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- by Teddy Durgin -

Maleficent stirs up a fine witch's brew

There is something perversely funny about casting Angelina Jolie as a Disney villainess who spends a significant amount of screen time hating a small child. There was a time when the woman couldn't visit a foreign country and not adopt a kid. Some people go to Tunisia or Turkey or Vietnam and bring back a refrigerator magnet or a coffee mug. Angelina brings back a new daughter. The last time she visited the Sudan, she brought the members of her family T-shirts that read: "My mom went to the Third World and all she brought me back was this lousy T-shirt... and a new little brother."

Jolie stars as the title character in "Maleficent." To say that the woman chews the CGI scenery in this flick is an understatement. This film is her own personal Golden Corral buffet, and - wow! - does she strap on the ol' feedbag. The great thing is that the role and the movie play to her best tendencies not as an actress, but as a movie star. This is a real movie star turn, folks. Jolie dominates the screen here in a way few can. She never once is made little by the gargantuan special effects, a rare feat in this day and age. When she shoots energy beams out of her fingertips, it's like they're really coming from her. Jolie as Maleficent is really all this film had to get right. Sure, it would have been great if pretty much any other character also registered here. They don't really. Like in a Daniel Day-Lewis flick, they pretty much all get caught up in the vacuum of the lead performance. But, in this case, I'm OK with that. This is old-school Hollywood entertainment, with Jolie's performance recalling everything from Gloria Swanson's Norma Desmond to your pick of the classic Bette Davis or Katherine Hepburn performances. Maleficent serves as protector over a magical land coveted by a nearby human kingdom. The humans are corrupt and only crave conquest and large land grabs. An army assembles on her borders under the leadership of the corrupt King Henry (Kenneth Cranham), but Maleficent counter-attacks with giant woodland creatures of her own and turns back the siege. Wounded and dying, Henry offers his crown to any in the kingdom who will slay Maleficent. There is only one man who can. His name is Stefan (Sharlto Copley), who as a boy wandered into Maleficent's realm and ended up befriending the young then-fairy. The childhood attraction turned into something deeper as the two matured. It became first love. But the shine of the crown eventually proves too much for Stefan. As a grown man, he betrays Maleficent in the worst way - putting her in a deep sleep, clipping her wings, and claiming the throne. Darkness falls over Maleficent's land. In anger, she curses Stefan's first-born child, the beautiful Aurora (Elle Fanning) with an endless sleep on her 16th birthday that can only be roused with true love's kiss. "Maleficent" has more edge than I thought it would, especially for a Disney film that is getting heavy ad play on the various kids' channels. There is an intensity to this film that is going to be a bit much for those younger than 8, I would say. But it doesn't go over the top. If your little one is scared by the "monsters" Maleficent summons to battle the humans or the fire-breathing dragon she employs late in the film, just let them know that each of the scariest of the scary creatures is always fighting on the side of right. I think it speaks volumes of Jolie's acting in this film that my 9-year-old Maddie wasn't wigged out by any of the creature feature moments, but instead was most disturbed by the sequence where Maleficent wakes up to discover her missing wings and begins wailing in hurt and shame. There is no special effect in that scene. Just an actress on top of her craft channeling some real dark emotions. "Maleficent" is a dark delight. "Maleficent" is rated PG for fantasy action and violence and some frightening images.


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