Maleficent (3D)
Disney // PG // May 30, 2014
Review by Jeff Nelson | posted May 28, 2014
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The fantasy classic tales have been receiving a lot of attention on the big screen lately. With motion pictures such as Oz The Great and Powerful, Alice in Wonderland, and Snow White and the Huntsman, the Hollywood studios are trying to cash in on their consistently high popularity. However, they don't all manage to succeed when it comes to the quality of the filmmaking. Dedicated fans are expecting a lot of these features, and it can be very difficult for filmmakers to meet these expectations. In 2014, Disney is bringing their most iconic villain to the silver screen in order to provide a different perspective on a story that we all know quite well. Maleficent has been building upon its own hype for quite some time, but will it ultimately please the fans of this extremely powerful villain?

Told in a storybook manner, Maleficent tells the tale of a vindictive fairy (Angelina Jolie), who has been deemed as being evil for all of these years. After a terrible betrayal, King Stefan (Sharlto Copley) has a newborn child and decides to throw a celebration. Maleficent shows up uninvited and places a curse on Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning). Consumed with the thirst for revenge, she's blinded to the fact that this child may be the only one who can restore peace between her world and that of the humans.

Maleficent begins by informing its audience that it wishes to tell us the rest of the story that hasn't been told before, and that we would have a different perspective on this "villain." Even though it was clear that Maleficent was wronged in some way in the original Disney animated motion picture, she appeared more angry that she wasn't invited to the party more than anything else. Writer Linda Woolverton starts with the lead as a child, as she has her first encounter with humankind. This is told in order to educate us on the world that she lives in and how it differs from the humans in the villages. It doesn't take long for Woolverton to reveal the reason for Maleficent's change of heart, as she swears revenge on the humans and turns a once beautiful land into a dark and ominous place. Some are sure to scoff at the reasoning behind Maleficent's anger, but it doesn't remain much of a problem throughout the picture's duration.

Audiences will surely be anticipating the darker elements of the motion picture, since that's a part of what makes her character appealing to so many viewers. The most powerful scene of the entire feature hits the screen relatively early, as Maleficent places a curse on young Aurora. She enjoys having the humans at her mercy, which simply fuels her thirst for vengeance. To be able to see such character shifts is powerful here, as it makes it much easier to connect with Maleficent. She may be a fairy, but she ultimately has emotions that directly juxtapose that of the humans. From here on out, you'll be able to call every plot beat. There aren't really any surprises to be found regarding any further plot points. Writer Linda Woolverton has delivered well-written dialogue for our leading woman, as several of the lines will easily remain in the mind of audiences long after the credits are done rolling. The same cannot be said about the characterizations made of those around her. Ultimately, the film portrays almost all of the humans characters as being evil and destructive. Of course, bias is unavoidable when changing perspective, but even young Aurora feels so unfortunately one-dimensional. It's difficult to even sympathize with those who we're meant to be rooting for.

The third act is what will surely split audiences right down the middle. You'll either remain invested, or it will completely pull you out of the story. Changes in Maleficent's character are inevitable, although some of them are truly concerning. A couple of the most iconic features of this character are lost, making for an incredibly disappointing climax. The film builds upon itself fairly well throughout the picture's duration, although we're given a final showdown that doesn't quite deliver on what it promises. Even after some of the more intense fight sequences, it never feels as if we see very much of what Maleficent can actually do with her magic. Fortunately, those who are searching for good messages and themes for their children will be pleased. Disney has been getting a little bit more mature and modern with their messages in motion pictures, such as Frozen. This applies to Maleficent, as well. However, the messages and themes aren't the only elements that have been aimed towards young children. If you're looking for a dark look within this character, you'll be disappointed. This is a relatively brighter look that doesn't quite feel as if adults were considered very much in the writing process.

The main element that will draw in many audiences around the world is our leading lady. Angelina Jolie is absolutely impeccable in the role of Maleficent. She clearly did research into the role in order to provide such a depiction. Jolie capitalizes on every aspect of this character, including body language, facial expressions, and even a slight accent. This is an outstanding performance that proves to be the film's strongest asset. Elle Fanning is acceptable, but not entirely fitting as Aurora. The role is most certainly one-dimensional, but she doesn't get the chance to do very much with the character to bring her to life. Sharlto Copley is decent enough as Stefan, even despite his accent going in and out throughout the picture. Regardless, he makes the character work on screen. Overall, the cast does a good job, although Jolie's riveting performance in this iconic role is what sells the film.

This is the directorial debut from visual effects expert Robert Stromberg. His background in the industry appears very clearly in Maleficent. The film takes on the look of a storybook, which allows Stromberg to experiment with drastic tonal changes in the look of the film. The environments look fantastical whether you're in Maleficent's lands or in the village's castle. However, the CGI work utilized on the creatures vary. While they still maintain that storybook appearance, some of them look a bit tacky. Otherwise, the lighting and overall visual tones are wonderful. When it comes to the 3D, there is a fair amount of depth utilized. While it isn't necessarily required for watching this film, it most certainly aids in providing that storybook appearance that the rest of the visuals support.

Maleficent has always been my favorite Disney villain, so I was eagerly anticipating her appearance on the silver screen. The film remains focused and doesn't get lost in the mythology of it all. However, it treads in a direction that will surely split audiences. Writer Linda Woolverton does a good job building upon the plot, although the picture is greatly hindered by its third act. After creating such stakes, the climax is a bit of a letdown. Some of the changes made to our lead character are surely upsetting, which will certainly leave viewers with a bad taste in their mouths. However, Angelina Jolie is absolutely incredible in the role of Maleficent. After seeing her performance, you'll have difficulty seeing any other actress in this role. She commands your attention and never lets it go. Maleficent is intriguing, but it doesn't hold up to the high expectations. Rent it.

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