musical animated feature "Sleeping Beauty" was a disappointment both financially and critically, and this version of the tale is likely to be so as well.

This movie "Maleficent" owes much to the Gregory Maguire book "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West." "Wicked" imagines a shunned and betrayed Witch of the West as a sympathetic character compared to the snobby Glinda--very different from either the L. Frank Baum books or the musical movie "The Wizard of Oz." "Maleficent re-imagines Maleficent as a character much wronged with anger management issues that might come under the heading "a woman scorned." The actual narrator (Janet McTeer) isn't identified until the end.

In "Maleficent," the movie begins with a young Maleficent (Ella Purnell). She meets a young peasant boy, Stefan (Toby Regbo), who has ventured into the fairy world alone.

Maleficent (now played by Isobelle Molloy) and Stefan (Michael Higgins) are in love, or so it seems. Stefan deserts Maleficent and eventually betrays her to gain the throne. Maleficent storms in on the christening of King Stefan's child and gives the full curse. Aurora does meet the handsome Prince Philip (Brenton Thwaites) and he does kiss her, but that's all you need to know without spoiling the fun.

The names Maleficent, Aurora, King Stefan, Prince Philip and Queen Leah are all carryovers from the 1959 Disney animated feature so there's some continuity in the Disney lore. Maleficent's pet raven Diablo, becomes Diaval which via Maleficent's magic is the movie's shapeshifter (Sam Riley in human form and CGI otherwise).

"Maleficent" falters is in common place logic. We're told the fairies live in a moor, but there couldn't possibly a less moorish moor. This moor is not the kind that you might see in "Wuthering Heights." Director Robert Stromberg can't quite balance the tone between the ditzy fairies and the life and death battles, but even with better timing most of the dialogue provided by Linda Woolverton's script and the sight gags for the fairies fall flat.

Where Stromberg excels is in the characterization of Jolie's Maleficent as a fashion icon, thanks in part to the atmospheric cinematography of Dean Semler ("Trojan War" and "Dances with Wolves") and costume design by Anna B. Sheppard ("Captain America: The First Avenger," "Inglourious Basterds").

Where "Maleficent" isn't magnificent, Angelina Jolie's Maleficent is. Cosplayers will rejoice at the fashion bonanza, even if her sudden late appearance in the figure-hugging pleather pants suit makes her seem more like a modern day action hero (Catwoman? Black Widow?) than a renaissance or medieval fairy. But who, cares? Fashion doesn't need a plot, it just needs a stage and a muse and this movie provides both.


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