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Parents' guide: 'Maleficent' will enchant most kids, despite scary trailers

Here's the parental movie dilemma this week: Your kids have likely seen at least one commercial or preview for "Maleficent" and may be bugging you to let them see it. The film certainly has elements in its favor. It's from Disney. It's another chapter in the classic fairy tale "Sleeping Beauty." It's got an enormous star in Angelina Jolie, whose computer-enhanced cheekbones could cut glass. But th
IMAGE: Maleficent
MaleficentFrank Connor / AP

Here's the parental movie dilemma this week: Your kids have likely seen at least one commercial or preview for "Maleficent" and may be bugging you to let them see it. The film certainly has elements in its favor. It's from Disney. It's another chapter in the classic fairy tale "Sleeping Beauty." It's got an enormous star in Angelina Jolie, whose computer-enhanced cheekbones could cut glass. But the trailers are downright terrifying. Is this kiddie flick just fuel for nightmares? 

Early teasers certainly gave us the chills, all death threats and green smoke, and Jolie herself has said that no preschool actress except her own daughter, Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, was brave enough to film a scene with her. 

Now that we've seen the full film, we can assure you: The trailers are overblown. Yes, "Maleficent" deserves its PG-rather-than-G rating, definitely. But someone in the Disney marketing department needs to be punished with a two-week shift at the popcorn stand next to Splash Mountain. The terror crammed into a two-minute "Maleficent" trailer doesn't come off so overwhelmingly horrific when spread out over a full movie. Here's our guide. (Warning: Spoilers ahead.)

Cheekbones sharp as knives, Angelina Jolie plays the \"Maleficent\" viewers never got to know in 1959's \"Sleeping Beauty.\"Frank Connor / Today

For which ages is the film appropriate?
Not trying to downplay the drama here. There are scary moments: Maleficent's beloved wings are cut from her in a brutal scene (the actual removal happens offscreen, but her wailing aftermath is hard to watch). There are battles and a dragon and spooky smoke and a wound or two, plus the death of a "Sleeping Beauty" stalwart. For kids who have been toddling along with G-rated movies, this would be a big step up. But if your child has seen and tolerated other PG films — and you don't mind him or her crawling into your lap when a menacing wolf appears — your average kindergartner will be fine. Older kids who are familiar with "Sleeping Beauty" will likely get a kick out of how this film twists the story they know.

Elle Fanning plays a young Sleeping Beauty, aka Princess Aurora, in \"Maleficent.\"Frank Connor / Today

Should I pay more for a 3-D showing?
Often we advise parents to skip 3-D if a 2-D showing is available — save yourself money and don't overwhelm your child's senses with over-the-top effects. In this case, however, the 3-D is quite beautifully done. It's not about flinging rocks at the audience; it's about drawing viewers into an enchanted world of fairies and creatures, waterfalls and valleys. We say the rich visuals are worth the extra bucks.

Angelina Jolie was reportedly so frightening to young actresses that only her daughter, Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, would act with her as toddler Aurora.Frank Connor / Today

Should I rewatch 'Sleeping Beauty' before I go?
Not a bad idea. "Maleficent" nods to the Disney classic, and references to the original have a bit more resonance when they're fresh in your mind. (If you don't want to watch the whole thing, jog your memory with just the christening scene.) But don't get too nostalgic for Flora, Fauna and Merryweather. "Maleficent" turns the trio of sweet fairies into Three Stooges-like dumbbells. You might miss the music, too, unless you stick around for Lana Del Rey's updated version of "Once Upon a Dream" in the closing credits.

The fairies in \"Maleficent\" are a dimwitted downgrade from the charming sprites in the original \"Sleeping Beauty.\"Today

Best time for bathroom breaks?
Even the littlest can probably get through this one without a quick exit — it's just over 90 minutes long. But when ya gotta go, ya gotta go. Once the plot is set up and young Aurora is living with the fairies (maybe 45 minutes in?), you should be able to make a quick dash for popcorn or other necessaries without missing much. 

\"Maleficent\" has its share of scary moments, but the trailer incorrectly makes it look like a horror flick.Frank Connor / Today

Will parents be bored?
While the movie isn't earning great reviews (46 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes at press time), the adults in our group enjoyed it. It moves fast and offers a few sly jokes, but doesn't jam the script with quips only adults will get. "Maleficent" even has some surprises up her sleek black sleeve. There's a twist you'll likely see coming, but it plays out well.

How about the film's moral message?
Not to worry: This is Disney. Maleficent is the title character now, so she can't be a through-and-through villain. In light of her lost wings, her curse of baby Aurora is understandable, and by the end, she's shown to be no child killer. She redeems herself, delivering the message that people can change, and that even in fairy tales, few people are all bad or all good.

Why did the kingdom even keep any of the spinning wheels if it was predicted they'd be a fatal problem? That's ... not really explained.Today

Summary:
Our grade: B+, for a nice twist on the classic "Sleeping Beauty."
Age range: Mature kindergartners and up.
3-D: Worth it, for the feeling that you're traipsing through Aurora's magical forest.
Tip: Stay for the credits to hear Lana Del Ray's take on "Once Upon a Dream."
Run time: 97 minutes
Rated: PG for sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images.