Friday, March 13, 2015

Cinderella Review

Disney has always been really good at finding ways to earn money. Five years ago they once again struck gold when they decided to do a live-action remake of one of their animated classics. That movie was Alice in Wonderland, which made over $1 billion thanks mainly due to the world's newly found fascination with 3D following the huge success of Avatar. So of course when you have a movie with that much success, the natural thing is to try to replicate that. Following Alice in Wonderland, Disney did a twist on Sleeping Beauty, that being last year's Maleficent. If I'm being honest, though, I wasn't a huge fan of either of these movies. Knowing that we have a lot more of these live-action remakes on the schedule in the next few years, I've been waiting for one of them to actually entertain me. I was hoping Cinderella would be that movie. Was it? Well, I do have my fair share of complaints, but overall I walked out of the theater pleased at what I saw. So well done Disney.

This is the moment in my reviews where I  usually give a brief synopsis of the movie for those who are unfamiliar it. But come on, this is Cinderella we're talking about. Do I really need to tell you what happens or what it's about? I don't think so. I say this because Disney really made no effort to make this a unique Cinderella project. It's the exact same Cinderella that you know and love with the same plot, message, and everything. I suppose you can call this take as experimental because Disney's previous two efforts they've made an effort to make the remake unique and different. Alice in Wonderland was a sequel to the original animated version. Maleficent was Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of the villain. So with this they were seeing how people would react if they tried to do things the exact same instead of changing things up. Personally, I wasn't wanting or expecting something as crazy different as Maleficent wherein they changed up practically the whole story. But I was hoping that they would go more in depth with some of the characters or plot-lines to make this Cinderella a more realistic and relatable movie. They didn't. Thus I was honestly bored for a lot of the movie because it was such a been-there-done-that movie.

Before I go into more depth on my complaints, I want to be positive, because there is a lot in this that deserves applause. The first thing that I really appreciate is the fact that this is one of the only movie-versions of Cinderella that actually took time to tell the whole story of Cinderella. This is a three-act story where the first act is a girl living with her parents, the second act is that girl living with her step-mother after her parents die, and the third act is her falling in love and finally getting together with the prince. Most adaptions, including Disney's classic animated movie, skip right to the second act, starting with Cinderella as a servant girl to her wicked step-mother. While that's not a deal-breaker for me liking the movie or not, this latest version definitely gets kudos for telling that first act with her parents. On that note, I also loved how her name was Ella with Cinderella being a cruel nick-name given by her step-sisters after she was covered in ash following her cleaning the fireplace. Speaking of unique things that most adaptions skip, I loved how this version included the mice and the cat. This was a fun part of Disney's classic animated version that was a lot of fun, but is usually skipped because it's kinda hard to do. But it was in there this time and was done perfectly I think.

The next thing that I really want to brag about was how beautiful the cinematography was in this. They were obviously going for the bright, fairy tale look to this and thus we had a very colorful color scheme in this movie with lots of happy lighting that gave this movie the perfect tone. Then you had the contrasting scenes where the step-mother is sitting in darkness or a slightly dimmer look in the house after Ella's father died. In addition to being a fairy tale, they were also going with the period drama feel to the movie, so thus we had an excellent selection of outfits and costumes as well as beautifully designed sets. I really hope award voters take note of these aspects of the movie because they were done perfectly in my mind. At the closing credits, the first name to come up was the director, of course, but then the next names were the director of photography, costume designer, and production designer, I do believe, and all of those got an applause from me.

And of course when I am talking about positives of this movie, I definitely need to bring up the cast, specifically Lily James and Richard Madden, who play Ella and the prince. I really appreciated how down to earth and human these two were. Lily James as Ella is of course drop-dead gorgeous in this. But it's not just her looks that pull this off, she got the character of Ella just right. She is nice, humble, charming, and forgiving. She cares about everyone she meets, and despite her horrible circumstances, she's always looking for the good in every situation. Even though this is a by-the-numbers adaption, it still works mainly because you truly care about Ella and want things to work out for her. Being that this is of course a romance, you want there to be good chemistry between her and the prince and there definitely is. They meet before the ball, like is typical in any Cinderella adaption, and in that moment you see him as this very humble prince. His father is the King and so he is born into royalty, but he really just wants to be a normal guy doing normal things and thus when he runs into Ella in the woods, their interaction is quite beautiful because of how honest and real it feels. You have two normal people wanting to live normal lives, but are both in situations that are anything but normal. I loved both of their characters and thought they had perfect chemistry.

Yes, I did walk out of the movie with an overall positive feel towards it, which is why I almost feel bad diving into a few negatives now, but I like being honest in my reviews and I'm going to do that. While I did appreciate the fact that they included the first act with her parents, I was also disappointed because the characters around Ella weren't developed that well in my opinion. I wanted us to go into more depth or spend more time getting to know everyone and their background, but I feel I was robbed of that. Ella's mother was great, but we didn't get to know her and she died rather quickly without much explanation. Ella's father was great, but we spent no time really talking about why he decided to get remarried and why he chose the woman to be Ella's step-mother. Speaking of step-mother, Cate Blanchett did an excellent job portraying her, but we didn't really dive into her life at all. We don't know why she married Ella's father. The two have zero chemistry. We don't know why she's such an idiot. We aren't given a reason why she starts treating Ella like crap after Ella's father dies. These things just happen because they have to happen. Cate Blanchett was good at acting villainous but her character was a terrible villain because there was zero depth to her at all. The best villains are the villains that have depth to them and almost make you feel sympathetic to their situation.

Because of this lack of depth to anyone outside Ella and the prince, I actually found the whole second act pretty boring. The first act was good because it existed, but I also wanted more of it. In addition to the reasons I have stated in the previous paragraph, it also felt like there was something else missing. I didn't figure out what it was until the end credits. I always sit through the credits because I like listening to the music while appreciating what it took to make the movie. Then sometimes there is another fun blurb or extra scene that shows up that rewards me, but that's not actually why I stay. This time after the first song, they rewarded me by playing adaptions of two songs from Disney's animated Cinderella. That's when it hit me. The movie was missing the music!! I literally complained out loud, asking why these songs I was listening to weren't in the movie. Cinderella is best when done as a musical. I wasn't needing a full out Frozen-style of Disney musical, but adding some of those classic songs would've given the movie added life that it lacked. Example. The scene with the Fairy Godmother was fun and Helena Bonham Carter definitely had fun in that role, but suddenly I imagined how much better it would've been had the "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" song in been a part of the scene instead of just a bonus at the end of the credits. Or what if Lily James had sung "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes"? That would've been great! Instead it left the movie more empty and more boring.

This has been a fairly long review and I hope you've enjoyed your time reading it. I do have a lot more to say about this movie, but the rest of what I have to say pertains to the third act of the movie. I was going to dive in a bit since this is Cinderella we're talking about, but since I've already take this much of your time, I'll let that be a surprise, if that's possible. Just let me add that after a first act that left a bit to be desired for and a second act that was pretty boring, the third act was absolutely fantastic and totally saves the movie in my opinion. And by third act, I mean from the moment Cinderella leaves the ball until the end of the movie. They spent time on this. They added a few scenes that gave the movie more depth. They gave it heart. All the happy feel-goods were there at the end as this couple I really was invested in finally got together. It was great. I really wish it would've been like that for the whole movie. But it wasn't. Still, though, we had a great ending. We had two very powerful leads in Lily James and Richard Madden. And of course we had a very beautifully designed and beautifully shot movie. So yes, I left this movie with positive feelings even if I had my share of complaints. In the end, I will give Cinderella a 7/10.

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