MOVIE MAN

‘Maleficent’ spell putting audiences to sleep

By Movie Man | Published Wednesday, June 4, 2014

There are chick flicks and kids movies then there are movies that attract both.

“Maleficent” is one of those.

ABOUT THE FILM

In a summer filled with male-oriented action/bromance/superhero movies what’s a woman – and her children – to do for film fun?

Disney, cruising with so much success in female-empowerment mode (“Frozen,” 2013, a 7, is now the most successful animated movie in history and the 19th movie to reach $400 million in America), perfectly planted “Maleficent” – a twist on “Sleeping Beauty” (1959, Movie Man at age 3 did not review it).

While next week offers the young adult novel adaptation of “The Fault in Our Stars” which will attract another slew of lady ticket buyers, the rest of the summer is the usual summer tentpole male-skewing sort – with the exception of July 2′s “Tammy” with Melissa McCarthy and Susan Sarandon.

So, “Maleficent” serves its cinematic purpose even if it’s not very good.

The main problem with “Maleficent” is its tone. The movie looks hurried, like it’s a generic production of TV’s “The Wonderful World of Disney” that ran from 1954-1992 (with a few years off in that stretch).

Among those 700 shows were stories of adventure, biography, drama, nature, comedy and animation. They were simple, gentle tales that pleased viewers of all ages.

No one ever mistook the TV shows for Disney’s theatrical releases that were much more sophisticated and better made. You could watch Davey Crockett on the tube, but if you wanted to see “Son of Flubber” (1963) or “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes” (1969), you had to go to the theater.

Disney built its reputation on family entertainment and still does so today. “Maleficent” is rated PG, which is common now but heads turned when Disney’s “The Black Hole” (1970) came out as a PG. Disney had always been G fare before and parents were shocked at the PG.

(But not as astonished as they were when the animated “The Black Cauldron” arrived in 1985. Disney’s first PG cartoon, it was deemed so “dark” that three minutes were removed from it – very rare in animation – and, in later years, “The Black Cauldron” was banished for years from being released on VHS with the usual rollout of Disney animated movies. An advanced theatrical screening in ’85 saw mothers fleeing auditoriums with crying children.)

While “Maleficent” isn’t great, it’s apparently much better than the other release of the week, “A Million Ways to Die in the West.” Word is out about the apparently pitiful Western, and it ain’t good. It flopped – if only it could take “Family Guy” with it …

THE PLOT (SPOILERS)

Young Maleficent, a happy winged fairy, rules over one of two mythical kingdoms. Hers contains all sorts of magical creatures that live together peacefully. The other is controlled by man – and its king wants to conquer the other land.

One day a boy, Stefan, meets tween-age Maleficent. They grow up together and fall in love. But the adult Stefan (Sharlto Copley) discovers that he can become king if he can defeat Maleficent (Angelina Jolie). While he can’t bring himself to kill her, he cuts off her wings.

That’s enough to make him king – and make Jolie hate everything and turn evil. Years later, the man kingdom can’t take over the magical one as Jolie seals it off with impenetrable forestry denseness and rallies its forces to battle.

Copley has a daughter, and the horrified attendees of Princess Aurora’s christening watch Jolie curse the child. Knowing his daughter must be protected until the day after her 16th birthday, Copley sends her with three fairies to be raised far away.

They take her to a cottage in the magic kingdom where, against her will, Jolie builds a relationship with the growing child (Elle Fanning). To save the teenage Fanning, Jolie must travel to the man kingdom’s castle where she isn’t exactly accepted.

And who will deliver that true love kiss to break the spell and save the sleeping princess? (Hint: It ain’t the handsome prince traveling the countryside. Hint 2: You saw “Frozen,” right?)

WHAT WORKS

Jolie is fantastic. She’s menacing and cruelly funny. She looks great in a slew of close-ups and has a fine scene when she awakens to find her wings severed from her back.

Some of the magical creatures are well-rendered – especially the giant tree beings – and the gnarled roots that separate the kingdoms is impressive.

Fanning looks the part of a fairy princess (but see What doesn’t work).

BEST SCENE

Two-year-old Aurora is toddling around on a cliff’s edge while her absent-minded fairy caretakers take no notice. The child tumbles right off the edge – only to be saved at the last second by a magical effort from Jolie, the first time she shows some compassion to the human “beastie.”

WHAT DOESN’T WORK

The tone of this movie is all over the place; it’s totally confused.

Directed by first-time filmmaker Robert Stromberg, it staggers from the get-go. Perhaps most shocking of all is the flat look of the movie. Stromberg won Oscars for “Avatar” (2009, a 7) and “Alice in Wonderland” (2010, a 5), but “Maleficent” is incredibly drab-looking and dull.

The trio of fairies that raise the princess could not be more idiotic and uninteresting. They are poorly rendered and drag down the movie with their every appearance. Their positioning as the comedic relief is a complete miss.

Even Jolie’s raven/human aide, Diaval (Sam Riley), gets off no zingers. This movie misses chances to be more entertaining at every turn.

Fanning, while looking the part of a maiden, does just three things: walks through woods, smiles and sleeps. It’s the most smile-intensive role since the Joker. It’s incredibly irritating to watch her strain to beam yet again.

Another woeful aspect of “Maleficent” is its terrible use of 3-D. This is the sort of movie, heavy on computer generation, where the process can be colossal. But it’s never utilized. Don’t pay the up-charge.

THE RATING

This might be too scary for little kids, even with the PG. There’s a fire-breathing dragon, fairy wings get cut off (it’s not seen, however), there’s a slew of weird creatures – some creepy – and a few battles. The PG is right – it’s just a pushed PG.

SUMMING UP

For the Movie Man, “Maleficent” is the disappointment of the year. It’s boring and misguided and a complete misfire.

NEXT UP

The Movie Man is heading to the sci-fi “Edge of Tomorrow.”

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