Maleficent (2014)
I seem to have a love or hate relationship with live action retellings of fairy tales; some of them (like Snow White and the Huntsman) were grand disappointments. Fortunately, both in terms of plot and as a character, Maleficent is magnificent.


Two kingdoms are at odds with one another; the kingdom of men and the moors, where the fairy folk dwell. Young Maleficent is the strongest of the fairies and acts as a guardian over the forest. Her benevolence extends to a young human boy, who has wandered into her realm and plucked from the lake a beautiful stone. His name is Stephen, and over time he and Maleficent develop a friendship that as they grow older, becomes something more. But as he matures, Stephen becomes more drawn to the world of men and his ambition for power.


When the dying king strikes out against the moors with the intention of claiming it as part of his kingdom, an adult Maleficent (Angelia Jolie) defends it against attack. Her humiliation of the king enrages him and he promises his succession to the man who can defeat her. This unravels a sequence of events that turn the protective, kind-hearted Maleficent into the terrifying dark force that casts young Princess Aurora under a terrible curse. But as Maleficent watches Aurora (Elle Fanning) mature into a vivacious, compassionate young woman, something begins to change in Maleficent herself. 


Too often, movies are slapped together with no real thought and CGI replaces a decent character arc. In a decade when movies grow longer and longer, with more drawn-out battle sequences and very little characterization, Maleficent is a breath of fresh air. Disney is clearly aware that she is their most famous and most universally beloved villain, and have taken great care in constructing her story. Yes, it deviates from the original Sleeping Beauty but in many ways, it becomes a more profound story because of it. This isn't a tale of true love in a romantic sense, but of motherly affection and goodness triumphing over evil. It has many humorous moments, particularly between the loveable but incompetent fairies, but the entire weight of the film rests on the title character's shoulders -- and Angelia is a powerful presence on screen. She explores the deep devastation, diabolical anger, and transformation of Maleficent in a truly moving performance. 


Never once does the film's pace falter; it has such a tight script and knows exactly the story it wants to tell, so not a moment is wasted. There is a good deal of CGI and at times it looks more unrealistic than I would have liked, but it never overly distracted me. Even though Aurora comes into the story fairly late, Elle brings her to life with a vivacious likability and exuberance that makes her a lovely contrast with the somber title character. Maleficent raven becomes one of the more memorable secondary figures -- both entertaining in his own right and a much-needed willing partner in her "crimes." For those who see no need to cast Maleficent in a different light (she is neither misunderstood nor truly evil here), the film is unnecessary -- but as someone who reveled in the splendor, was touched by the gentle vulnerability of the lead, and liked the underlining message (that our circumstances do not define us; we choose who we become, and we can choose to forgive and redeem ourselves), Maleficent is by far the best film to come out of Disney in over a decade.
Sexual Content:
None. Two chaste kisses.
Men and moor creatures go to battle on several occasions; Maleficent hits soldiers with the power of her wings and magic alike, throwing them through the air; she is burned and semi-tortured by iron chains and netting; Aurora pricks her finger on a spindle, drawing a drop of blood; a dragon fights for Maleficent and its life; a man falls to his death.

Curses, spells, and moorland magic. 

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