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Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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Mistress of Evil ultimately proves itself as a worthy follow-up full of ambition and visual extravagance.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Angelina Jolie is magnificent as Maleficent
Angelina Jolie is magnificent as Maleficent

The setup is pretty simple. Aurora, Queen of the Moors (Elle Fanning, Teen Spirit), accepts a proposal to wed Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson, The Darkest Minds). What could possibly be wrong with that? Isn’t that what all fairy tales are about? The ridiculously attractive couple. The magical wedding. The scope. The grandeur.

Well, of course it’s never that simple. Not in the world of the Brothers Grimm or Mother Goose or Uncle Walt.

It shouldn’t be surprising Maleficent (Angelina Jolie, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) is less than thrilled with the thought of “giving away” her human daughter. And, as it happens, the prince’s mother, Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer, Ladyhawke), Queen of Ulstead, has some nasty plans up her ornate sleeves.

So, there it is. A royal wedding. All of the creatures of the moors are to attend. All of the feys from Maleficent’s heritage will be there. It’s mandatory, after all.

But — and it’s a really big but — Queen Ingrith wants to destroy all of the faeries and the fey want to eliminate all of the humans. Gosh. Sounds like the perfect time for a wedding. Be sure to order enough food.

The In-Laws

There is a moment when the story veers toward the alarming “humans are evil” storyline. It was only a few years ago when Robert Langdon fought against that mindset as an evil force in Inferno. Now, it’s a source of identity politics and “serious” talk about thinning populations in underdeveloped countries.

Mercifully, though, that course is corrected and there is something of a kumbaya moment as an acknowledgment creeps in that, sometimes, old allegiances need to be questioned as the needs to adapt and to coexist reach a crescendo.

Ultimately, Mistress of Evil turns into a story about the power of forgiveness, transformation and rising above the fray. Certainly, credit goes to screenwriter Linda Woolverton for bringing the magic; she has quite the track record with productions like Maleficent, the original Lion King and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. The interesting spin is the addition of writers Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster (collaborators on Amazon’s Transparent). All told, it makes for a PG-rated fairy tale with plenty of subtext that helps lift the movie above standard fare.

War Is Here If You Want It

The most interesting theme running under the surface of Mistress of Evil is this gem: the use of fear as a weapon. More specifically, the strategy of the ruling class instilling fear in the populace in order to exert control. It’s right there. In this Disney fairy tale. It’s there if you want it, but the movie works on its own if you choose to ignore it.

Of course, movies like this aren’t intended to be Trojan horses full of grim undercurrents. In Grimm stories, the grim is right there on the surface, after all.

Mistress of Evil holds its charms in a wildly imaginative world of colorful imagery; the scenery, the costumes, the creatures — under the helm of Joachim Ronning (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) — all demonstrate a creative flair worthy of the Disney name.

And, topping it all off, there’s Angelina Jolie. Once again, she owns the screen when Maleficent enters the room. It’s not an easy role to fill; it’s one that’s so easily taken into caricature — especially with all the trickery to give her those cheekbones that immediately conjure images of the evil character in the 1959 Disney classic animated version of Sleeping Beauty.