Maleficent

Like many of the fairy tales we heard as youngsters, Disney’s Maleficent contains some plot elements that are head-scratchers.

We meet the young Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy) when she’s an innocent girl fairy, living an idyllic life of flapping her wings and flying around an apparent paradise. She shares this happy universe with a number of creatures that look like refugees from Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies.

She forms a friendship with a human from the neighboring land of kings and queens, young Stefan (Michael Higgins). As they grow into teenagers, they continue as chums. But when they become adults, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie with cheeks sharp enough to slice bread) and Stefan (Sharlto Copley, who we met in District 9) see their relationship take a strange turn.

The dictionary definition of maleficent (“doing evil or harm; harmfully malicious”) gives a clue that things may not always continue to be goodness and light for her.

The king of Stefan’s home kingdom leads an ill-fated invasion of the fairyland and his guys are turned back thanks to Maleficent’s power. The king declares that whoever gets Maleficent’s wings will be king when he dies. Stefan, her old friend, sneaks in and manages to do the dirty deed and gains power while Maleficent loses some, but not all, of hers.

She places a curse on Stefan’s daughter Aurora (the remarkably cute Elle Fanning) that dooms her to go to sleep at age 16 and not be awakened until she gets a kiss that comes from true love. Aurora is raised in the woods by 3 fairies, characters that should be charming and memorable, but somehow lack those qualities.

Maleficent is always hovering nearby, monitoring the child’s growth. She has her sidekick Diavil (Sam Riley) alongside, turning him into whatever creature she fancies. He could pass for Orlando Bloom’s less good-looking younger brother.

Eventually, most of the characters live happily and others get by as they can. As mentioned, some of the things that happen are head-scratchers. For instance, just when we think we have Maleficent figured out, she changes her mind—like with that curse thing.

Maleficent is a good-not-great movie, with many wonderful and amazing images. Director Robert Stromberg’s lengthy movie resume is mainly as an effects guy. He does an excellent job of mixing live action by human actors with computer-generated effects.

But the big question remains: Is this movie too scary for little kids? I say yes. As an overprotective dad, I might’ve rated Maleficent PG-13. But it has been deemed PG. This ensures that a good number of little kids will have nightmares. Thank the MPAA, mom and dad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hobbit

The Hobbit has many great things going for it. Especially thrilling is the 48 frames per second technology, which provides images that are incredibly real looking.

Of course, what we see onscreen is unreal: Dwarves with huge feet. Creatures that are figments of creative imaginations. Settings that are other-worldly. And, our old weird little friend Gollum.

Unlike the three Lord of the Rings movies, The Hobbit is funny. Small chuckles and big laughs abound in a story that is also filled with peril and adventure. Yes, there were small bits of humor in the LOTR films, but The Hobbit is (as its director Peter Jackson has said in interviews) whimsical.

Martin Freeman is Bilbo Baggins, the Hobbit. He brings an air of complete bemusement to the role. He vaguely resembles Martin Short, but Freeman appears frequently dumbfounded by plot developments. (Short would, I think, always be on the verge of a snicker, I must say.)

The entire movie has moments to savor, but a favorite is the scene where Bilbo falls into an impossibly deep hole and meets Gollum. It’s a case of “Finders Keepers” when Bilbo picks up a certain ring that has fallen from Gollum’s keep. As the two trade riddles, both the character Gollum and the actor playing him (the talented Andy Sorkis) are revealed to be strong enough to carry an entire movie. (Maybe after the three Hobbit movies are done?)

The great Ian McKellan is back as Gandalf and even he seems a bit less severe than in the LOTR triology.

Here’s one where real parental guidance comes into play. It’s PG-13, but okay for most 9, 10, 11 & 12 year olds, in my opinion. If your kids have enjoyed the later Harry Potter movies with no ill effects, they should be able to handle The Hobbit.

As for its length, that may be another issue. While the movie flew by for me, its 2:45 run time may be a problem for the more restless among us.

I liked the LOTR movies, but I love The Hobbit. Yep, it’s a “must see!”