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BLU-RAY/DVD REVIEWS: “Maleficent” and “Planes: Fire & Rescue”

BLU-RAY/DVD REVIEWS: "Maleficent" and "Planes: Fire & Rescue"

Before we
begin, a few words about Regis Philbin. During a run-through for one of those
Disney Christmas TV parades, Regis Philbin pronounced “Maleficent” as
“Mal-Efficient.” I love it. Reege has gifted our family and friends with many
years of amusement as we continue to say it that way.

Anyway, this
epic tent pole film is a showcase for Angelina Jolie’s larger-than-life screen
presence, admirably capturing the imposing character of the Marc Davis’ iconic Sleeping Beauty villain. But of course,
in these days of Wicked, the evil
fairy “has a darkness” (as Jolie described her in an interview) but she comes
across most often as—to quote Paddy Chayefsky’s Network, “crusty but benign.” in this epic film. Indeed, the moments
in which she amuses herself with nasty little spells to confound the three
fairies suggest Endora of Bewitched.

Screenwriter
Linda Woolverton (Beauty and the Beast, Alice in Wonderland) did an admirable
job in mining plausible convincing arguments for Maleficent’s side of the
story. According to her comment in one of the bonus features, the key was the
issue of wings, but other major angles are the relationship with Aurora and
King Stefan’s descent into Nixonian paranoia (or was he just bitter because
they took his name off the restaurant inside Cinderella Castle?)

Several
sequences nod to 1959’s Sleeping Beauty
(also reissued on Blu-ray) including the Christening (almost word-for-word) and
the look of the three fairies’ cottage. Director Robert Stromberg’s mastery at art
direction with affectionate references to earlier classics (as in Oz, The Great and Powerful) surely was a
factor. And if you’re a Brad Pitt fan, look for him with the kids in one of the
other bonus features

Not as high-budget
but pretty lavish for Disney TV animation (though it was released theatrically)
is Planes: Fire & Rescue—a sequel
to Planes, a Disney-branded film with Pixar overtones—since it bears such a
strong relationship to the Cars
series. There’s no denying that, considering the success of Cars as a franchise and a merchandise
bonanza, that Planes strives to follow suit.

The thing
is that this particular film is superior to the first installment of Planes,
especially with regard to story. Dusty Crophopper is better suited to a heroic
leading role this time around, as opposed to the been-there-done-that “afraid
to fly” role so familiar in animated features. There’s more at stake when he
enters the world of fire and rescue, and while he still learns a lesson, the
movie is more about the job at hand and its importance.

The other
characters are also allowed some room to breathe and develop with some nicely
cast voice actors including Stacy Keach in a role that suggests Paul Newman’s
Hudson character from Cars; Erik
Estrada bringing a “CHiPs” vibe to the story (complete with a very funny ‘70s-style
TV episode spoof
;
and wonderful moments with Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara as married RV’s.

There is a Pixar
tradition of casting John Ratzenberger in every movie, so his presence here
also relates the film to Pixar as well as Disney. And there must be some rule
in recent animated features that requires either Patrick Warburton or Brad
Garrett doing voices. This film includes both.

The imagery
in which these cartoony planes fly is so realistic that it’s getting more
difficult to tell CG from live action, especially in the bold sweeping vistas
and the action sequences. If you go in expecting an entertaining animated
feature with no aspirations to be Frozen
or Monsters University, it’s a
satisfying family movie night pick.

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