Cinderella (2015) Movie Review

Buy at Amazon

Review:

It’s spring break, so I decided to take my daughter out for a mother-daughter date and see Disney’s new live-action Cinderella movie. I’m not even a big fan of the Cinderella story, but I spent most of the film with a big sappy grin plastered across my face, so clearly it did something right.

It’s refreshingly old-fashioned, feel good filmmaking that sticks pretty close to the story as laid out in the classic 1950 animated film, but smartly borrows from Ever After (the best Cinderella adaptation, imho) to have Cinderella (Downton Abbey‘s Lily James) and the Prince (Richard Madden of Game of Thrones) meet before the ball. This allows the Prince (here called Kit) to demonstrate a personality – something he totally lacked in the animated film – and Cinderella to make an emotional rather than purely physical connection with him, both of which give the love story much more emotional resonance than the animated version.

The live-action Cinderella also spent more time establishing Cinderella’s family and happy childhood than the old animated film, which I also liked because the emotional speech by Cinderella’s dying mother (Hayley Atwell, aka Marvel‘s Agent Carter) as she urges her daughter to “have courage and be kind” gives the film a more active and meaningful message than “a dream is a wish your heart makes.”

On the other hand, while Cinderella takes initiative into her own hands on several occasions in her attempts to fulfill her promise to her mother, the film did make a baffling and annoying slide back into passivity at the end, when she is locked in the attic and the narrator informs us that she neither knew nor cared who the men in the courtyard below were and basically was prepared to live the rest of her life on her happy memories of the ball. Even the 50’s Cinderella was crying and trying to help the animals release her, but this one just stands at the closed (but unlocked!) window and sings sadly, and it’s the MICE who think to open it and let her voice be heard. Like, really?

Despite that brief moment of feminist cringe, I enjoyed this adaptation more than most. For the most part, it was smart enough to keep the good and change the bad aspects of the original story. I was also impressed by the sumptuous visuals. As far as acting, the standout was Cate Blanchett as the wicked stepmother, naturally, but I thought everyone did fine with their roles. Holliday Grainger of The Borgias and Sophie McShera of Downton Abbey looked like they had a lot of fun as the step-sisters, and I was surprised to find that Derek Jacobi had a role as the King. He was much less buffoonish than his animated predecessor and had an especially touching scene with Kit after the ball.

My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

[Read more…]

The Emperor’s New Groove Movie Review

Buy at Amazon

Review:

My second favorite of Disney’s (otherwise pretty mediocre) offerings of the early nolls. (Lilo & Stitch is #1.)

Like Lilo & Stitch, The Emperor’s New Groove is not a “typical” Disney film, which I think has led to it being overlooked and underappreciated by many Disney fans, and by Disney itself. There’s no beautiful heroine or charming prince, no significant romance, and no singing. In fact, the titular emperor, Kuzco (voiced by David Spade), who rules over a land that appears loosely based on the Incan empire, is probably Disney’s least likable hero ever. He’s spoiled, selfish, bratty, and vain. He’s so unlikable that it’s hard to care that much about his ultimate redemption, which is probably the biggest flaw of the film.

At least his sharp, sarcastic, and often downright nasty wit is good for plenty of laughs. In fact, the film is probably Disney’s funniest animated feature thanks to its generous blend of witty dialogue, sight gags, and tongue-in-cheek asides (it breaks the fourth wall more than any Disney movie since George of the Jungle.)

It also benefits from a host of great supporting characters, including one of my favorite Disney villains: Kuzco’s advisor Yzma, spectacularly voiced by the late, great Eartha Kitt. Yzma is an even more unpleasant piece of work than her boss, which says a lot, but like Kuzco, she’s also hilarious. Many of her best moments come in interactions with her big, dumb bodyguard/henchman Kronk, the film’s most memorable character thanks to his unexpectedly diverse skillset (he’s a master chef! he speaks squirrel! he studied interpretive dance!) and repeated conversations with the angel and devil that live on his shoulders. I also love the interactions between the kind-hearted peasant, Pacha, and his clever and outspoken wife Chicha – one of Disney’s best married couples.

The plot itself is a somewhat thin and predictable buddy comedy, but the fun characters and mile-a-minute laughs make The Emperor’s New Groove a pretty enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes of your life.

Buy at Amazon

My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

[Read more…]

Sleeping Beauty Movie Review

Buy at Amazon

Review:

Sleeping Beauty was my favorite Disney movie when I was a young girl, but it later got superseded by Aladdin and I didn’t see it for many years. Then I watched it again in college, for the first time since elementary school, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that it held up really well. Today, it’s back among my favorite Disney movies.

Why do I like it?

  • The animation is stunning – very stylized-looking and unique.
  • The music is some of the best ever – it’s Tchaikovsky, after all.
  • Prince Philip is quite the hottie – the best of the early Disney princes by far.
  • Aurora is kind of annoying, but not nearly as insufferable as, say, Snow White.
  • The three good fairies are funny, as are Aurora and Philip’s fathers and Samson the horse.
  • Malificent is the most terrifying and awesome Disney villain ever.

[Read more…]

The 18 Most Attractive Disney Men

So, I was writing my review of Tangled and thinking about a report I heard that Flynn Rider’s good looks were created by female focus group in an attempt to create the handsomest Disney hero ever. This (naturally) led to me contemplating where he falls in my own hierarchy of Disney animated hotness, and I decided that clearly just thinking about it wasn’t enough and I needed to go track down supporting evidence. You know, for science. And as long as I was finding all these pictures, I figured I may as well go ahead and post about it.

So here we go, my choices for the 18 most attractive Disney men:

[Read more…]

Tangled Movie Review

Buy at Amazon

Review:

On our wishlist

When it was released, Tangled was the best Disney film in years. Now, of course, we’ve got Frozen heating up the competition for best Disney film of the new millennium, but Tangled was a huge step in the right direction after years of mostly mediocre Disney offerings.

It had an appealing heroine, an exceedingly handsome hero (though Disney has yet to beat Anastasia‘s Dmitri for sheer animated hotness), some good songs, a pair of hilarious animal sidekicks (my daughter liked Maximus so much she wanted us to name her brother after him!), a villain who rivals Frollo in terrifying psychological realism, and some simply gorgeous animation (though I still prefer the classic Disney style to the computer generated stuff). The plot was a fun blend of action-adventure, humor, and pathos as well.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

[Read more…]

Monsters University Movie Review

Buy at Amazon

Review:

Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc. are my favorite Pixar movies, so I was curious to see  Monsters University, the prequel to Monsters, Inc. Sadly, though Monsters University was enjoyable light entertainment, it was nowhere near the level of the original film.

Even while laughing at Mike and Sulley’s collegiate antics, I could never get over the feeling that the story was just plain unnecessary and the movie, therefore, primarily an effort to liberate more of people’s cash from their wallets. It’s normal in today’s Hollywood to try to capitalize on the popularity of a successful stand-alone film with sequels, prequels, reboots, etc., but you expect something with a little more heart from Pixar.

Monsters University teaches us nothing particularly new or surprising about the characters or the interesting parallel world they inhabit, nor does it offer a particularly interesting twist on any of its moral lessons. (I was pleasantly surprised when, after telling Mike and Sulley that they would be expelled, Dean Hardscrabble actually stuck to her word and expelled them, forcing them to work their way through the ranks of Monsters, Inc. via the mailroom, instead of having them be rescued from their bad behavior at the last minute by Hardscrabble’s change of heart and/or a deus ex machina of some sort.)  Arguably, the film’s very existence contradicts Mike and Sulley’s backstory as laid out in Monsters, Inc., where Mike tells Sulley, “You’ve been jealous of my good looks since the fourth grade,” suggesting that they met each other in elementary school, not college.

As a result, Monsters University is a pleasant enough way to while away 90 minutes of your life, but a far cry from Pixar’s best.

Buy at Amazon

My rating:2.5 Stars (2.5 / 5)

[Read more…]

Enchanted Movie Review

Buy at Amazon

Review:

Disney isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself! Enchanted is a charming and fun send-up of many of Disney’s stock tropes and cliches. Amy Adams is adorable as Giselle and Susan Sarandon looks like she’s having the time of her life as the wicked stepmother. I also loved James Marsden as the well meaning but hopelessly oblivious Prince Edward. My only question is why they hired a famous Broadway star like Idina Menzel and then never had her sing!

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

[Read more…]

Saving Mr. Banks Movie Review

Buy at Amazon

Review:

Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks are two of my all-time favorite actors, so I was eager to see this despite it not being a particularly accurate depiction of Mrs. Travers’ feelings about the movie version of Mary Poppins. (Apparently, she hated it until her dying day.) As I expected based on the cast, the acting was excellent and the film was beautifully shot and moving.

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

[Read more…]

Frozen Movie Review

Review:

Buy at Amazon

I’m sure I’m not the only Millennial who grew up during the golden age of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, and Mulan, was kind of disappointed by most of (but not all) Disney’s offerings in the early nolls, and is now delighted that they’re undergoing a revival, just in time for my own kids to enjoy their movies as much as I did when I was a child. The Princess and the Frog was good and Tangled was great.

Frozen may be better still (honestly, I’m torn about whether I liked it better than Tangled or not). The animation was absolutely beautiful, the songs were catchy (my favorites were Let It Go and the opening yoik by Sami composer Frode Fjellheim), and the sidekicks were cute. And I loved that (spoiler alert – click on the blurred text to view) Anna and Elsa saved each other with the power of sisterly love and didn’t need to be rescued by anybody. Destined to be a classic!

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

[Read more…]

Mulan

Review:

The single best Disney movie to show to girls (and boys), in my opinion.

Although Disney has gotten much better at presenting well-rounded and interesting heroines in recent years, many Disney movies still focus ultimately on romance. In Mulan, by contrast, the romance is a minor and understated subplot, and the focus is squarely on Mulan’s quest to save her father’s life and bring honor to her family. Along the way, her cleverness, resourcefulness, and quick thinking save China as well.

In addition to providing a great role model, Mulan also has some great songs, lots of action and humor, and lovely animation. A must-have for any family video collection.

My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

[Read more…]