Last year, Disney flipped “The Wizard of Oz” on its head with “Oz: The Great and Terrible,” which was, let’s be honest, a bit of a disappointment.
This year, they picked 1959’s “Sleeping Beauty” to be reinvented. “Maleficent” (which could also be titled “You made your bed, now lie in it”) might still not be as good as the original, but it still does the story credit.
“Maleficent” colors its title character as a bright and vivacious fairy, who delights in her beautiful wings and becomes a protector for the fairy realm from the greedy kingdom of men. One day, a young Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy) meets a human boy, Stephen (Michael Higgins), who has strayed into her world, and the two become fast friends — and gradually fall in love. As an adult, though, Stephen (now played by Sharlto Copley), is overcome with ambition as a servant to the king, who vows to pass his crown onto any who defeats Maleficent, who had bested him in battle.
Stephen, after many years away from the fairy world, returns and is welcomed by Maleficent (now played by Angelina Jolie). Stephen can’t bring himself to kill her, but does cut off her wings and take them as an offering to the king and thus securing for himself the throne.
An enraged Maleficent gets revenge on Stephen at the christening of his daughter, Aurora, cursing her with, in a slight change from the original, a death-like sleep until true love’s kiss — a dig at Stephen, who swore their love was true. Flora, Fauna and Merriweather, here called Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), Thistletwit (Juno Temple) and Flittle (Lesley Manville), take the babe into the woods and raise her as a peasant.
The three fairies, well-intentioned though they might be, are no match for raising a child, and Maleficent, along with her trusty shapeshifting sidekick Diaval (Sam Riley), finds herself in an unlikely role as caretaker for this girl she’s just cursed. A grown Aurora (Elle Fanning) has another name for her: Fairy Godmother.
The bond between curser and cursed grows, making Maleficent second-guess her vengeful ways, but an attempt to remove the curse fails. The only solution as Aurora’s 16th birthday draws near seems to be in Prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaites). Meanwhile, the last 16 years of waiting for Maleficent’s return has made Stephen a bit unhinged, and makes plans to do away with her once and for all.
This film is gorgeous. Especially in IMAX 3D the studios try to woo critics with, it felt like walking in a fairy tale. The cottage where Aurora is raised by the fairies looks like it was plucked straight out of the cartoon, and the characters almost all bear a stunning resemblance to their animated counterparts.
I’m not usually a big fan of Jolie or her movies, but she hit the nail on the head. She seems every bit as striking and imposing as in the original, but is, as is the point of the movie, much more sympathetic than in the past.
Sure, I’m not totally on board with the sudden change from “I’m so sad my boyfriend left me and stole my wings” to “I’m going to curse his baby,” but her character restoration from baby curser to protector is much more subtle and well drawn, and it’s neat to see the flickers of her former self start appearing between evil smirks.
Oh, and watch for her real-life daughter, Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, as toddler Aurora. The interaction between costumed mother and daughter is just plain adorable.
If the succession of texts from my cousin over the last few days is any indication, parents of small children are worried about the scare factor here. Personally, I felt like “Maleficent” wasn’t as scary as “Sleeping Beauty.”
Maleficent doesn’t turn into a dragon — Diaval does near the end — and even though everything ends with a final battle and there’s a certain amount of peril, I’m pretty sure my 4-year-old self would be able to get through it without having nightmares afterwards. No matter how menacing Maleficent is at her most evil, there’s enough buildup showing her as a good character that most kids will probably not be afraid of her.
I mean, I still prefer “Sleeping Beauty,” with the evil-through-and-through villain who turns into a dragon before being killed by the valiant Prince Phillip who is irrationally in love with a girl he met once in the woods and dreamed about some, but “Maleficent” is a welcome addition to the story.
Time: 97 minutes
There was only one Jeff Vice in the world
On Monday, I got some disturbing news: Jeff Vice, ex-movie critic for the Deseret News who now did reviews for the Geek Show and X96, was in the hospital, and it didn’t look good.
On Tuesday, word came that he died.
Right now, the word is that he died of a massive asthma attack and heart failure. He was 48. This sudden death of a relatively healthy person comes as a shock not only to his friends and family, but also to those in the critic world who expected him to just be at every single screening.
I didn’t know Jeff well as a person, but I knew his movie reviews inside and out. When he wrote for the DesNews, I read every single one, even if I had no interest in seeing the movie. Of those movies he reviewed that I did see, I can’t remember ever disagreeing with anything he had to say about it. That guy was spot on, every single time.
When I started attending press screenings as a critic, I got the opportunity to rub shoulders with this local giant — once or twice, literally. When I scored a seat next to Jeff Vice, and then when he started talking to me about movies, I felt like I had arrived. Sure, he probably didn’t know my name or remember anything about me, but hey, you take what you can get.
Because my interactions with him were minor, I don’t feel like I have a right to talk about how much he’ll be missed. But I do feel like he had a significant impact on my life as a writer. When I first got into journalism, I had ideas about being a music critic, and was lucky enough to learn the ropes from a phenomenal one, but I also studied Jeff’s critiques.
He always said what needed to be said, but he resisted the temptation to be harsh or cruel about it. This guy could say a movie was complete garbage and I think its makers would still not be offended by it. I like to think I do that, too, but I know I don’t.
Try as I might, I am no Jeff Vice. They only made one of him.
But we did have one, and I think we’re better off for it.
Rest in peace, Jeff.