Cinderella

cinderella 2015Miracles happen!  I actually liked a live action Disney fairytale offering.  It’s shocking after such dismal failures as Maleficent and Alice in Wonderland but I’ve always said if I was going to like one it would probably be Cinderella.  As I explained in my previous post I am a huge Cinderella fan and have become a bit of a collector of versions over the years.  To me it’s remarkable how the same story can be taken and molded in different ways with equally satisfying results.  Each version makes choices on what it is trying to teach its viewers and how the basic tale plays out.

So what about this latest version?  Well, I’m delighted to say I loved it!

It starts off differently than any other version I can recall by spending a lot of time with Cinderella and her Mother and Father.  They teach her to be ‘kind and courageous’ in all things.

cinderella 2014-6After Cinderella’s mother dies they spend time with just her and her father and then when he marries Cate Blanchett’s Lady Tremaine we see her try to elevate the house with parties and gambling.  I don’t think I’ve seen a version with as much time spent with Cinderella, her father and Stepmother.

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Lady Tremaine is very jealous of the relationship between her husband and his daughter and we learn later that it is because she once had such a love but he was taken from her. She feels she never got her happy ending which I thought was a clever spin on the character.

Blanchett is so good as Lady Tremaine.  It feels like she is enacting her revenge on life on Cinderella and it makes her a deliciously complex and fun villain.

They stick pretty closely to the animated version (thank goodness) once the story gets going and I enjoyed seeing little easter eggs to the original throughout.  For instance, she is getting eggs and is humming ‘Sweet Nightingale’ which is a number I love with the bubbles in the original.

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Cinderella works very hard as always and she has friends with the mice who thankfully don’t talk but are just cute squeakers.  Lily James is much better than I expected her to be as Cinderella.  She is is fine in Downton Abbey but shines much more here.  There is a warmth to her that reminded me of a young Kate Winslet.

One day she is out riding and meets the Prince who she convinces to not kill a magnificent steer in his hunting party.  The Prince played by Richard Madden gets a fair amount of time here and I thought he did a good job.  He wants to marry for love and maybe even a nice country girl which I thought was cute.

cinderella 2015 10Cinderella’s kindness towards the steer is what impresses him the most and he can’t get her out of his mind.  When his father the King insists he get married he proposes a ball where all the eligible maidens in the land can attend.  This is, of course, a ploy to get to see and hopefully woe Cinderella again.

The announcement is made and Lady Tremaine and her daughters get right to work.  The stepsisters are played with a lot of nasty humor by Downton Abbey’s Sophie McShera and Hayley Atwell and the costumes are magnificent by 3 time Oscar winner Sandy Powell (I think there are like 3 women who have won all the costume Oscars…).

cinderella 2015-3I was kind of hoping the sisters would have the big bustles like in the original.  That would have been hilarious but their costumes were so bright and colorful I enjoyed it.

Then we get to the devastating moment of Cinderella trying to go to the ball.  In this the mice don’t make the dress and nothing is stolen.  She refits her Mother’s dress in pink which makes Lady Tremaine all the more angry at Cinderella for both presuming to go to the ball, compete with her daughters for the Prince and for bringing up her Mother.  She quite viciously tears the sleeve off the dress and Cinderella is devastated.

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And this is what most people get wrong about this moment- Cinderella is not devastated about the ball and her chance to meet the Prince.  She is devastated because the story her Mother taught her about ‘kindness and courage’ seems to have been a lie.  It does not win in the end and that’s the hope which has been shattered.

Haven’t we all had such a dark moment where we are in need of rescue? Well, I believe like Cinderella if we are good people the rescue comes and so it does here with the Fairy Godmother played by Helena Bonham Carter.

cinderella 2015 fairy godmotherWhen she’s not in a Tim Burton movie I really like Carter (such as in The King’s Speech).  Here she is magical, silly and a little absent minded.  I also really liked the way they did the transformation of the lizards, mice and geese.  It was a slow change and you could still see characteristics of the animals in the final creations.

cinderella horsesWhen I had seen trailers I didn’t care for Cinderella’s dress.  The animated dress is like liquid diamonds, so beautiful but the way they explain is actually touching and the look grew on me.

cinderella 2015-5The scene at the ball is gorgeous and there is genuine chemistry between the Prince and Cinderella.  Mostly just a sense of freedom for our heroine and that she is getting a break from all the hardness in her life (don’t we all need a break from the hardness!).

As I said, Lily James is so likable in the role and you root for her without her feeling cheesy or preachy.  It really does feel like she believes in kindness and courage and is trying hard to lead a good life.

I won’t spoil any more of it for you but I thought the way it played out with Cinderella and Lady Tremaine was brilliant and I loved how they handled the glass slipper sequence.

Cate-Blanchett-Cinderella-TrailerThe supporting cast is all great and I liked there was a little bit of diversity for this kind of story.  Stellan Skarsgard is good as the Duke, Derek Jacobi as the King and my particular favorite was Nonso Anozie as the Prince’s Captain who was funny in every scene he’s in.

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There will be some who will claim Cinderella isn’t modern enough.  That it doesn’t show an empowered independent woman and that may be true (although not in every version of the story).  They will often claim it tells young girls marriage to a Prince is the answer to all of life’s problems.  In my view that is the an extremely superficial reading of Cinderella and a story which has persisted in popularity since the Middle Ages deserves a little more pondering.

The reason Cinderella is powerful is because it teaches young girls that no matter what happens to them they should never give up hope.  In that sense it is very empowering. In this version it also teaches us that kindness and courage always win over cruelty and deceit.  Cinderella is not valued merely on her looks but her goodness and that is why she is rescued from her unhappy state.  May we all have that hope in our dark times.

After all a dream is a wish your heart makes…

Overall Grade- A+   Content Grade- A+ (nothing offensive in this at all)

My youtube review

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Family Movies I Like that Others Do Not

A popular post on these type of movie blogs is ‘movies everyone likes but I don’t’ or vice versa. You can check out my blogging friend Animation Commendation for his highly controversial picks (Wall-e and Up overrated! Outrage!).  He is focusing just on animation and I have decided to just post about the films I like others don’t.  As I said in my post Jerks, Trolls and Critics my goal in my writing is to be an advocate for film . It is not to tear down what other people love.

So I want to use this post as  a chance to advocate for films that I believe are underrated by critics and fans in general.  These movies are far from perfect and I can understand why people don’t like them but for whatever reason I found something to enjoy while watching them.  Call it nostalgia, call it low expectations but I like the following films that a lot of others don’t like.

In no particular order.

Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything-

Veggietales are kind of like the Christian fundamentalist cousin of the animation world but you know they are done pretty well.  The music is always fun, voicework good and the colors bright and colorful.

Pirates was the first time they tried to do a non-biblical tale (previously they had done Jonah as a feature film as well as their many direct to video films about Daniel, Moses and other stories).

This film could entertain kids of any faith as it focuses on finding heroes and makes a person a hero.

Tomatometer- 39%.  I’d give it a C+ it’s certainly not top tier animation but I still find it entertaining.

The Other Side of Heaven-

I admit this one is easier for me to like because it is about a member of my faith, John Groeberg who went as a missionary to Tonga and had some amazing experiences.

This was also the only film we were allowed to watch on my mission for the Mormon church and having served a mission like Groeberg I relate too it.

So maybe it isn’t for everyone but it’s pretty well made and acted.  I would think the story would be inspirational for those of other faiths but hard for me to know.

But this is my list and I like it so it makes the list!

Tomatometer 29%.  I would give it a B

Lord of the Rings-

Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings has developed a bit of a cult following over the years and I think it is deserved.  It is not perfect and Peter Jackson’s version is definitely better but this is pretty good.  The animation is strong in parts  and weak in others but scenes like the ringwraiths in Bakshi are really well done with a style I haven’t seen in other movies (kind of looks like a hologram)

They pack a lot into the film especially if you like the extended version of the Peter Jackson films and it can feel rushed but I still like the animation and the story is so solid at it’s core that it just works.

Our friend the Nostalgia Critic did a fun compare/contrast between the Jackson and Bakshi’s versions.

Strong language warning

Tomatometer 50%, I would give it a B-

Cinderella 3-

John Lasseter, over at Pixar, says they never do sequels unless they have an idea.  That was the problem with most of the made for video sequels of the 90s and early 2000s.  Most of them are a repeat of the original but with a new character (usually a child of our leads such as Bambi 2, Fox and the Hound 2, Lady and the Tramp 2 etc).  Then there are one’s that continue the story but in incredibly trite and stupid ways. (Pocahontas 2, Brother Bear 2, Cinderella 2, and Hunchback of Notre Dame 2 are the worst examples).  Finally there are sequels that are clobbered together from animated series that came after the movie and these are usually passable, on the Saturday morning cartoon level (Atltantis 2, Lilo and Stitch 2, Lion King sequels, Aladdin sequels etc).

But out of all of them The Little Mermaid sequels are passable but my favorite is Cinderella 3. Cinderella 2 is just her wedding and it sucks but 3 they actually have an idea.

Through a variety of circumstances Lady Tremaine finds the Fairy Godmother’s wand, which she then uses to turn back time and make it so Anastasia’s foot fits the slipper instead of Cinderella.  The Prince now has to marry Anastasia and things seem pretty dire for our heroine.

The animation is on the Saturday morning level but it is passable and the songs are okay.  It’s not great but I enjoyed seeing Lady Tremaine back up to no good and just found it very clever.

Tomatometer is actually high with only 7 reviews at 71% but I still say this counts because the sequels are so generally disregarded and looked down on.

Tomatometer 71%, I would give it a C

North Avenue Irregulars-

I suppose this is probably more forgotten than disliked but I’ve been wanting to make a shout-out to it so here goes.

It is the kind of movie almost never made today.  A live action comedy starring A list talent for families. The story is silly and your enjoyment will probably depend on your taste of slapstick but it makes me laugh.

It was a dream team of comedic women with Barbara Harris, Susan Clark, Karen Valentine, Cloris Leachman, and a long list of faces you will recognize when you see them.

Edward Herrman is a nice foil for the ladies as the Reverend Hill who decides to take down local gambling syndicate using the ladies as the spies and detectives.

It has a pretty high tomatometer of 75% on 11 reviews but I still think it’s one that is easy to criticize but I like it. Great opening credits sequence too.

Tomatometer 75%, I would give it a B-

Disney’s Christmas Carol

Readers of my other blog smilingldsgirl.com kn0w The Christmas Carol is one of, if not my favorite stories ever written.  I make sure to see it at the local theater every Christmas and watch as many versions as I can.  There’s everything from Alastair Sims, George C Scott, to Bill Murray, Muppets,  and Mickey Mouse.

I think what I like about the story is it is about lost causes and how anyone can change their lives if they embrace Christmas (and for me Christ) and decide to be a better person.  It’s a story about redemption and I just love it.

When I heard that Jim Carey was being cast as Scrooge you can imagine my concern with a ham like him taking on my favorite character in literature.  However, he plays it surprisingly straight and there are only a few antics when soaring through space.  The spirits are done very well and there is a ton of the actual script taken from the novel, which is cool.

Some don’t like the stop motion animation but it doesn’t bother me.  It’s a style just like any other and I can go with it. I wouldn’t say this is my favorite version but I still like it.

Tomatometer- 54%, I would give it a B

Cars 2

I wonder sometimes if people really hate this movie or if they just are mad at it because it’s not Up, Wall-e, and Ratatouille.  Don’t get me wrong.  It has major problems but is it really one of the worst movies ever made? While I’m not rushing out to buy the blu-ray I thought it was fun, decent level kids movie and an homage to the spy flicks their parents and older siblings get to watch.

As I said in my Planes: Fire and Rescue review, the world of the Cars and Planes movies is nutty and does not stand up to much examination.  I guess there are car sex or car eggs hatching baby cars in this world?  But then they run out of parts which is strange.  Evidently some models are worthy of saving and others are not?

See how fast you can go down the rabbit hole with this world?  So I suggest just going with it and not diving too deep.  Just enjoy it as an homage to spy movies an leave it at that.

The other beef with this movie I hear is people don’t like Mater. I’m not sure why because I find him funny, as funny as a car can be at least…

It’s beautifully animated and the voicework is all good.  The plot is actually pretty convoluted and complicated involving natural fuel. (Wouldn’t a world of just cars actually like the world to be poluted, that is their life sustaining liquid like we have water, they have oil…Again over-thinking it!

Overall I think the bad buzz is overrated and this movie is an ok, fun time at the movies.

Tomatometer- 39%, I would give it a C

Atlantis: The Lost Empire

We’ve talked a lot about this movie on the blog. I am aware I am in the minority on it.  I thought it was a fun adventure movie with a wildly creative made up world that engaged me the way other good B Summer Adventure movies have like Indiana Jones, the Goonies, National Treasure etc.  I liked the language and culture they created and the troop of explorers was fun and diverse.

The animation is gorgeous especially once they get to the Lost City and we have the blue crystals and their power.  It has a bit of a steampunk feel and all in all I liked it.  I thought it was a fun action adventure, treasure hunting story with a good, exciting ending. It all just worked for me in the spirit of those B adventure movies.  So there you go!

Tomatometer- 49%, My Grade A-

Where the Wild Things Are

This is a movie you either go with and love or hate.  I love it.  It takes Maurice Sendak’s children’s story of a boy sent to bed without any supper finding a land of wild things and turns it into a brilliant movie.

It is the only film I’ve ever seen that captures the brooding quiet nature of childhood.  Some say that makes it depressing but I remember being that kid.  I remember hearing things in school like global warming or war and puzzling at how this could be.  To me it was amazingly refreshing to have a kid who isn’t perky but a real person with all moods.  His behavior when he meets the Wild Things is so authentic to what a kid, especially a boy, would do and I love it!

It’s a brilliant film in how it gives our character an opportunity to confront himself and his mother and realize they are both imperfect but trying. What a beautiful moment that is?

The puppets were the perfect choice as opposed to CGI.  It makes it feel real and palatable and the voicework is PERFECT!

I broke down the movie in more detail on my Where the Wild Things Are Defended post.

Tomatometer is high because of people like me- 72%, My Grade A+

Space Jam-

To be honest I am really surprised the Space Jam tomatometer score so low. This is one of the few spots we can see our Looney Tunes friends on the big screens and I think it is charming.  All the characters like Bugs, Daffy, Yosemite Sam and more are there in this live action/animation combo.  Bill Murray is pretty funny and Michael Jordan is one of the better athletes turned actors (need I mention Shaque in  Kazaam?)

I guess the plot follows a similar underdog theme but is anyone watching this for the intricate plot?  No.  They are watching it to see Bugs, Daffy and others tell good jokes and have a fun time and I think that’s what they get out of it.

Give it a watch through I bet you will agree it’s an entertaining flick.

Tomatometer- 35%, I would give it a B-

Follow that Bird-

Again this is probably more underrated than disliked.  It has a very high tamotometer score in fact but I wanted to give it a shoutout anyway.  Follow that Bird is the first Sesame Street movie and it is a real gem.  Some people might discount it as a only a movie for little children because it is from Sesame Street but if you do that’s a shame because it is very clever and heartfelt.

Big Bird finds out he should be raised with a family and is adopted by the Dodo family making his new name Big Dodo.  Despite having everything with the Dodo’s he isn’t happy, so he runs away.  The rest of the film is part roadtrip and part our yellow bird finding out who his real family is.

It’s a lovely message for kids, there are lots of laughs and real heart too.  I love all of the Muppets movies but this one will be close to the top for sure . I need to do a list of my favorite Muppet’s movies soon.  What are your favorites?

Tomatometer- 91%, I would give it an A

Soul Surfer-

Another Christian film critics were incredibly tough on.  It tells the true story of Bethany Hamilton who lost her arm to a shark while surfing and how she made it back to compete in the pros with one arm.  I will agree that the special effects are not great and it does look pretty obvious where they cut off Anna Sophie Robb’s arm in post-production.

However, if you can get over the technical flaws there is a lot to like . Bethany is an amazing person.  In fact, at the moment she is on The Amazing Race and tearing it up there.  I thought at first she was stunt casting to get sympathy but she has been up for every challenge.  She does with one arm what others struggle with 2.  Everything from rock climbing to balancing tasks she’s been up for and she’s done it all in such a pleasant and happy way.  I like her even more than I did after this movie.

The supporting cast is strong with Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt as her parents and Carrie Underwood as a youth minister. Aside from the arm special effects the rest of the surfing shots are well done and the story didn’t play out exactly as I thought it would and it is an exciting moment when she gets back on the surfboard.

Doesn’t reinvent the wheel but what it does it does well and I enjoy watching it.

Tomatometer- 46%, I would give it a B-

American Tail Fievel Goes West

Most people like the first American Tail but are tough on this sequel.  I would agree it is not as good but I still enjoy it.

This one is not directed by Don Bluth like the original but Steven Spielberg is a producer.

In part 2 we get the Mousekewitz family deciding to leave New York for the promises of the West (streets weren’t paved with gold I see!).  Fievel idolizes Wylie Burp the sheriff of the west who is brilliantly played by the great Jimmy Stewart in what I believe is his last role on screen.

On the way they meet a conniving cat who is trying to get them out there as cheap labor.  Our friend Tiger voiced by Dom DeLuise again shows up and we also get Amy Irving, John Cleese and Jon Lovitz.

In the end, it’s a pretty entertaining story with twists and turns. I enjoy the homage to the western and hearing Jimmy Stewart as Wylie.

The music by James Horner is also wonderful and I particularly love Dreams to Dream.

Tomatometer- 40%, I would give it an A

So that’s my list!  What do you think? Seen any of these?  Do you hate them or think they are pretty good? I’d love your thoughts. Thanks for reading my ramblings.

The Best Disney Villains

Disney-Villains-ReelGood1

I  tried to whittle the list down to 10 but I ended up with 16 and I figured why not include them all?

So, here goes- the 16 best Disney Villains as determined by me.

16. Man with the Bowler Hat (Meet the Robinsons)- This was such a creative villain.  Everything about him surprised me.  I love his look and that he is a reminder even the most innocent of us can turn to a life of villainy if we aren’t careful (and get enough sleep!)

Bowler-Hat-Guy-Goob-disney-villains-2321212-320-20915. Yzma- Emperor’s New Groove– One of the funniest villains.  She’s got style and is a spazz.

yzma14. Prince John- (Robin Hood) It kind of pains me to have him so low but there are so many great villains.  This is another funny villain who is constantly sucking his thumb and crying for Mommy.  And yet he’s incredibly ruthless to all the people.  He’s probably the villain who does the most harm for the greatest number of people (Gaston, for instance, pretty much only hurts Belle and The Beast).   He’s also got that great English dry wit

prince john and hiss213. Shere Khan and Kaa (Jungle Book)-  Really the success of these villains has to do with the voice talent.  Sterling Holloway plays against type as the hypnotizing Kaa who oils his way around the room and Shere Khan voiced by George Sanders is very creepy and deeply voiced villain.

shere khan and kaa12. Evil Queen (Snow White) Another one that pains me to see it so low because she is so great but there are 11 I like even better.  Her transformation is amazing and she is so vain even being queen isn’t enough for her.  She isn’t content until she is better than everyone else in every way.

SW_Queen11. Ratigan- (Great Mouse Detective)-  the most James Bondlike villain of any of the Disney villain.  Not satisfied with a simple solution he makes everything as complicated as he can.  Amazing voice performance by Vincent Price, one of first great villain songs and hilarious to have a villain named Ratigan who becomes enraged when called a rat.

ratigan list

10. Devil (Fantasia)- I know the devil should be higher because he’s the Devil! But it is a short sequence so I thought 10 seemed a good spot.  The artistry in Night on Bald Mountain is amazing.  The demons and spirits that the Devil rules over are gorgeous especially compared with the light and peace of the Ave Maria section.  It’s as stunning a depiction of good vs evil as in any Disney movie (or any movie for that matter).

on bald mountain

9. Captain Hook (Peter Pan)-  Another funny villain. The slapstick with the crocodile is the highlight of the movie but Hook steals every scene he is in.  He is sniveling, snide and extremely manipulative.   The way he interrogates Tinker Bell is intense.

peter-pan-1953-peter-pan-and-captain-hook hook and smee

8. Coachman, Stramboli, Monstro (Pinocchio)-  For my money the Pinocchio villains are the scariest because there is no sense of justice or retribution.  There is no humor or lighter side to them.  Just despicable, greedy, awful, terrifying people.  For the morality tale it is, they work perfectly.  I certainly wouldn’t want to sin if I knew they were at the end of every bad choice.  I mean the coachman turns little children into donkeys to work in salt mines for money?  Does it get more evil than that?

Stromboli-from-Pinocchio

coachman

7. Mother Gothel- (Tangled)- A woman willing to manipulate her ‘daughter’ and basically ruin her life for her own greed.  Make her a prisoner and brainwash her into believing she is doing her a favor.  That’s pretty bad.  I love Mother Knows Best because it takes the nurturing maternal nature of mothers and turns it on its head, uses it for bad not good.   It’s perfect.  She’s the closest Disney has come to having a true sociopath as their villain

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6. Gaston- (Beauty and the Beast)–  It seems to low but again there were simply 5 I like even better, but I love Gaston.  He is an interesting villain because in the minds of most people he’s the hero.  But like the Evil Queen in Snow White his lack of control over one person causes him to descend into madness.  He probably has the funniest villain song; although World’ Greatest Criminal Mind is a close second.  It’s not even really a villain song.  It’s just everyone telling him how great he is.  No wonder he thinks he should have his way!

5. Lady Tremaine (Cinderella)–  Otherwise known as The Wicked Stepmother, Lady Tremaine, gets 5th spot from me because she is so duplicitous even to her own daughters.  She plays the part of genteel and kind and then proceeds to make Cinderella’s life a living Hell.  She locks her up when she worries Cinderella’s foot will fit and she encourages the girls to rip off her dress, despite pretending to keep her side of the bargain.  She is like that women at work who makes your life a nightmare but then always tries to claim the high ground.  I love how her eyes are yellow with disdain.  She also has a cat named Lucifer!

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4. Cruella De vil (101 Dalmatians)- I love how her name has both cruel and devil in it but I still love her.  She is perhaps the most shallow villain.  All she cares about is looking good with her dalmatian furs.  That’s just hilarious and over-the-top but it feels believable in the story.  Her driving, the way she throws her hands in the air and even yells through the phone are all totally chilling and funny. I’m no animal lover but anyone who wants to kill 101 puppies just for her wardrobe gets top honors on the villainy tribe in my book.  Such a funny character and I love how she mocks Roger ‘Roger’s songs…’

crazy cruela

3. Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)- Aside from the Devil, Maleficent is the closest Disney got to a pure evil character.  She has horns for goodness sakes!  She is basically a She-Devil with all of his powers to create thorns, thistles, demons and pronounce curses on people who don’t invite her to parties.  That’s got to be the best part of Maleficent is that she curses Aurora to death for getting snubbed at the christening.

There are arguments for subtle villains who have good and bad but there’s also a case for going all the way in a fairytale.  Make your characters, the heroes, stand up against the ultimate evil.  That’s what made Harry Potter so good is there was no chance of redemption for Voldermort.  That bridge had already been crossed and he was evil.  I haven’t seen the new Maleficent yet but am highly skeptical.  By softening her it could take away what is the most special about her.

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2. Scar (Lion King)-  I remind you I gave Lion King #13 spot on my final rankings but Scar is a fantastic villain.  He’s smart, disdainful and murders his own brother with glee.  He may actually be Disney’s 2nd sociopath.  He’s convinced what he is doing is right even though it clearly isn’t.  He is completely selfish and has surrounded himself with people he can control.  (How brilliant to make hyenas who laugh his cronies).

What puts Scar so high though is Jeremy Irons voicework.  It is dripping with disdain as if he is condescending to talk to everyone at all times. His villain song, Be Prepared, is one of my favorites, both the actual song and the animation.  It’s the best part of Lion King and completely gripping.

mufasa and scar

1. Ursula (Little Mermaid)-  As I’ve mentioned many times on this blog Little Mermaid was my favorite movie growing up and Ursula is a big part of that . She is so unique.  In a movie full of fish and mermaids, she’s an octopus with tentacles that cover the screen with their blackness.  She’s overweight and speaks like a chain smoker and is perfect.  I love how she looks like a combination of a drag queen and a truck driver.

And her villain song is brilliant.  Poor Unfortunate Souls is funny, manipulative and the perfect song to trick a 16 year old lovestruck girl.  She also equally villainous when she turns into Vanessa and for no good reason, she just is evil with those yellow eyes!

She also has a dishy motive of revenge on Triton.  She’s been banished and when the two spare off it is classic.

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Best and Worst of Disney 1937-1959

As I have been doing my reviews people have asked me ‘what is your favorite of what you’ve reviewed so far?’  It’s tough because I like all of them for different reasons.  But I thought it would be fun to give some highlights of the first 20 years of Disney which I just finished by reviewing Sleeping Beauty.

Overall Best Film-  Cinderella

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It’s really hard to decide but I’d pick Cinderella because it has the whole package.  It’s got a likable heroine who we actually get to know,  great songs, it’s got artistry in scenes like Sing Sweet Nightingale, a terrific villain in Lady Tremaine,  brilliant voice work and just the right touch of humor.

Overall Worst Film- Three Cabelleros and Fun and Fancy Free

fun and fancy free postercaballeros

I gave 2 films D grades, Fun and Fancy Free and Three Cabelleros.  FFF I thought was just lazy.  The Bongo story is odd and kind of slow. Mickey and the Beanstalk is fine but not great. If it was a little tighter with a better villain I would have enjoyed it more.  Three Cabelleros is in my opinion worse than Saludos Amigos because it only has 2 shorts and then there are songs where the characters are shouting and lots of Donald chasing human women.   They aren’t awful but just for Disney they are weak entries.

Best Artistry- Fantasia

Alice in Wonderland is amazing but Fantasia is like a combination of the greatest art gallery in the world and symphony in one experience.  It blows me away.

Fantasia isn’t really entertainment . It’s goals are bigger than that.  It is trying to inspire creativity in hopes the viewer will not simply absorb art and music but give their own spin on it, their own interpretation. It inspires me every time I watch it and I think people who don’t like it just don’t like classical music.

Strangest Scene- Dumbo

Pink Elephants on Parade

It’s like every bad dream you’ve ever had jumbled into one crazy sequence.  It is also comes from Dumbo and Timothy getting drunk which is strange and has absolutely no purpose in the story.   I love it!

Strangest Character- Make Mine Music- Willie the Whale who sings Opera

Is that not one of the oddest images you've seen?
Is that not one of the oddest images you’ve seen?

willie2 willie the whale

Make Mine Music was full of strange moments but Willie the opera singing whale was the strangest.. He just looks so strange.  He looks like  a giant chalkboard eraser. And why did he have to die?The narrator actually tells the children watching  “Willie’s singing was a miracle and people aren’t used to miracles.  And you faithful friend don’t be too sad because somewhere in whatever heaven is reserved for creatures of the deep Willie is still singing”  That’s such a strange message for kids.  ‘people don’t like miracles and so they kill them and send them to whale heaven.”

Scariest Scene- Pinnochio Pleasure Island.

As terrifying as The Headless Horseman is nothing will ever top little children being turned into donkeys to be sent to salt mines. And it is even scarier to know it is never resolved.  Pinocchio escapes but that’s it.  Nobody saves the kids or turns them back or anything.  It’s nuts!

Best Villain- Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty

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From Captain Hook, to the Devil, to Lady Tremaine all the early villains are good, but Maleficent is all of those villains put together in as she puts it ‘the mistress of evil’.  She’s over the top, funny, creepy, and gives the best fight of any villain in any Disney movie.  It actually feels like she might get away with everything when she enchains Prince Philip in her dungeon.  It isn’t until the 90s we get such a great Disney villain.

Best Song- When You Wish Upon a Star- Pinocchio

I could have also picked ‘A Dream is a Wish’ from Cinderella but it is very similar in message to When You Wish.  They are both great melodies and have words about hoping for goodness and happiness in life.

Worst Song- Say it with a Slap- Bongo from Fun and Fancy Free

Here’s a great message for kids- when you really love someone slap them as hard as you can… (Red Man song from Peter Pan is probably the worst but the melody is actually catchy, just the words super uncomfortable)

Best Original Score-  Bambi

Clearly Fantasia should be the winner but since it is using classical music, Bambi wins because it’s music actually becomes a character within the story.  It animates the forest with wind, rain, and other sound effects in the score.

 Saddest Moment- Dumbo- Baby Mine

Bambi’s mother dieing is very sad but we haven’t gotten to know her very well and it all happens quickly, not giving us much time to process it before we are moving on to love in the Spring.  Dumbo’s encaged Mother singing him a lullaby is a long scene, a beautiful song and a tender moment.  It’s sad but not in a bad way.  Dumbo is such a satisfying picture because it has moments of all different emotions- fear, anger, laughter, sadness etc.

Funniest Moment- Peter Pan- Hook and the Crocodile

I had forgotten how much slapstick is in Peter Pan and it is all done very well.  I laughed throughout the film.

Most Romantic Moment-  Lady and the Tramp- Spaghetti

I think spaghetti became romantic food because of this scene.  Great song, and about as romantic as dogs could be.  Such a lovely little movie.

Most Underrated- Melody Time

Melody Time is the strongest of the package films.  Make Mine Music is entertaining in a ‘so bad it’s good way’ but I genuinely liked Melody Time.  The Johnny Appleseed short is sweet with nice songs and Pecos Bill is fun, if a little bit too long.  It was tough for me to find but if you can hunt it down give it a watch.  It’s gentle and sweet and I liked it.

Most Overrated- Peter Pan

There is a lot to like in Peter Pan.  Don’t get me wrong.  I just wasn’t as enamored with it this go-around for some reason.  I don’t like the way Wendy is treated, especialy by the other female charcaters when she hasn’t done anything wrong.  The slapstick is funny but nothing too memorable.  The artistry and music aren’t great.  Love Tinker Bell and Hook but other characters are kind of bland.  It’s a lot of fun but not the masterpiece I remember it being.  Plus, we have the awkward Red Man song.

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Trippiest Movie- Alice in Wonderland

This movie is so trippy it doesn’t even worry about a plot.  It just introduces Alice and the viewer to character after character and I love it!

Conclusion

I enjoyed watching every single one of these movies.  And more importantly I learned a lot along the way.  Even a movie I didn’t love like Three Cabelleros was interesting because of it was requested by the US Government, and it was quite effective in winning the loyalty of the South American countries to our cause.  It makes the choices made in the movie interesting.  So, there is always things to like about any Disney.

Mostly I love the artistry.  I love movies but I think animation has a special ability to combine mediums and challenge the limitations of human actors in live action.  You can have a child turning into a donkey where in live action the scene would be very expensive.

I also feel inspired by Walt Disney to take some risks and try new things.  He was certainly willing to leverage years of hard work over risky propositions and I admire that.   Of the first 16 films what are your favorites and have my reviews made you curious to watch any of the movies?  I hope you do and let me know what you think!

Coming Up Next

Now on to 60’s and 70’s.  Both of these periods would be less productive for Disney.   In 60s Disney made and released 3 films:

1. 101 Dalmations

2. Sword in the Stone

3. Jungle Book

1970s

1. The Aristocats

2. Robin Hood

3. Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

4. The Rescuers.

So that will be my upcoming reviews.  Thanks for reading!  I’m having a blast!

Movie 12: Cinderella

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We made it through the package films!  Now we are ready to start the glorious era of 1950’s Disney.  Aside from the 1990s that brought us 9 Disney animated films the 50’s gave us 5 and they are all good:

1. Cinderella (1950)

2. Alice in Wonderland (1951)

3. Peter Pan (1953)

4. Lady and the Tramp (1955)

5. Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Glorious!  And it all started with Cinderella.  In fact, we should all be grateful for Cinderella because without its success we may have not seen any more Disney films because at the time of it’s release Disney was 4 million dollars in debt.  Cinderella cost 3 million so if it had flopped they would probably have gone bankrupt.

While the package films had kept them in the game, they had not had a serious hit since Snow White in 1937 (or perhaps Dumbo) but it had been a while.  It had also been over a decade since they had been allowed in the European market and their overly ambitious films of the early 40s had not made money.

So naturally they went back to their money-maker, classic fairy tale princess stories, and it served them quite well.

Cinderella is the centuries old fairy tale about the girl in ashes who through good fortunes becomes a princess. It has been told in nearly every culture going all the way back to the middle ages.  Some tellings are ghastly and morbid.  Others are fanciful and fun.  For whatever the reason the story has remained consistently popular in nearly every era of the written word.  It’s really quite remarkable when you think about it.

I already reviewed the Disney Cinderella and 3 other versions on my youtube channel.

To watch all of the reviews go to http://youtu.be/XQGdwKoeqfc?list=PL7wz447AgL4yacznPUN2r_A6WdEXPtuxj

Just the Disney review is here

In that review I defend Cinderella from the feminists who feel she is only a pretty face. I talk about the hard work and good friend she is.

No one works harder than Cinderella
No one works harder than Cinderella

So this time I want to talk about other things that I noticed more this time around.

Disney had long wanted to do a version of Cinderella.  In fact,in 1922 he made a short about a cat Cinderella but the story is basically the same.

I think Disney’s affection for the story going back to his early days shows in the movie.  Even the villains are fully fleshed out characters with decent amount of screen time.  It feels like well thought out and lovingly crafted movie.

One thing I noticed in this go-around is aside from the intro it takes 22 minutes before we see or hear from Lady Tremaine and the girls.  These early minutes are all spent in helping us to get to know Cinderella.

We see her wake up from dreaming, sing about her dream (with one of the best princess singing voices by Ilene Woods), rescue Gus from the trap, and then get breakfast ready.

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This is much better than the introduction of Snow White who we mainly know is beautiful, wishes on a well and meets the Prince and is banished. You haven’t gotten to see her work or interact with friends like we see Cinderella.

Her opening song is one of my favorite in all of Disney.

I also love the Sing Sweet Nightangale sequence.  The animation in the bubbles is beautiful.

This human side is key in helping us feel bonded to Cinderella.  She’s a good person.  She deserves to be happy.  Unlike say Ariel who is pretty young and selfish, Cinderella only thinks of herself in dreams, which makes you want her to achieve them even more.

A lot of people hate the mice in Cinderella  because of their high pitched voices.  I suppose I wouldn’t want to buy albums of their singing but for the part of itty bitty mice I think it kind of works.

Here’s an interesting video where they have changed the mice voices to what their natural register would be like.  I don’t mind it but I kind of think the mice are cuter in the original.  What do you think?

The mice are such sweet friends to Cinderella.  (It is kind of funny that the mice and birds have clothing but not the cat or dog.  Don’t any of the other characters think it is funny all these dressed critters around the house?..).  When they make Cinderella her dress it is such a happy, loving gesture.

working on dress

With such love and excitement put into it,   it really is quite a devastating moment when it gets destroyed.  It is perhaps the lowest a character gets in any Disney film and we have spent so much time with her it affects us as audience members.

devastating moment

But of course she is rescued and by a woman no less (funny how the feminists never mention that).  The Prince doesn’t rescue Cinderella.  She rescues herself because as the Fairy Godmother says ‘if you lost all your faith than I wouldn’t be here and yet here I am”.

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The Fairy Godmother is voiced by frequent Disney contributor Verna Felton, and I think it is one of the great vocal performances in Disney history.  It is warm, funny, sweet and of course magical!

And a great song!

The songs are all great written by a group called the Tin Pan Alley and attributed to Mark David, Jerry Livingston and Al Hoffman who all won Oscars.

Bibbidy-bobbity-boo won Oscar for best song.  I feel like songs like that never win any more?  It’s always to the tender ballad?  I guess there was that Eminem song a while back so maybe not.  Bibbidy was so popular it had 4 top 5 cover versions by Perry Como, another by the Fontane Sisters and others.

king and duke

While we are learning about Cinderella we also get to know the King and Arch Duke in some very funny scenes.  And while the Prince never speaks more than a few words we actually learn a lot about him through these scenes.

We learn the Prince wants to marry for love and has been reticent to pick any of his father’s choices.  We learn he is bored by most of the women he meets and his father thinks he has his head in the clouds (like Cinderella).  We also learn his father desperately wants Grandchildren!  (Enough to destroy his house ranting about it!)

At one point the king is told the Prince has promised whomever fits the shoe he will marry.  The King says he will punish (maybe even kill) the Arch Duke if someone, any woman, isn’t found to fit the shoe, even if it is not the woman the Prince is in love with.  ‘He’s given his word and we’ll hold him too it!’.  Now that’s a man who wants to be a Grandpa!

So of course Cinderella is off to the castle and dances with the Prince in admittedly the weakest song and sequence of the film. But Disney at this point had used the ‘instant love’ trope so many times in shorts and features it is certainly no surprise to see them use it again.  In fairness, at least in this story there is a limited time period where they could fall in love so at least it makes sense. I mean at midnight she is back to rags and the chance is over.

Cinderella dancing with the prince

Next we get the search for the owner of the slipper.  The Arch Duke comes and Lady Tremaine shows her most evil side locking Cinderella in the attic.

Lady Tremaine is one of the best Disney villains of all time.  Her whole life seems to be devoted to helping her daughters and to lording her power over Cinderella.  I don’t know of many horror movie villains that get quite the glee out of ruining a single person’s life. In the world of Disney she is without a doubt one of the greats.  I kind of wish she had a good villain song but it works.

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The wicked stepsisters, Anastasia and Drizella,  are practically as evil as their mother and I remember seeing them as a child and asking my Mother why their dresses looked so strange?  To think those huge bustles were a fashionable look (in Pecos Bill a bustle gets turned into a trampoline!)

step sisters anastasia and drizella

Lucifer is another great character that actually takes up a lot more of the movie than I remember.  What a horrible cat!

lucifer

I’m reminded of the quote from Babe:

“There are many perfectly nice cats in the world, but every barrel has its bad apples, and it is well to heed the old adage, “Beware the bad cat bearing a grudge.”

Aside from shorts it had been since Pinocchio that Disney had animated human characters and there is a fluidity to their movement which is pleasant to watch.    This is perhaps because 90% of the human interactions were actually filmed in live action and then copied by the animators.  It was basically the motion capture of it’s day!

The backdrops are also back to form with Cinderella.  We get some beautiful works of art for the characters to act around.

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The final segment of the film when Cinderella is locked in the attic are really quite desperate.  Gus and Jaq must get the key all the way up the daunting flight of stairs!

This isn't that exact scene but the attic stairs are very well designed.
This isn’t that exact scene but the attic stairs are very well designed.
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I found Gus and Jaq even more loveable and endearing this go-around

Of course we all know the end of the story.  Cinderella and the Prince get married and she is rescued from her hard life.

cinderella2 cinderella1

Movie Review-

I certainly hope we have not become so cynical as a society that we can longer tolerate the joy of a happy ending to a fairy tale.  It is not like Cinderella gets by easily.  In fact, aside from the Fairy Godmother, her life has been incredibly difficult.  If anyone deserves a happy ending it is her.

Well, I’m not cynical.  I believe in happy endings for all of us.  If we are like Cinderella and are a good friend and work hard than we will all find happiness in life.  We may not find great love and be a princess but we can all get our happy endings.  That’s why Cinderella’s story has endured for so long.

I also believe in rescuers.  The Fairy Godmother rescues Cinderella at her lowest moment.  I know in my life I have had similar moments of rescue when a good friend has insisted I take their love and be helped out of a miserable situation.  No magic per say but the results were equally profound.

Regardless, Cinderella has great music, lovely animation, a terrific villain (several actually), and a heroine that displays many laudable traits for our children to emulate.  It absolutely deserves to be one Disney’s classics and I love it.

Overall Grade- A+

Also, Cinderella is one of the few movies that Disney actually produced pretty good sequels to in their sequel phase of the 90s.  Particularly Cinderella 3 where Lady Tremaine goes back in time to try and undo all the good that happens to Cinderella.