Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Cinderella (2015) Review

A tale as old as time... but man has it aged.

Since last year, I've been dreading the release of this movie. The last time I sat down for a Disney live-action remake of one of their most beloved animated classics, we got the ethically repulsive Maleficent, a movie that while it looked pretty and was probably a lot better than I made it out to be, insulted its original source material to the point of cringing. I was fully ready for this movie to be another unnecessary adaptation of the Cinderella story and everything led me to believe that this would be the case.

When the trailer for Cinderella first dropped, a joke between my friends and I was that they told the entire movie in one trailer. It spoils every major plot element and sums up the entire story in two minutes. It's like how Team Four Star sums up an entire arc of Dragon Ball Z in three minutes with their Dragon Ball Z Kai Abridged. Then you had inane groan inducing elements like Cinderella herself actually being called Ella, just called Cinderella to make fun of her. (Yes, I am aware that various versions of the story called her Cinderella for the same reasons, but she was given the name Cinderella without her originally being called Ella, mitigating the point. Also, we see her called Ella before so... I'm calling it groan inducing.) This movie just had bad juju written all over it and all of the signs pointed to me not enjoying this movie.

But something odd has happened. I think that the movie has problems and isn't spectacular, but I can't bring myself to dislike this movie. Whenever I think of anything negative about the movie, I'm stopped and reminded of the various moments that do work and the little design choices that left me entranced by this movie. I'm still not sold on live-action Disney movies, but this is a step in the right direction.

Cinderella is a downright beautiful movie to watch. I constantly found myself taken aback at how beautiful some of the sets were and the amount of detail that went into making several of these costumes. Cinderella's dress it beautiful, and the lavish outfits present at the party held in an equally lavish building kept my eyes glued to the screen. The colors are vibrant and they pop, which is more than I could say for most other movies. See Hollywood, color is fun and nice to have in a movie!

With the costuming and set design being the first things that jump out at me, I had to actually dig back in my mind and remember that this movie actually starred humans. This may seem odd to say, but the cast in this movie, with two notable exceptions, seemed to be completely separated from the movie and were just doing their own thing. Nearly every cast member was doing a boiler plate, by the books interpretation of the Cinderella story. Cinderella was wistfully nice and happy with very little sadness, the Prince was charming, the step sisters were unpleasant, and even the animals were normal animals. There was no unique spin on the story except for a longer intro sequence that showed Cinderella ( I refuse to call her Ella) growing up. We saw her with her happy family living her happy life, and then we saw it slowly transform into the story we all know and love. Parents die, she still stays happy through it all, and Lady Tremaine shows up to be an unpleasant bitch to Cinderella.

I'm a bit fascinated that Disney's live-action remakes both share the same trait of having much more detailed prologues before reaching the actual story. We get a lot of background information that separates it from previous versions, but I don't really know how necessary this new introduction is. We see Cinderella grow up and have a happy family... and that's about it. It reinforces a new moral given to her by her mother that she must always "have courage and be kind", but the moral is lost later on in the movie. She is kind, but that's always been apparent in every version of the story. The "have courage" part is the only new bit, but Cinderella really isn't that courageous in the movie. So other than that, what's the point of the intro?

Anyway, getting back on track, the two characters that actually give solid performances and add new layers to the story is Cate Blanchett as Lady Tremaine and Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother. Blanchett is great in portraying a cold and malicious, but understated villain. We're able to get the idea that she hates her life and that once upon a time, she never was that evil or villainous, but society has made her that way so that she could provide for her two daughters. It doesn't excuse her actions, but it humanizes her. Lady Tremaine is how you update a villain for modern times. Instead of making her wholly sympathetic and missing the entire point to her character, Cinderella finally offers up a reason for why she is so malicious to Cinderella that doesn't conflict with her core character.

Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother is exactly what you expect from her. She's energetic and a bit mad, but it fits for the Fairy Godmother. When she finally gets herself away from the over-the-top world of Tim Burton and whatever the hell you want to call Les Miserables, it's easy to forget that she's actually a pretty good actress. She's hardly in the movie, but it's still nice to see her.

If the purpose of these live-action remakes is to update a classic fairytale for modern audiences, then I'm confused why they chose Cinderella. Don't get me wrong, Cinderella is a classic story that has been told numerous times in different way, much like how it was told in last year's Into the Woods, but Disney really didn't do anything that hasn't been done already. There's no interesting spin on the formula and nothing significant is added to make it stand out from other interpretations of the story. It's by far one of the safest movies I've ever seen Disney make. It's pure, whimsical, and has no edge to it.

That's actually my biggest gripe against this movie too; it feels so un-Disney. While Maleficent was un-Disney due to how it presented the source material and how dark it went, this movie just feels like it could have been made by anyone. If you told me that Sony, Fox, or Paramount made this movie, I'd believe you. There's nothing Disney inside of this movie except for its opening sequence and the mice. There's no classic Disney songs in this movie, which is insanity since Cinderella practically invented some of Disney's most iconic songs. "When You Wish Upon A Star" is not featured once in this movie, which is baffling to me.

I also should probably take time to address and review the animated short that came before this movie, Frozen Fever. Yes folks, your favorite Frozen characters are back for a quick little short with a new song, fun cameos, and a LOT of nudging and winking to the camera. Since this is the first time we've seen the cast of Frozen again, and since this is the first time we've seen them this massively popular, my general feelings towards this short are happy that I get to see another animated short, but thought that this didn't really make a difference.

The short is essentially a new song about Spring and a little story about Elsa wanting to throw Anna her first real birthday party... and that's about it. The song isn't as catchy and comes across like obvious Disney Channel material, but it's still nice to see these characters interact with each other again. I still stand that Anna and Elsa are great characters and have a fantastic relationship that we don't see much in movies anymore, but the rest of the characters were pretty superfluous. Kristoff and Olaf were just kind of there and weren't as funny or charming as the first movie, but I'm okay with that. The short isn't about them and they only had like, what, five lines between the two of them for the whole short? We even get a surprise cameo from a few characters, some much funnier than others, and new merchandise to sell to the kids! Because of course we do. Bottom line, it's a fine little short to see that won't redefine your life, but it's still fun to watch, if forgettable.

But Frozen Fever has more Disney charm and magic to it than Cinderella does in its 100 minute runtime. It's unfortunate, because if there was just a bit more magic and love inside of this movie (and now I'm trying to quantify love), then it could have been something really special and memorable. Instead, the movie is just plain, good. It's good. I'd recommend it to people. It's completely fine and will leave you satisfied. I'm not even disappointed that the movie didn't go further with the story or elaborated on the characters more. I got a satisfying experience that made me feel justified, and that's it. This movie is purely satisfactory and nice. What else do you want from me? I can be mildly satisfied with movies. Not every movie has to be all good or all bad. That's just how Cinderella is. It's happy.


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