Cinderella (2015) Movie Review

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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)

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The Apple Pip Princess Book Review

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Review:

The Apple Pip Princess, by Jane Ray, is a beautiful book in pretty much every way possible. It tells the story of a “little and shy and quite ordinary” princess named Serenity. Her father the king decides to choose which of his three daughters will inherit the kingdom when he dies by asking each of them to do “something to make your mark – something to make me proud.” Serenity’s proud and vain older sisters set about creating tall towers to reach the heavens. Serenity plants an apple seed.

I won’t spoil the rest of the story for you, but suffice to say, it was so lovely it literally brought tears to my eyes the first time I read it. The book is beautifully illustrated and touches on many valuable moral lessons without ever being preachy. In fact, as a feminist and a lifelong tree hugging, bleeding heart liberal, I’d have to say this is a nearly perfect book, on par with Miss Rumphius, another personal favorite about women making a difference in the world. To wit:

  • The story revolves around the critical role that planting trees plays in restoring degraded environments, providing food for people and habitat for wildlife, and beautifying the landscape.
  • The princesses, their father, and their subjects are all characters of color.
  • The two older princesses try to dazzle their subjects with magnificent and beautiful monuments built by taking the very roofs from their heads. It doesn’t work.
  • The two older sisters try to force their subjects to obey by threatening them with the “dark and crumbling” royal dungeon. Serenity befriends a commoner and the two work side by side with the whole kingdom to replant the orchards.
  • The two older princesses learn from their mistakes and are welcomed back with open arms and forgiven, instead of being punished with banishment or worse. The story ends with the three sisters together, happy, and at peace with each other, enjoying the beautiful song of the nightingale under the trees.

In short, this charming little fairy tale quickly became a family favorite at my house, both among the adults and the children. I hope other families will enjoy it just as much.

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My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

Stardust Movie Review

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Review:

I saw Stardust for the first time without realizing that it was an adaptation of one of Neil Gaiman’s novels and didn’t really know what to expect. It charmed me completely with its blend of action, humor, romance, and high fantasy and is now a favorite. I’m really amazed that it wasn’t a bigger hit, and consider it one of the most under-rated fantasy films I’ve ever seen.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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