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'Maleficent' is no sleeper

Published June 16. 2014 05:01PM

Walt Disney Studios officials may have thought: Who better to reimagine "Sleeping Beauty" than the "imagineers" (as Disney has called its creative team)?

Thus, "Maleficent," which purports to tell us, in prodigious voice-over narration, the story that we weren't told.

The original fairytale, as told in Disney's classic 1959 animation feature, "Sleeping Beauty," appears charming and quaint in comparison to "Maleficent."

"Maleficent" is anything but quaint and charming. "Maleficent" is one mean movie machine, with all the earmarks of summer blockbuster creature-feature action movie-making.

How does "Maleficent" fare on the summer movie blockbuster checklist?

Action hero? Maleficent (Angelina Jolie). Check.

Young damsel? Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning). Check.

Handsome prince? Prince Philip (Brenton Thwaites). Check.

Bitter father figure? King Stefan (Sharlto Copley) Check.

Fierce dragon? Shape-shifting Diaval (Sam Riley). Check.

Weirdly cute characters? Trolls right out of "The Lord of the Rings," "Avatar" and "Harry Potter" central casting. Check.

Cutely weird characters? Three doll-size fairies: Flittle, Knotgrass and Thistlewit (Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple). Check.

Huge battle scene? Several. Check.

"Maleficent" hits all the summer movie blockbuster tropes. The movie succeeds despite a lengthy prologue, back story about Maleficent that softens her edges, and overly dark scenes (few take place during daytime) made more problematic in the 3D format in which the movie was seen for this review.

What rescues "Maleficent" from summer movie blockbuster doldrums is Angelina Jolie, who provides the right mix of magnificence, fear and sensitivity as Maleficent. The Evil Witch isn't so evil after all. She isn't even referred to as a witch. Political correctness, you know. She's just misunderstood. She has issues. It's no wonder she's a cursed figure who curses anything and anybody within eyesight or earshot.

Jolie's huge eyes project emotions with laser-beam intensity. Her face, sculpted with prosthetics that give her tail-fin cheekbones, is a mask of indifference until she unleashes her wrath. Jolie's is a very effective reigned-in performance amidst myriad special effects depicting her super heroine's powers.

Robert Stromberg, a visual effects wizard (Art direction Oscars, "Avatar," 2009; "Alice in Wonderland," 2010) in his feature film directorial debut, emphasizes form over function, marshaling legions of computer animation artists to dazzle us.

Linda Woolverton ("The Lion King," 1994; "Alice In Wonderland") wrote the screenplay, which veers radically from the 1959 "Sleeping Beauty" screenplay (with seven of the original screenwriters credited) on which it's based.

The Disney animated feature was based on "La Belle Au Bois Dormant," by Charles Perrault (1628 -1703), who also wrote "Mother Goose" and "Cinderella," and "Little Briar Rose" by Jacob Grimm (1785 1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (1786 1859), who co-wrote "Grimm's Fairy Tales."

"Maleficent" exemplifies blockbuster movie franchise film-making at its best and worst. Angelina Jolie has indicated she may be on board for "Maleficent 2." She had better be. Without Jolie there's no joy in "Maleficent."

"Maleficent," MPAA Rated PG (Parental Guidance Suggested. Some Material May Not Be Suitable For Children.) for sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images; Genre: Action, Adventure, Family; Fantasy, Romance; Run Time: One hr., 37 min.; Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: Lana Del Rey sings "Once Upon A Dream," the 1959 "Sleeping Beauty" theme song, during the beginning of the closing credits for "Maleficent," which was filmed in Ashridge Park, Little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire England; Petworth House, Petworth, West Sussex, England, and Pinewood Studios, Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, England, United Kingdom. Vivienne Jolie-Pitt (young Princess Aurora) is a daughter of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

Box Office, June 6: Teen female moviegoers found no fault with "The Fault In Our Stars," launching the movie based on the popular young adult novel at No. 1, opening with a solid $48.2 million, knocking Angelina Jolie from her No. 1 perch to No. 2, with "Maleficent," still conjuring up an impressive $33.5 million, $127.3 million, two weeks; and edging out Tom Cruise for "show," with his "Edge Of Tomorrow," opening at No. 3, with $29.1 million;

4. "X-Men: Days of Future Past," $14.7 million, $189.1 million, three weeks; 5. "A Million Ways To Die In The West," $7.1 million, $30 million, two weeks; 6."Godzilla," $5.9 million, $185 million, four weeks; 7. "Neighbors," $5.2 million, $137.8 million, five weeks; 8. "Blended," $4 million, $36.5 million, three weeks; 9. "Chef," $2.6 million, $10.3 million, five weeks; 10. "Million Dollar Arm," $1.8 million, $31.3 million, four weeks

Unreel, June 13:

"22 Jump Street," R: Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill go back undercover in the sequel, this time at college. Ice Cube, Amber Stevens, Jillian Bell and Peter Stormare co-star in the action comedy.

"How To Train Your Dragon," PG: New dragons and the Mysterious Dragon Rider appear in the animation comedy sequel. The voice talent includes that of Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig and America Ferrera.

Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press web site,; the Times-News web site,; and hear them on "Lehigh Valley Art Salon," 6 6:30 p.m. Mondays, WDIY 88.1 FM, and, where they're archived. Email Paul Willistein: You can follow Paul Willistein on Twitter and friend Paul Willistein on Facebook.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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