Movie Review: “Cinderella”


If Hollywood has run out of ideas to the point where it has to remake animated material in live-action form, it could hardly have picked a better piece than “Cinderella”. Lacking a supernatural or mythical super-scary monster, “Cinderella” instead features a gorgeous villain of epic sociopathic potential–one that seared “evil stepmother” onto the collective consciousness.

Borrowing heavily from the 1950 animated feature, 2015’s “Cinderella” puts a new spin on the old story of an orphan girl living in servitude who finds her path to true love and a golden ticket out of a dead-end situation. Here, the young Ella grows up in an idyllic household anchored by her sweet mother (Hayley Atwell) and kind father (Ben Chaplin).

Ella and her father

Ella (James) sees her father (Chaplin) off on his last business trip

As Ella grows into a beautiful woman (Lily James), her joyous life is interrupted by the sudden death of her mother, whose parting advice is for Ella to “have courage and be kind”. Her father eventually remarries–taking Lady Tremaine as his new wife (Cate Blanchett) and bringing along her beautiful-on-the-outside-but-ugly-on-the-inside daughters, Drisella (Sophie McShera) and Anastasia (Holliday Grainger). At first, the relationship between Ella and her step-family seems relatively innocuous; the glamorous Tremaine is generally warm in demeanor, and Ella’s materialistic step-sisters are nothing more than pretty bobbleheads. But times must change, and Ella’s father succumbs to an illness while traveling on business. Ella grieves heavily for the loss of her father, while Tremaine fears the loss of standing and income.

Lady Tremaine and her daughters arrive at the ball

Lady Tremaine (Blanchett, center), flanked by her daughters Anastasia (Grainger) and Drisella (McShera)

Concerned about the servants’ wages, Tremaine releases the staff and gently encourages Ella to assume the various roles they occupied. Ella takes most of these tasks in stride, even after suffering the humiliation of being unceremoniously relocated to the drafty abandoned tower attic and renamed “Cinder-Ella” for the ash-coated face she sports after a warming night on the kitchen floor in front of the fireplace. The catty Drisella and Anastasia cackle over their breakfast with their now-openly repellent mother, and–in her frustration–Ella dashes off on a horseback ride into the woods to clear her head.

She stumbles onto a stag hunt, where she meets a handsome man who calls himself “Kit” (Richard Madden). The two share playful banter: she insists he spare the life of the stag, and he dodges her questions about his place in the palace where he claims to live as “an apprentice”. After they part, “Kit” (the prince) returns to his father’s side (Derek Jacobi) and they plan for a grand ball at which the prince may select the bride of his choosing. The king and his grand duke (Stellan Skarsgård) plan for an all-princess affair, to seal the kingdom’s future, but the lovestruck prince agrees only on the condition that all maidens of the kingdom may attend.

The King and Prince at the ball

The King (Jacobi) and Prince (Madden) hold court at the royal ball

Ella hears of the grand ball and prepares on her own to go, even after being rebuffed by Tremaine–who wants one of her daughters to land the prince. When the lovely Ella appears in one of her mother’s dresses, ready for the ball, the Tremaine harpies rip it to shreds, leaving her a frustrated, teary mess. It’s at this point that her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) performs a magical intervention, allowing Cinderella to head off to the ball in grand style, sporting a breathtaking dress and the famed glass slippers (well, okay, pumps). She spends a lovely evening with the prince of her dreams, before she dashes off into the night (minus one shoe) to escape his seeing the fairy godmother’s spell undone. The distraught prince sends out word that whoever fits the shoe will be his bride and…well, you know how this ends. (Or perhaps you don’t.)

Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother

Bonham Carter’s Fairy Godmother prepares to work her magic on Cinderella

This movie has many things going for it, such as a fantastic cast and truly breathtaking costumes (surely worth at least an Oscar nomination, if not a win). Blanchett’s Tremaine is nearly continuously draped in green satin that fits so wonderfully it’s hard to tell if she’s wearing the satin or if it’s wearing her, and Ella’s pivotal scene dresses (both at the ball and at the end of the film) are utterly breathtaking pieces likely to inspire many a formal gown. Blanchett gleefully and evilly chews scenery, in a rare opportunity to play the baddie, while Nonso Anozie seems to equally enjoy his turn as the pure-hearted Captain. Chris Weitz’s screenplay gives Tremaine context and depth not seen in previous versions of the story while showing mercifully precious little action from the mice and cat, making this version of “Cinderella” a bit more adult-friendly.

Where things are less perfect are in things like James’ affected performance at the ball, with flourishes that likely were meant to suggest Cinderella was transformed and carried away by the magic of it all–but coming off more like an animated movie character in a live-action film who thinks she’s still in an animated movie. Madden does a decent enough job, but some of his lines are a bit too pouty or silly; he seems better suited for the grittier and less fanciful material (or perhaps he was just so good in “Game of Thrones” that it’s hard to see him a role with a comedic aspect). And as much as I love Bonham Carter, I’d like to have strong words with whoever fitted her for the oversized, overpolished teeth the Fairy Godmother sports; she talks around them no better than a vampire in a B-grade movie. This film runs 40 minutes longer than its predecessor–due partially to Ella’s backstory–and it could have been sped up at times. Still, the run time is short enough that most kids shouldn’t be squirming in their seats.

All in all, “Cinderella” is a movie that appeals well to all ages; its non-scary nature makes it a great fit for the younger set, and its strong cast is a good draw for those of us well into the double-digits of age. It’s easy enough to overlook its shortcomings, since they don’t detract enough to keep this from being anything other than what it’s meant to be: a (updated) reboot and instant classic.

“Cinderella” is preceded by “Frozen Fever”–an animated short that returns us to Arendelle just in time for Queen Elsa to give Princess Anna the best birthday ever. Unfortunately for Elsa, the “fever” referenced in the title isn’t a metaphor, and her plans are partially derailed by the wee snowmen that manifest each time she sneezes. The short is cute, and it is a precursor to the just-announced “Frozen 2” that’s entering development, although I don’t see this as the Oscar-winning material of prior shorts, like “Feast” (which preceded “Big Hero 6”). Fans of “Frozen” will surely enjoy it, thought, and truly that’s what it’s all about.

3 out of 4 stars

“Cinderella” opens nationwide on March 13, 2015. This movie is rated PG for mild thematic elements

Movie Review: “Frozen 3D”



It’s been a long time since I can say I saw a movie that was a home run, and I’m incredibly glad the drought is finally over. “Frozen”, the latest product of Walt Disney Animation, is a delightful musical loosely inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s story, “The Snow Queen”. The movie opens with ice choppers singing as they hack away at a frozen fjord, while a young boy (Kristoff) does his best to handle pint-sized tongs and his pet reindeer, Sven. In the nearby castle, two young princesses – elder sister Elsa and younger sister Anna – awake in the middle of the night for some mischief. Elsa has the power to create ice and snow at a touch, and the two young girls frolic in the interior winter wonderland. But as the play gets slightly out of hand, Anna is accidentally sideswiped in the head by a touch of ice from Elsa, and their parents (the King and Queen of Arendelle) take Anna to rock trolls to extract the ice before it freezes her forever.

The head troll, Pabbie (voiced by the stoic Ciarán Hinds of “Rome” and “Game of Thrones”), does as they bid, but he warns the King and Queen that he had to remove all of Anna’s memories of magic, and he further cautions them to hide away all evidence of magic. The King counsels Elsa privately: “Conceal it. Don’t feel it. Don’t let it show.” From that point forth, the family is effectively in isolation; they close the window coverings and the castle gates, and the girls are separated for reasons Anna will only learn far later. As the girls grow, Elsa becomes increasingly cold and sad, and Anna becomes eccentric, missing the company of her beloved sibling. Tragedy strikes yet again a few years later, as the King and Queen are lost at sea in a storm, and the girls have to wait in their confinements for enough time to pass before Elsa is due for her coronation as the queen.

The young queen-to-be (voiced by Idina Menzel, a Tony Award winner for “Wicked”) fears accidentally putting her power on display, since her forced isolation and her father’s instructions to hide her gift left her with no practice on how to properly control her chilly creations. Meanwhile, the boisterous Anna (Kristen Bell – of “Burlesque” and the forthcoming “Veronica Mars” movie) explores the town in eager anticipation of the coronation festivities and all the excitement they’ll bring. In her enthusiasm, Anna bumps into Prince Hans (Santino Fontana of “The Importance of Being Earnest”), in a meet-cute involving a horse, a rowboat, and the end of a dock on the fjord. He later sweeps her off her feet during the evening’s amusements, but his whirlwind marriage proposal to Anna is quickly dismissed by the new queen. When Anna challenges Elsa over her decision, emotions flare out of control and Elsa’s powers are revealed to a wide audience, splaying ice spikes and frozen coverings in every direction. Elsa flees, and a distraught Anna heads out after her – leaving Hans in charge.

Hans and Anna

Hans and Anna

As Elsa arrives in the cold mountains, she finally takes the reins off her powers and creates a beautiful castle of ice atop North Mountain, the tallest of the peaks. She casts off every bit of evidence of her prior life, and settles into a blissful exile in her cold fortress. Anna finds herself unable to negotiate the snowy environs on her own, so she enlists the help of Kristoff (Jonathan Groff from “Glee”) and Sven. On their way to Elsa’s new seat of power, Anna and Kristoff bump into an old friend of Anna’s and Elsa’s: Olaf the snowman (voiced by Josh Gad of “1600 Penn” and “Ice Age: Continental Drift”). He is based on the same design Elsa had made for Anna on that fateful night when they were children, and the icy queen’s awakened powers have somehow brought him to life. He tags along, a physical comedian of the highest order. Being blissfully unaware of the limitations of a snowman, he sings a giddy tune about how much he’d love to see summertime that leaves the audience giggling over his naïveté.


Olaf dreams of summer

The quartet manages to reach Elsa’s castle, but she’s in no mood to return to Arendelle with Anna, even upon hearing that she has frozen the town in the middle of the summer. She simply doesn’t have the ability or understanding of how to control her powers. The sisters quarrel again, this time with Elsa accidentally throwing a spike of her ice into Anna’s heart. The effect is insidious: Anna is mortally wounded but doesn’t yet realize it. Only after the foursome have escaped the castle do they realize something is horribly wrong, and Kristoff takes the princess to his friends – the same band of rock trolls – to be healed. Only an act of the truest love will save her and warm her heart again, and Kristoff rushes Anna back to Arendelle in the hope that she will find there what she needs to heal the wound to her heart.

Kristoff and Sven rush to Arendelle

Kristoff and Sven rush to Arendelle

The climax of “Frozen” seals it an excellent addition to the growing catalogue of Disney movies featuring women who come by their strength on their own, rather than only through the love of a man. The songs are crisp and effective, and small details in them show the excessive (and occasionally modern) humor threaded throughout this movie. Additionally, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ technology and artistry are clearly improving by leaps and bounds; Sven’s fur and the texture on the snowflakes exemplify the lessening distance between Disney’s internal animation studio and Disney-owned Pixar.

“Frozen” is either a movie for kids that grown ups would enjoy or it’s a movie for grown ups that kids would enjoy. Either way, it’s really a fantastic effort from Team Disney. The songs, written by the husband-and-wife team of Robert Lopez (“The Book of Mormon”) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (“Winnie the Pooh”), are sure to have the kids clamoring for the motion picture soundtrack in no time.

Anna and Elsa, in Elsa's icy fortress

Anna and Elsa, in Elsa’s icy fortress

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk a bit about the 3D used in the movie. In some films, when I see the 3D version, I end up shrugging about how it’s okay but it didn’t really need the 3D or it didn’t lose much if you watched it in 2D. This is a movie that really begs to be seen in 3D, and it’s the first case in a long time – perhaps since I saw “Avatar” – when 3D  was used properly. Sure, there are a couple of early cases where the 3D leaps off the screen in almost gratuitous fashion, but that’s some of the joy in playing with this technology. Why should all the depth only be leading away from you? If it’s possible to see this one in 3D, I strongly recommend doing so.

There are a couple of scary scenes – but they’re really brief and things move on immediately.  For a movie that runs 1hr 48mins long, you’d think it would drag for the kiddos, but the constant nature of the action and the storyline keeps things moving apace from start to finish. The opening credits are a thing of beauty unto themselves, so moviegoers should be in their seats on-time, and they should stay put through the end credits – to catch a small extra scene at the very end of the credit roll.

“Frozen” is also preceded by a lovely short film, “Get a Horse”, a marvel of 3D animation that should win an Oscar on technical merit alone. The short showcases Mickey and Minnie Mouse in both 2D and 3D, literally giving a chase scene all new dimensions. I’m sure Walt Disney would be weeping tears of joy if he saw it, since both pieces together really show just how far his team’s animation has come.

4 stars out of 4

“Frozen 3D” opens nationwide on November 27, 2013. This movie is rated PG for some action and mild rude humor.