Review – Mirror, Mirror, on the… Wait, Wrong Fairytale (“Maleficent”)

Put away that Disney animated movie from 1959, ’cause mama’s got a brand new tale to tell.

*

Sleeping Beauty and wicked Maleficent get a re-imagining thanks to screenwriter Linda Woolverton, who also wrote Disney’s beloved The Lion King and Beauty And The Beast screenplays. We start with Maleficent’s back story: Two major kingdoms, the humans and the Moors, stay away from each other since the Moors are ruled by magic and lotsa fairies. The most humanoid Moor is a young girl named Maleficent (Ella Purnell and Isobelle Molloy) who sports a mischievous grin and magnificent bird-like wings. One day a young human boy named Stefan (Toby Regbo and Michael Higgins) accidentally meets the young fairy girl and the two hit it off famously. Fast forward many years later and Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) and Stefan (Sharlto Copley) are bestbuds… until ruthless King Henry (Kenneth Cranham) wants the Moors magic and it’s land for himself and tries to take it forcibly, but with disastrous results. Either trying to make amends or gain a foothold on the crown, Stefan does the unthinkable and drugs Maleficent and cuts off her wings! Ouch! Needless to say, Maleficent gets pissed and unfriends Stefan from her Facebook page. Since she can longer fly, she uses her awesome magic to transform a raven into a man named Diaval (Sam Riley) to be her eyes and ears for her.

Years pass and King Stefan and his Queen have a baby girl named Aurora. During the christening ceremony (one of the best parts of the movie), the three diminutive good fairies, Knotgrass (Imelda Staunton), Thistlewit (Juno Temple), and Flittle (Lesley Manville) bestow their magical blessings upon the baby. . .well, almost. Maleficent crashes the party (literally) and curses the child saying that she’ll prick her finger, yadda yadda yadda, you know the rest. The King goes nuts, burns all the spinning wheels, and has his baby daughter whisked away into hiding by the three fairies and away from Maleficent’s prying eyes. BUT! Maleficent is already wise to the cottage’s location and silently watches over the baby (“the beastie”, as she calls her) <as well as the stupidity of the fairies, who pop-up to full grown size to aid in Aurora’s upbringing.

Then a strange thing happens. The more Maleficent watches the baby growing up through the years, the more she develops a weird sort of love for the child. She even protects her and lets her enter the magical Moor land, where teen Aurora (Elle Fanning) comes to call Maleficent her “fairy Godmother”. Maleficent caves in and falls in love with the child and tries, but can’t remove her own fatal curse that she placed on her. Bummer. Only “true love’s kiss” can do the trick. Enter Prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaites) right on cue. Philip and Aurora meet and it’s love at first sight!

But trouble arises when Aurora learns the truth about sweet ol’ Maleficent and runs home to papa, who’s gone totally bonkers in trying to kill Maleficent at any cost. Naturally, seeing Aurora on her 16th birthday panics the King, so he locks her up, but she escapes and, spellbound, she finds a spinning wheel in the castle basement and OOPS! Maleficent arrives too late to stop Aurora from her curse, but she brought Prince Phillip along for that ‘true love’s kiss’ thingy. That should work, right?

Well, yes and no. I won’t give away what happens here.

Anyway, Maleficent and Aurora, in an attempt to flee the castle and live their own happily ever after, are stopped by mad King Stefan and his guards bearing iron, the one metal than can hurt fairies (who knew?). Maleficent zaps Diaval into a ginormous fire-breathing dragon and the battle is on. There are few more surprises, but let’s just say a happy ending is had by all in the finale and tied up in a neat little bow.

Robert Stromberg really directs the hell out of this movie, and by that I mean he knows how to shoot an updated version of a fairy tale, without degenerating it into an action-adventure kamikaze film like Jack the Giant Slayer or Hansel and Gretl: Witch Hunters. Okay, the story is riddled with some major plot holes that defy logic, but the kids in the audience won’t care; there’s enough cuteness in the goofy three fairies and Maleficent’s about-face in evilness for them to grasp onto. The plot is weak, but watching Jolie work her magic as Maleficent is worth the price of admission alone. And speaking of which. . .

Angelina Jolie was born to play this role with her high cheek bones, her sculpted, slinky body, and oh, that voice of hers! Her speech in the castle when she’s cursing the baby gives you the chills. Seriously. Chills. Elle Fanning as Aurora is perky and cute and that’s about it. She’s not given too much opportunity to have any range, much like Thwaites who just stands there and looks charming. Sam Riley as Diaval looks like he wanted to give more to his character, but was held back and the three good fairies just annoyed me. How they ever raised a child for 16 years and didn’t manage to kill her off in the process is beyond me!

Bell, Book, and Candle (1958)


*

Fooling around with a witch can lead to bad things. . .unless you fall in love with them. This was case for Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak in this romantic comedy movie, which eventually lead to the popular TV series, “Bewitched”.

Gillian Holroyd (Novak) is a beautiful witch living in New York’s Greenwich Village and rather unlucky in love. In her artsy apartment she admires her neighbor across the hall, book publisher Shep Henderson (Stewart). One day by chance (or is it?) Shep walks into her art gallery where she works to use the telephone. But it wasn’t by chance, you see, because Gillian’s wacky Aunt Queenie (Elsa Lanchester)–who’s also a witch–put a spell on Shep to use the phone.

When Gillian learns Shep is about to marry an old college enemy of hers, Merle Kittridge (Janice Rule), she acts quickly by zapping him with a love spell, but in doing so, she falls for him as well. But Gillian has to make a serious choice: witches who fall in love lose their supernatural powers. She decides on love and when that happens, her pet cat, Pyewacket, takes off. (side note: that’s my cat’s name, too!)

Meanwhile, Sidney Redlitch (Ernie Kovacs), the author of Magic in Mexico, arrives in Shep’s office and is researching a book on witches in New York and needs an “insider’s” collaboration. Gillian’s nutty and free-spirited brother-warlock, Nicky (a very young Jack Lemmon) volunteers his services in exchange for a portion of the book proceeds. He shows Sidney the fundamentals of witchcraft and what bars “they” frequent.

Finally, Gillian confesses to Shep that she’s a witch and naturally he flips out and becomes angry. Thinking that she enchanted him just to get rid of Merle, he goes to see another witch to have Gillian’s spell removed. The other witch, a Bianca dePasse (Hermoine Gingold, not Hermoine Granger), breaks the spelland Shep confronts Gillian about what she did. But when he sees that her magic is all gone and that her love for him was true and didn’t need any spell, they fall back in love with each and reconcile. The two kiss, music swells, fade out, roll credits.

The strength of this movie lies in the crisp writing of Daniel Taradash,who adapted the rather slow-moving Broadway play written by John Van Druten. Bringing the stage play to film really opens it up, thanks largely in part to the comedic styles of Lemmon, Lanchester, and Kovacs. Jack Lemmon, was just starting out in movies and would land Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot the following year, getting him a Best Actor nom. Ernie Kovacs was a comedy genius who had his own TV show in the late 50’s that was WAY ahead of its time. Check out his bizarre humor on You Tube.

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