Hey everyone! So starting this month I'll be doing something new. Serialised creative stories, a chapter a month (hopefully more once I switch to part time for my paying job). Once the story is then finished I'll be bringing them together into a novel. So be ready for the first Chapter of Bed of Thorns; a sci-fi re-telling of Sleeping Beauty. But speaking of fairy tales, lets look at Cinderella.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a fan of the Disney Princess genre, there are very few films in that genre that I will skip, even the ones that are Disney knock offs rather than actual Disney. So I went into the new live action Cinderella with decently high expectations, I wasn't expecting anything ground breaking but I also wasn't expecting to leave disappointed.
Rather than just going through the movie we are actually going to do a compare and contrast, with the animated Disney Cinderella and the live action Ever After staring Drew Barrymore with the new Cinderella film. Which is a straight remake of the animated one and yet tries to ape the strides that Ever After took and falls woefully short.
Let's look at the environment first; Cinderella of all of them most looks like it takes place in a fairy tale world. It's bright colours and flawless costumes, it has a world that looks remarkably clean. The Animated movie in contrast is very contained, there aren't any scenes of the outside world from her house until she goes to the ball; and Ever After is a fair dirtier movie. Pledging itself to some degree of historical accuracy... some.
The environments: set up clearly the tone each one is going for, the animated movie which focuses more on how Cinderella is contained to help contrast how special it is when she goes to the ball; the live action which is more interested in setting up a world where magic is possible and characters that are archetypes rather than characters. Ever After however is far more focused on character and making the fairy tale more like a possible event than a parable.
Speaking of characters lets really look into the meat of the issues here, the characters.
The Prince: I'm a little torn if I like the Prince in Ever After or the live action Cinderella more; Ever After's prince was a tad more flawed. Vulnerable to pride and making the mistakes that come with it, so his relationship feels more deserved, the both have flaws they need to get over. The live action prince is torn between love and duty but we don't see much more of him beyond that; however Rob Stark (Richard Madden) does play a whole hearted charming prince who any Game of Thrones fan will be happy to see finally wind up happily ever after.
The animated price is the least developed prince of all the Disney princes; and that is saying something.
The Step-Mother: This is one of the closest races there is; each of the portrayals have their own strengths. The animated step-mother is straight up evil, it's an incredibly menacing performance there is no effort made to try and humanise her. The animated step-mother gets points for simply being the most memorably evil. Ever After and the live action both try to show the step-mother as being evil from hurt caused by their new husbands never giving them love and instead showing Cinderella as his only family. However nether really does anything with it and Cate Blanchett turns evil far too quickly for there to really be any chance of understanding. Anjelica Huston on the otherhand, has over a decade to turn Cinderella into a slave and displays occasional moments where it's suggesting her own pain is causing her to inflict this pain on Cinderella.
They try a similar thing with Cate Blanchett, however Blanchett is playing it as evilly as the animated movie and every attempt at humanising her comes off as shallow. There is a moment when things really could have been tied together; Blanchett's character says that she married to give a chance to advance her daughters and there is this implication that she resents Cinderella for being this idea women who could marry a prince while her daughters are too inadequate to get advantageous marriages. But no, they don't tie it in with this sub-text of how society places restrictions on women, she destroys any chance of having her character ever be redeemable by saying she is cruel to Cinderella as Cinderella is good an innocent... And that's it. That is her motivation. Blanchett really is far too good for this role.
The animated movie, like most Disney animated movies of the past, is not interested in humanising the step-mother. She is cruel and evil because some people are just cruel and evil. While this villain could have slipped by, they did such a fantastic job animating her; really the animated movie really is just incredibly powerful in it's small moments. Especially with Cinderella, however we'll get to more in a moment.
A poorly humanised villain is simply more frustrating than painting a villain with the broad brush of saying evil because evil. So even though I do love Anjelica Huston and Cate Blanchett it simply has to go to the animated step mother. Brilliantly drawn, classically cruel and controlled giving a fantastic subdued but constantly threatening performance, Eleanor Audley is the best evil step-mother.
The supporting cast: Wow, I spent a lot of time on the step-mother, let's speed through some of the supporting cast. The step sisters are usually just comic relief, although occasionally effort is made to humanise Anastasia/Jacqueline, although usually it is just done by making her more of a push over by her mother and step-sister. It doesn't excuse what she does, just makes the audience feel bad for her as well. We'll give this to Ever After for having the two sisters actually act differently and not being unbearably annoying.
The fairy god mother, it's surprising that this character is usually the least interesting character, they really are only there as living deus ex fairy. A plot device to get Cinderella to the ball. Da Vinichi from Ever After is our stand in fairy god mother and is the most developed... but that isn't saying much. Have to go with the animated one for some bibbidi-boboidi-boo action.
The animals; no one wins on this one. The animals are either way to prominent in the movies, just there to reference the animated movie or not there are all.
Cinderella: Now Cinderella often gets a lot of flack for being a problematic character; she's one of the most passive Disney Princess's. Tying with Sleeping Beauty as the most passive in fact. So a lot of modern interpretations seek to address that; they give her character and chances to prove himself. Ever After is perhaps the clearest example of this, making Cinderella well learned, and keen to escape the situation she's in but without any means to; she suffers through the movie but when she is given a chance to rescue herself she does. Animated Cinderella is a kind and caring person, still totally good hearted despite the abuse she has suffered.
The new Cinderella attempts to marry these two concepts and ends up being the weakest part of the movie and why the movie ends up failing as a whole. The motto of the live action movie is have courage and be kind. This motto is repeated endlessly and is why the prince falls in love with Cinderella before the ball and why she is able to talk to animals and why the fairy god mother shows up for her. Cinderella is never courageous however, she is a doormat. Cinderella is well learned in the new movie, she has skills and intelligence that would allow her to find a life outside of her step mothers control and became a servant when she was old enough to escape, and is shown to have friends who could assist her living outside of the house. In fact she does try to escape, but decides it is cowardly to run away from the abusive situation she is in.
It was cowardly for her to run, because she says no doubt many people have it worse than she does.
... ... ... oh movie... no.
Contrast this with the animated movie, again in this Cinderella never escapes, however we are given no evidence to suggest that she could. Cinderella has lived like this since she was a child, we don't know that she has ever been outside the house. She also doesn't take the abuse in the same way; again I have to praise the animators who managed to give a lot of quiet dignity. Cinderella carries her head high at all times, its a small little sign that she isn't broken; it isn't until her dress is ripped that she finally breaks down. The dress tearing scene is chaotic and emotional; I've heard some refer to it the closest Disney has ever gotten to depicting a rape scene. And it was, until Maleficent and the scene where she wakes to find her wings removed. In contrast the live action scene has a sleeve ripped, that's it. Just one small rip; the scenes just can't compare in emotional weight. Movies have a simple language, which is 'show don't tell'. The animated movie never needs someone to exclaim the moral as 'have courage and be kind', Cinderella shows it through her actions alone and is rewarded for it.
It is really just hollow in the live action Cinderella movie; Cinderella claims to be endlessly kind and the film ends with her forgiving her family for the abuse. Yep; she forgives her abusers. Not gains some understanding about their motives, or any appreciation for the difficulties the Step Mother might face as a single mother in this time period. Nope, forgiven without question... they still get banished from the kingdom along with the duke who dared to stop the King marrying a peasant girl to protect the Kingdom. So, justice is served?
The live action movie really doesn't bring anything new to the table, although some great character work is done with the Prince and the King, it just adds nothing to the 'canon' of Cinderella. It is inferior to the animated movie it tries to improve upon. Meanwhile I love the hell out of Ever After and the animated Cinderella film; both are different however and each do succeed in what they are attempting.
I'll be updating again on the 20th as I turn the other passive fairy tale princess Sleeping Beauty into a sci-fi heroine.
I would normally warn whether or not there are spoilers in the revue when it comes to a blockbuster new release such as this but I truly can't. The fact is there is nothing to spoil, not a single surprise or unexpected moment; save for the teaser at the end of the credits which I will not explain but suffice to say there is much sequel baiting in it.
Now don't let all that distract you, this is a good movie. I enjoyed the hell out of it! The action scenes were clear and exciting, the dialogue tight and characters engaging. The actors all took their parts on exceptionally well and what normally is a granted in comic book movies; that there is something to be angry about from a feminist point of view does not hold true here. I will talk in detail about each of the good qualities in the movie without revealing too much detail of what happens, but first Ill explain my lack of enthusiasm at the start of this review.
Marvel's movies will most likely never have any great spoilers, they are incredibly safe and formulaic. Again this is not to deter you; movie formulas exist because they are popular and engaging, and Marvel pulls it's formula off without falling into cliches or being stuck in tropes. I find it difficult to write about the Marvel formula as it is hard to pin down, but I think it can be summarized as getting all the basics right and overlaying that with characterized humor. All in all, Marvel movies are very safe.
Now back to the Avengers. First of all it is not necessary to see previous movies to understand this, if you must see any than I would recommend Iron Man and Thor; it assumes you know the back story of Iron Man and the conflict between Thor and Loki comes off a bit underdeveloped if you haven't seen it before.
Looking to each of the elements of the movies success, firstly the action. The third act is well paced and they really give each character time to show off their skill set. Black Widow less so but they had already given her a lot of time during the movie for solo fight scenes and martial arts isn't as fast paced as the others so it makes sense. However, the final fight is still incredibly formulaic, the hero's emerge kicking ass. Things get difficult, the last reluctant member shows up. They kick more ass until eventually the numbers appear overwhelming and it leads to slow motion panning shots of each of the hero's as they look over the devastation with a realization of 'if we are going to go down, we are going to go down fighting'. And finally the self sacrificial moment that results in a scare... Now before you complain of spoilers I would ask who here really thought Marvel would kill off one of the main six? Hmmmm? Nobody. That's what I thought.
The dialogue and the characterization, now here is where Marvel is really excelling. They are nailing down the most recognizable, merchandisable and easy to understand aspects of the personalities. The genius play boy, the honorable solider, the troubled assassin and her mentoring figure, the inexperience but good-hearted king, and the tormented reason vs emotion. They don't leave it just at this and expand all of these basics to their next logical conclusion, and understand how these would play off each other. Not just to how to arrogance of Tony Stark would conflict with the moral sense of Captain Rogers but how someone who clearly believes in personal freedoms and liberties and enjoying them, such as stark would want to help someone who has to repress his emotions such as Bruce Banner. They then capture the humor that rests in these conflicting personalities and bring it through, not as one-liners but believable (to an extent) dialogue.
How does this movie portray women? It doesn't, it portrays characters, some of whom happen to be women. I knew this movie was on the right track when it introduces Black Widow captured and tied to a chair, she is threatened with torture and death... she is not threatened with rape and this really does make a huge difference if shows that those who have her captured realize that she is an enemy, a danger to them and takes that seriously. It wasn't till later that I realized just how well it portrayed women, aside from one line in this scene 'this is not how I wanted the night to end. BW: I know how you wanted this to end', aside from this one line which suggests a sexual trap she was using there is not a single line of dialogue that needs to be changed if this was a male character again with Agent Hill. They have written the female characters well but how have they actually portrayed them in the shots. A common complaint against comic books and the movies based off of them is that women are forced into awkward poses to try and show off as much as they can in a sexual way. There was a poster for The Avengers which received a fan make over.
I love this work and it really does show what is often a key problem, woman are shown as sexy AT THE COST of their skills, bad-assary and character. Now that said I have no problem with a bit of fan service as long as it does not take place of character development. Black Widow's tight skin clothing makes sense for her role as an assassin. She doesn't have it unzipped for show as it would be impractical and unprofessional. There is one scene where she is talking to Loki and the shot does unquestionably bring her rear end into the shot, but it's not forced it doesn't maker her seem weak as she is holding a strong pose. Marvel is also very aware that their market is growing with these movies, young men are no longer the sole (or majority) audience, and they have adjusted their fan service and it has certainly come across in movies such as Captain America or Thor. Women and gay men like a bit of a show as well, and on that note... Thor... just, just DAMN!
I heartily recommend this movie, I don't mean to bash it as I call it safe because it is still incredibly well done and engaging.
In 2002 the Disney corporation released a re-imagining of the novel Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, the difference being that they set the story through space with steam-punk technology. When this came out Disney was is a bit of a downwards spiral, they had direct to video sequels coming out frequently and 3D animation of Pixar was on the rise, which is why I am so surprised that an original concept came out of Disney at this time. Steampunk is on the rise in popularity these days so even if it's a concept you haven't heard of you probably will have seen an example of it somewhere. Panic at the Disco's 'Mona Lisa Smile' video clip for instance features sets, costumes and props from some of the biggest names in steampunk, or you may have seen *shudder* Justin Beibers 'Santa Claus is coming to town'. Alternatively slight steampunk visuals were used in movies such as Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus or Robert DeNiro's skyship in Stardust.
I never saw Treasure Planet when it came out in cinemas, and didn't see it on video till very recently, and I was genuinely surprised at not only the risk the movie would have been for the comany but how well they did it. Certain aspect aren't as strong as other Disney movies, while the background music is good it's not to the level of other Disney Movies; however since this is not a musical it dosen't hurt. The main problem is the mixing of the 2D and 3D animation. Often the computer generated back drops, while designed beautifully just dosen't fit properly, this can be difficult for immersion. You're pulled out of it by this, although I doubt this is a problem for a younger audience the movie is targeted towards however. Finally a point that I had never considered was raised by Doug Walker (The Nostalgia Critic) in his brief review of the Treasure Planet. That being, that he simply wasn't able to get into the setting. I've been a fan of steampunk for the last 5 years or so and it's something I took to very easily so I hadn't really considered that other people would have difficulty in understanding this mix of Victorian and futuristic. For those who are confused a quick definition of steampunk as I understand it.
The word means the mixing of steam engine Victorian setting and punk rock of the 80's, it's developed a bit from that but essentially its a genre of alternate history. It takes the idea that steam engines became the main source of power rather than electricity so everything still has a very grundgy look to it, with copper and brass being the main construction tools and cogs and wheels being used so often it's pretty much to the point of decoration. The clothing is all reminiscent of the Victorian era, through corsets, top hats, blouses and bonnets.
While the genre is growing in popularity from conventions and costuming into movies, books and as mentioned video clips it still isn't common place and it a bit of a geek sub-culture.
So those are my problems with the film, what is it I like. First off the designs are pretty spectacular, I really would have liked to see more of them but they give a real sense of wonder to the movie. The 2D animation is top notch as always for Disney cinema releases. The real strength in this movie comes from something that Disney is not known for, and thats character and relationships. This movie feels like your watching real people and not fairy tales and thats incredibly rare for Disney. When Disney changes the original source material it's to make it more child friendly, to make it safer. In Treasure Planet they have the father of the hero Jim Hawkins leave when he is a child. Not die nobly, not pass away off screen but leave. This integral change made the story more focused on the relationships which are done perfectly. Jim is played off as an intelligent but rebellious misunderstood boy, and if I read that I would have rolled my eyes. There are few character descriptions more overused than that apart from wise, mystical mentor figure doomed to die. However they handle it well, you can see the Jim's acting out does come from an actual place of pain and he does allow people to change. He's not a rebel just to try and appear cool. Giving the character father issues does also play into the relationship he has with Captain Silver, you see how much they go to care for each other. You believe their interactions and the ending is more satisfying because of this and reminds me of the same kind bitter-sweet closure you get at the end of Aladdin and the King of Thieves.
Fighting against nostalgia, as this is one of the few Disney movies I didn't see as a child, I find it sitting in my top Disney movies of all time. Not a hundred percent sure where it exactly fits in a list but perhaps that's something I could look at for future posts. But regardless of that this is a movie that is really worth a watch. 8.5/10
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