Saturday, March 14, 2015

Moonlight Movie Reviews: Cinderella (and Frozen Fever)

Yep, saw a couple of princess flicks at the Village Drafthouse today...


We'll try not to draw this out. Being a huge Disney fanatic, I do have a lot to say about this experience. BUT, I also have work tomorrow. So, I'll make my usual failed effort to give you the ten peso version. We'll begin though, with a quick look at the Drafthouse preshow...

Yeah, I'll keep the preshow tribute brief too. I don't think I arrived very late, but I didn't see much. Maybe it's because they showed a whole short cartoon, but that was very cool. It was an early Disney Laugh-o-gram Cinderella cartoon! Nice choice! I expected to see the usual Betty Boop Cinderella. Though maybe that ran earlier. They also showed a commercial for the Brandy version of Cinderella, but I wasn't quick enough with my camera. It can be tricky getting these screen-caps, let me tell ya! Good enough ones to post, anyway. Enough of that though, on to the main subjects...

We'll start with the all-new Disney short that accompanies their new Cinderella, "Frozen Fever", a short sequel to the mega-smash animated musical "Frozen". This computer animated short is all about ice-powered Queen Elsa's attempt to give her little sister Anna a perfect birthday party, despite having a cold, with the help of friends Olaf, Sven, and Anna's boyfriend, Kristoff, and including a couple of other fun cameos from the film. For example, we get to see what nasty ol' Hans has been up to lately. I won't spoil that for ya though.

Without a doubt, if you are simply wanting to see new, fun footage of Elsa and Anna (and their friends, but I come for the droolworthy princesses), "Frozen Fever" is going to be adored by you. I'm sure it made little girls across the country squee with delight. The whole short could be billed as a music video for a new song by Anna and Elsa, as that is pretty much what it is. I am not gonna do Disney-fanatic-style butt-kissing today though (you'll know that for sure when I get to Cinderella). The short is visually beautiful and overall a cute experience, but... there wasn't much to it storywise. It was simply Elsa and Anna following a string that led to various birthday gifts, singing a song and unintentionally adding to a hoard of tiny snowmen every time Elsa sneezed. Entertaining, but not really a story, per se. I'll admit, I felt that way about "Tangled Ever After" also. Still, that one had a bit of a plot, a very cartoony gag kinda plot anyway, which seemed more legit than here, in which mainly it seemed just about singing a long. And, since I wasn't blown away by the song this time (it actually had the line, "A cold never bothered me anyway," or something to that effect, and I highly suspect that pun was the inspiration for this whole short), I wasn't very blown away by this short. I guess I'm going to be a bit hard on my favorite company tonight, even though I was in their corner with some of their recent flops, while I've read tonight's to subjects are getting generally favorable reactions and high praise. Oh well, what do I know? Bottom line, I just saw this as a way to spend a bit more time with the latest Disney princesses. For that purpose, it's fine, but I guess the feeling I couldn't shake from it was that it screamed "product". As in, "People loved Frozen! Quick, make more!" I'm fine with more, don't get me wrong, just hide the "product" feeling better if you make a full-on, feature-length sequel. But, speaking of films that scream, "product based on past success,"...

Okay, here goes. "Cinderella" is the quintessential fairytale. Trust me, I took folklore in college. It's the golden idol. It's the big one. It's been done on film several times. Even though I LOVE fairytale films and collect them, I still haven't seen all the versions of this film, not even all the most popular ones. I do, however, have the Disney classic on DVD and Blu, and I used to own it on VHS. I am sure I saw it in theaters a few times too, though my memory sucks for recalling things like that. Anyway, it's also the film that saved the Walt Disney company back in the 50's, that original, animated version I mean. I'm sure most of you have seen it. It may seem dated now that animation is almost always done with computers, but for most of us it is a true masterpiece with glorious music, hauntingly beautiful visuals and unforgettable characters.

These days, when Disney finds a formula that works, they stick with it. The trouble is, they don't usually do a good job with "sticking with it". They don't seem to access the right things when putting their formulas together. For example, They had big hits with Alice and Maleficent, so now they're back on a "live-action versions of animated classics" kick that I always thought was going to be kicked off many years back with 101 Dalmatians (but that never really happened). With Alice and Maleficent, the stories stayed somewhat true to the originals while also taking huge departures. The Tim Burton "Alice in Wonderland" was a sequel. The Angelina Jolie "Maleficent" was from the villain's point of view, with some big story changes to make the character an anti-hero. Both films were huge successes, though met with mixed reviews. So far, I'm only hearing great things about Cinderella, but it takes a very different approach from those other two. Or, rather, it takes an approach closer to 101 Dalmatians in that it stays much closer to the original film (because, yes, this is a live-action version of the Disney classic, not simply a film based on the classic fairytale). Now, honestly, this is fine. In fact, I'm glad they went this route. But... they didn't go far enough with it. 

The new Cinderella (the story of a kind girl who is turned into a servant by her wicked stepmother, but who becomes a princess when her fairy godmother uses magic to send her to a ball and meet a prince) indeed does try to follow closely to the classic film, and the result is simply... fine. Like with "Frozen Fever", the new "Cinderella" from Disney is just... fine. It's a sweet, children's fairytale. But I hate that it had to be brought down to that. The original film, as I said before, is a masterpiece. This film, even as a carbon copy, could have been just as breathtaking. Instead, it is fine as a very kid-friendly film-version of Cinderella, but it doesn't reach it's potential in my opinion, and the ways in which it failed, the fact that it comes off purely as something to please kids hungry for my princess material, makes it feel like another "product" film to me. 

I hate coming down on this film for just being "adequate". I just found out it was directed by Kenneth Branagh. Who doesn't love him! I even LOVED his Frankenstein. I sometimes get the impression I'm the only one, but that's my favorite Branagh film! Anyway, I do praise this film for going the traditional route, but why couldn't they have gone all the way? Let's break this down a bit...

Okay, the film went as far as to have one of the CGI mice be named Gus Gus. As a nitpicker, I have to say? Why not Jaq too then? That is the fanboy in me, but that sort of omission always irks us a bit. A minor complaint though. Here's a big one, what was up with the songs? It was... interesting, and nice too, I guess, that they included a retooled version of Lavender Blue (Dilly Dilly) from Disney's "So Dear To My Heart", plus the half-second tease of "Sing Sweet Nightingale", but they shouldn't went all out and just used the classic songs. In the end credits, we hear a beautiful rendition of "A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes" sung by the star of the film, Lily James, and a delightful "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" sung by Helena Bonham Carter, but neither songs are in the film?! What is up with that? It seems they were afraid, perhaps, that it would make the film too much of a copycat of the original? So what? In the end, what we have is a film that pales in comparison to the original. Changes like these were part of that problem. People came to this to see a live-action Cinderella, and that's what they decided to go for, but instead of an amazing recreation of "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo", we got a ridiculous, slapstick scene where Fairy Godmother changes the pumpkin into a carriage inside a garden house, by clearly stated choice, when it was obviously a stupid thing to do! That was the most absurd, child-pandering comedy, when kids would have been just as pleased (and parents much more so) by a highly magical and surreal transformation such as in the original film, but brought to life in live-action with modern effects! Don't get me wrong, I like slapstick, but slapstick doesn't belong in otherwise straightforward Cinderella (or Christmas Carol) films, guys at Disney! C'mon...

So, that's what was getting on my nerves about the music. But, that reminds me of a rant I made earlier to my sis after seeing this film. I've made this rant before. It's about how they made this film such a straight up kids' movie. How they do that a lot lately. Here's what we get these days... We get adult films, translation = sex; We get Kids films = translation, humor that might get chuckles, but also insults your kids' ability to handle richer material; And, we get the films that are supposedly for kids AND adults, but really they are the second one with double entendres peppered in. That stuff can be okay, but it's not living up to its potential. Ya know, in the 80's, we had great kids' films that didn't insult our intelligence or act like we couldn't handle stuff that we encountered daily in the real-world. I'm not saying this Cinderella movie should be as raw as "Monster Squad", I'm saying family films don't have to be "kids' films", or kids' films with double entendres. No films need to be that. They CAN be what Walt Disney originally intended. His work was all about creating stuff that was entertaining, entirely, for both kids and adults together, so they could enjoy spending time together. That concept is mostly thrown out the window these days because it's easier to sell (to sell more, anyway) something that is aimed hard at a specific audience. So, we're back to movies and TV shows, whole networks, in fact, that are geared towards specific age groups and genders. Compare the original Disney Channel (I mean the really original Disney Channel, from the 80's) to today's Disney to see what I mean. 

Now, I'm not saying this whole Cinderella film was like that, but... most of it, yeah, seemed entirely geared towards the kid and teen female audience. When it was truer to the classic original, that's when it was better, but then you had those moments that brought to mind the one thing I hated in "Maleficent", the awful take they did on the three good fairies. Helena was fine as the fairy godmother, except when they got slapsticky and just plain dumb by trying to create a carriage inside a building... And, then you have the other pandering stuff. There's this standard fairytale scene you have to have now, where the girl meets the prince in the woods before the ball, so they can fall in love without her knowing he's a prince, or something. Yeah, they inserted that in hear too, complete with cheesy dialogue exchange that was harkened back to throughout the film. And, the moral lessen that was blatantly stated and repeated throughout the film, oy, just to make sure kids got it and adults saw that this story teaches a valuable lesson. That's the stuff that really screamed "Princess Product" to me in this film. The narration too, I totally forgot about that! Did they have to narrate the whole movie?

Oh, and the Stepmother, I should talk about her. Don't get me wrong, Cate Blanchett is a fantastic actress, and everyone turned in excellent performances in this, but... well... she just wasn't scary! I mean, the animated Lady Tremaine will send a shiver up your spine with her icy stare. You just don't get that here. Too much for the kiddies, maybe? This new Tremaine is awful, no doubt, but not a bit scary. I could also nitpick and say that Cinderella was only pretty in some scenes, and one of the stepsisters was far prettier in my opinion, but that's a "to each his own" kinda thing. She did fine in the role... Everything was... fine. It just didn't reach its potential.

I'm not saying this film is terrible or not worth seeing. It is, but the original, animated film is better. It's just better. That's all there is to it. I am in no way saying they should have put a twist on it either, like with Alice or Maleficent. I'm definitely not saying they should have put a new, feminist spin on it, as others have suggested, or modernizing it in some other way like Frozen or Shrek, or whatever. Look, that stuff is starting to get tired, in my opinion. The original fairytales are classics for a reason. Once in a while, it is certainly nice to go back to the basics of boy meets girl. At least once in a while, a fairytale that is a bit old-fashioned can be nice, even if it isn't politically correct and even if it implies love-at-first-sight can be true love. Is that b.s.? Probably. But so are Fairy Godmothers. If you're gonna have those, then go for broke! We have plenty of "Once Upon a Time" and "Into the Woods" type stuff mixing it up. I definitely applaud them for trying to just give us the animated film in live-action, but they shouldn't have held back. Cutting out the songs and replacing them with slapstick that is poorly contrived is disappointing. Removing the scary and inserting all-too-blatantly stated lessons and end credit pop songs (before they played the good, classic Cinderella songs) just screamed "Princess Product", whereas just a pure adaptation of the original animated feature would have been fine by me. Increase the haunting, moody backdrops and slow things down a bit, and this movie could have gone from being fine to being something amazing.

Having said that, it is still a good fairytale movie, particularly if you are the odd duck who never saw the original. I can definitely see how those individuals would be enchanted by this one,  inferior as it is to the animated classic. It's far from the worst thing that has come out of Hollywood recently. It's just that ya can't help but compare it to the classic. It's a cute, sweet, well-meaning film though, I just am sad it didn't reach its full potential in bringing the original to life in live-action. When it was good, it was good, but when it let me down, it let me down hard, and I could sit here and nit pick much more. This is just the heavy stuff, ha. I'm just hoping the'll avoid that very easy to fall into "Product and kid-pandering" trap with their future remakes, Beauty and the Beast and Jungle Book, and  Pete's Dragon, and whatever else.Still, this one... has its moments. If you love the subject matter, the great performances and pretty visuals do make it worth seeing. 

Well, I could probably talk more on this, but man, I'm getting so little sleep as it is. I'm not sure I've been totally coherent in these last few paragraphs. I hope I wasn't too hard on either film I discussed tonight, as both were completely cute and benign, I just know they could have been much more. 'Night! 

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