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So the main message I get from Disney's announcement today about the March 14, 2014 release date of "Maleficent" is that they really, really, really, really want this to be as big as "Alice In Wonderland."
After all, they mention the film no less than three times in one paragraph, and that's because many of the key creative people on this film were involved with that film. I'm sure Disney would love for this to earn them another billion dollars, like "Alice" did, and claiming a release date this far out seems to be a clear indicator that they expect this one to be a monster.
There's a big difference between Angelina Jolie working with a first-time director making the jump from production design and Tim Burton collaborating with Johnny Depp, though, and I'm still not sold on the idea that the general public is rabid about getting tons of new fairy tale movies. "Mirror Mirror" hardly set the world on fire, and two years is a long time to expect a trend like this to sustain heat.
For those not familiar with the project, "Maleficent" is a live-action film that will trace the back story of the evil witch from Disney's classic treatment of "Sleeping Beauty." That is one of my favorite of the classic Disney animated films, and a big part of that is the gorgeous, sweeping palette of the film and the way it represents a pinnacle of artistic accomplishment by the studio. There are very few films more visually lush than that one, and Maleficent is one of the best designed villains in the Disney library.
More than anything, this sounds like "Wicked," a self-aware revision of the evil characters, and that's certainly been a hit as well. I guess my problem is that it feels like the sort of choice you make when reacting to other people's work, and not something that organically needed to be told.
Whatever the case, I hope it works. I hope Robert Stromberg turns out to have a voice as a filmmaker, and that he has a real vision for how to make this special. He's the production designer behind films like "Avatar," the upcoming "Oz The Great And Powerful," and of course, "Alice In Wonderland." Also returning from that film is Linda Woolverton, the screenwriter, and Joe Roth, the producer.
I'll admit that another part of my hesitations about this film boil down to casting. Angelina Jolie makes a lot of logical sense, but I can't honestly remember the last time I was excited to see something she starred in. Thinking about it, looking at her filmography, I'm not sure I have any real investment in her work. I think she is a striking woman whose work leaves me somewhat cold and disconnected, and I'm not sure audiences in general are going to be drawn to a movie where she's the villain and the main character.
We'll see soon enough. "Maleficent" arrives in theaters March 14, 2014.