Maleficent:  Mistress of Evil

 

            The title character is an encore performance by Angelina Jolie, and like the Queen in chess, she is definitely the most powerful figure on the board.  But it seems there's another Queen, Ingrith (played by Michelle Pfeiffer), arrayed against her, and though the knights and pawns will open the gambits, in the end, it's the two Queens who go at it to see who prevails.

            Maleficent is a fairy who lives in an enchanted forest, who had decided to adopt a human girl, Aurora (Elle Fanning), and raise her as her own daughter.  This developed in Maleficent, who had a reputation for a nasty temper and a malevolent outlook, a maternal streak she didn't know she had.  But the thing about raising a child is that you develop parental love, yes, but you also develop these expectations about who the child needs to become.  Naturally, Maleficent wants Aurora to take over for her as Queen of the Forest.  All the other fairies love her, even though she is human.  But being human, Aurora falls for a guy, Philip (Harris Dickinson---and five years later do we even remember that he's not the same guy as in the original?).

            The good news is that Philip is a Prince.  And you would think that the union of Philip and Aurora would also mean an alliance of the two competing realms.  But unfortunately, it's not that easy.  Queen Ingrith invites Aurora and Maleficent to dinner with her and Philip and King John (Robert Lindsay), where she makes it clear that she expects Aurora to forsake her forest home and live in the big castle with them.  In other words, thanks for your help in raising her, Malificent, but we really don't need you any more.  Malificent is angry, which immediately causes windows to shatter and strong winds to blow inside the dining hall, creating a perfect cover for Queen Ingrith to incapacitate King John and blame it on Malificent.  Queen Ingrith, it seems, wanted a pretext for declaring war, anyway, out of some sort of revenge for wrongs remembered when she was a child.  (Yes, it's a parable about the sour fruit of holding grudges.)

            Here's where we move from palace intrigue to outright warfare, which is kind of un-Disney-like.  Maleficent is joined by other winged fairies to make war on the humans, in retalitation for their prior atrocities, which was in retalitation for....you get the picture.

            The visuals are really stunning.  We can believe Malificent's powerful wings as well as her black magic, and we can also believe the efficacy of catapults and crossbows (yes, the time period seems to be roughly medieval).  But wait, the star-crossed lovers are going to find a way to declare a cease-fire and hold a wedding instead.  And then everyone is supposed to live in peace and harmony, without nurturing grudges over past grievances.

            It's a noble intention.  We all wish peace would prevail.  And we all want to work toward that time when it's not so much where you're from, but whom you love.  It's just that Disney has taken evil so seriously this time that we wonder if it's really suddenly eradicated, or just dormant until the next perceived insult.

            This one may be too intense for small children, but it's an effective morality play for the older ones.  And the acting is just strong enough to make it nearly credible for us war-weary old peaceniks.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association  

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