Most notably, though I absolutely love Angelina Jolie's performance and truly enjoyed the film, "Maleficent" is not appropriate for young children. Despite its PG rating, "Maleficent" is extremely frightening and violent in parts, which makes it totally unsuitable for children under the age of eight.
With that out of the way, I must admit that I was completely mesmerized by director Robert Stromberg's huge undertaking --- the back story of one of Disney's most iconic characters, Maleficent. Most everyone is aware of the evil Maleficent --- the horrible fairy who shows up at Aurora/Sleeping Beauty's christening and curses her to spend eternity asleep after turning 16 and pricking her finger, with only the kiss of true love to wake her.
Well, now, thanks to the many imaginative creators at Disney, and especially Stromberg and screenwriter Linda Woolverton, we can learn what caused Maleficent to be so vengeful.
There is simply no other actress other than Jolie who could play the part of Maleficent --- she's totally perfect. But the film begins with Maleficent as a young fairy played beautifully by the lovely Isobelle Molloy. She spreads her gorgeous wings and flys about the moors greeting all of the unusual inhabitants daily.
She's a very happy creature, who one day is called upon to convince a human, a young boy named Stefan (Michael Higgins), to return something to the moors that he has stolen. The two become unlikely friends and stay that way, until, as adults, Stefan's (now Sharlto Copley) ambitions supercede any feelings he ever had for Maleficent (Jolie). It is his extreme cruelty which causes Maleficent to become so hard-hearted, and bent on revenge.
It seems that we, as a society, have a tendency to want all of our villains to have been good, at one point in time or another (for example, the Wicked Witch of the West in "Wicked"). Many, including me (I hated "Wicked") find this annoying. However, in this case, having Maleficent created as a good person gone bad doesn't bother me. I rather enjoy watching Jolie do it all --- she's so good at being evil, and charmingly innocent when she realizes how much she truly loves Aurora (Elle Fanning).
Skeptics will discount this new version of Maleficent, but with Jolie's bravura performance and Fanning as precious as ever, it's not hard to swallow this fairy tale. And, let's remember kids --- it is a fairy tale.
Sam Riley does a pretty darn good job as Diaval, Maleficent's raven and constant companion, whom she turns into a man, or other animal, at her whim. The pixies, Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), Flittle (Lesley Manville) and Thistlewit (Juno Temple) become a little tiresome, but thankfully their contribution to the film is minor. Relative newcomer Brandon Thwaites makes a very handsome and debonair Prince Phillip --- the possible "true love". Keep an eye out for him in the future.
My only real complaint with "Maleficent" is the casting of Copley as Stefan. His portrayal is weak and poorly crafted. In addition, he doesn't possess enough of a presence as the eventual king. Despite his rather opulent costumes, he still has the look of a peasant.
In mentioning costumes, I must highlight Anna B. Sheppard, who is responsible for creating Maleficent's distinct look from animation to live action. The original drawing of Maleficent from the 1959 animated "Sleeping Beauty" was designed by Marc Davis, who gave her the horns and fabulous cape with the high collar.
Sheppard is also aided in the total package by 7-time Academy Award-winning special make-up effects designer Rick Baker. He and Jolie came up with the idea of the horns, ears, nose and cheek appliances to complete the look, which is stunning.
Jolie also designed the special-effects contact lenses, which help to enhance some of the most beautifully photographed scenes in the film. Whether it is a close-up of Maleficent, or shadowed takes behind a curtain, Oscar-winning cinematographer Dean Semler has added another potential Academy Award winner to his repertoire.
Everything about "Maleficent" is created to the extreme. The fairylands, castle and even the thatched cottage where Aurora grows up, were all constructed to the very last detail. It's a truly magnificent production and worthy of a 3-D viewing. Stromberg and his wildly creative team did their homework and it shows.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
One of the taglines for this latest Disney release is "Don't believe the fairy tale". If you're a purist when it comes to legendary fantasies, in this case, "Sleeping Beauty", be prepared for a different take on the classic tale of a beautiful princess being awakened from a deep sleep by a kiss from a handsome prince.
Screenwriter Linda Woolverton has concocted an entertaining script that is the perfect vehicle for the talents of Angelina Jolie. As the title character in "Maleficent" --- and I can't think of any other actress who could pull this off so convincingly (as Jeanne noted) --- Jolie displays an incredible propensity for being beautiful and menacing at the same time. She is aided by extraordinary make-up --- exaggeratedly high and sharp cheekbones, accompanied by black headgear featuring two large pointy horns and a fabulous widow's peak.
If you ultimately feel cheated, in some way, because the story is not what you were expecting, consider that Woolverton's impressive background includes writing credits for Disney films "Beauty and the Beast" (the first animated feature nominated for Best Picture), "The Lion King" and "Mulan", among others.
And first time director Robert Stromberg is an Oscar winner for art direction on "Avatar" and "Alice in Wonderland". He is also a multiple Emmy winner for his visual effects expertise on TV's "Boardwalk Empire", plus mega movies like "Life of Pi", "Hunger Games", "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "The Aviator". With "Maleficent", he was given a huge estimated budget of $200 million, and the film looks like he made good use of the money.
"Maleficent" is a visual treat on many levels. The opening sequences feature a young Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy) flying around her forest home on the strength of her magnificent wings. These beginning effects are thrilling, especially in 3-D, and I wish there were more of them in the movie. I also enjoyed the three pixies (Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Leslie Manville) who ultimately care for the baby Aurora --- utterly adorable as an infant --- until at age 16 her infamous "spinning wheel curse" comes to fruition (not everything about "Sleeping Beauty" is changed).
Elle Fanning plays Aurora, her toothy grin and blonde curls making for an ideal sleeping beauty. Fanning is a natural for this role, and at age 16 herself, she already has 40 TV and film credits to her name.
"Maleficent" is a well-told tale of love, friendship and betrayal, the latter provided by the ambitious, cold-hearted Stefan (Sharlto Copley), whose desire to be king trumps whatever good sense he had as Maleficent's young human friend. Eight-time Oscar nominee James Newton Howard provides the exhilarating score.
In the end, though, this is Jolie's show. It's a terrific all-around performance in a role she eagerly pursued. She was such a strong believer in the project that she became an executive producer.
Opinion: See It Now!