By Marc S. Sanders

The wagon train of live action adaptations of Disney animated classics reached its pinnacle with 2014’s Maleficent. Much credit going towards Angelina Jolie’s portrayal of the title character. However, the visuals cannot be dismissed either. It’s a gorgeous film directed by Robert Stromberg.

Stromberg brings his wealth of experience in visual effects (Avatar and Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World) to his directorial debut. The fantasy world of Maleficent’s forest, as well as the looming castle on its outskirts are dressed in gorgeous colors and vast dimension of pathways and caverns. The magical spells wafting in greens, golds, blues and reds, wielded by the characters, including the three protective fairies (led by a strong Imelda Staunton) is hypnotic and blends beautifully with the live actors’ performances. It’s as bold in the visual department as anything cropped up by Peter Jackson or James Cameron.

What makes this brisk 90 minute film special is a different point of view from the classic film Sleeping Beauty. Is there justification to a villain’s actions? Stromberg and Jolie certainly make a case for it. It’s a reminder that there are two sides to every story. Anyone ever consider that maybe Maleficent might have been betrayed at one point? I’ll be damned. At least that’s what I thought, after watching this film.

No one in life is born evil. I like to think people are made evil or perceived as evil. This film is a great example of that, much like the musical Wicked or the recent hit film Joker.

Jolie offers up the frightening aspects of the fairy dressed in black that we’ve been familiar with all these years. However, she’s fortunate that the capable script from Linda Woolverton offers up opportune moments to consider her soft, sensitive side. There are moments of no dialogue as Maleficent observes Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) grow, and she develops a reluctant (it’s hard to resist calling her “Beasty”) affection for the child. Maleficent will even participate in a playful mud fight. There are more than just evil machinations going on here.

Unlike the other Disney live action iterations, Maleficent shows something new and unexpected. It harbors my appreciation for the film whereas Beauty And The Beast or Aladdin did not because they just churned out the same old thing.

If Stromberg’s film suffers from one weakness I’d say it could have used a stronger performance from Sharlto Copley (The A Team film adaptation) as the antagonist, Aurora’s father and Maleficent’s first love; the eventual king. There was not much threat from this guy. He was no match in character much less performance against Jolie.

Still, Maleficent is a great character film with lots of fun, whimsical visuals to explore.

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