‘Cinderella’ enchants on opening day; ‘Frozen Fever’ warms the heart

14 Mar

No need to run from the palace here; Cinderella is a real treat.

The incomparable Lily James (Downton Abbey’s Lady Rose) steals the show as the titular princess, but she is surrounded by excellent company. Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) plays off James’s light yet genuine Cinderella as an equally charming and surprisingly developed Prince Kit. (Prince Charming finally gets a real name!)

The chemistry between the two shines brightest in the ballroom scenes, despite Madden’s struggles with ballroom dancing and not tripping over James’s spectacular blue gown.

Cate Blanchett’s Lady Tremaine endures a dip into attempted sympathy before embracing the deliciously wicked character fans of Disney’s 1950 original know and love.

The costuming and set design take on characters of their own. The wicked Tremaines are robed in the finest and gaudiest clothing a designer could possibly create, and it brilliantly displays the personalities of the actresses. Blanchett’s own wardrobe seems like a more timeless collection of 1940s Chanel: beautiful yet too formal to really be loved and comfortable.

James’s blue gown is breathtaking, and props to visual effects for making her transformation just right. I know some critics hesitated at the butterflies on the neckline; however, five minutes into the story, the butterflies are explained and serve as a crucial thematic tie throughout the film.

The sweeping landscapes and sets, paired with well-framed wide shots, sell the audience immediately as to the grandeur of the whole film. I’d expect nothing less from director Kenneth Branagh.

My only critique (nay, suggestion) would be the credits song (and who stays around for that?). Maleficent boasted a fantastic rendition of “Once Upon a Dream” by Lana Del Rey. Where was a take on “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes?” I appreciated James sneaking “Sing Sweet Nighting Gale” as she walked through the garden, but it just wasn’t the same without the undercurrent of those classic scores.

What overwhelms the most from this film isn’t the scenery, costumes, or Maddens’s stellar blue eyes. It’s the message sent out to audiences: “Have courage, and be kind.” That mantra introduced by Cinderella’s mother** (Agent Carter‘s Hayley Attwell) provides Cinderella with the ability to survive a torrent of abuses from Lady Tremaine, at least until Helena Bonham Carter can step in as the Fairy Godmother and give our heroine a taste of the justice she deserves. Of the rich themes Disney has put out to young children in recent years, the belief that kindness shines through despite the horrible things going on in life might be one of the strongest.

In recent years, Cinderella receives a lot of flack because she’s not as fiery and outgoing as modern princesses like Merida and Tiana. However, Branagh reminds audiences something Walt Disney always believed about Cinderella — being good and having a giving heart does not make one weak, it makes one strong. That strength is where Cinderella finds her beauty throughout the film, as she overcomes obstacles with compassion that Elsa would’ve simply frozen in a rage.

Walt Disney once said of Cinderella: “She believed in dreams, all right, but she also believed in doing something about them. When Prince Charming didn’t come along, she went over to the palace and got him.” And in this adaptation, that’s exactly what she did. I firmly believe Walt Disney would be very proud.

Now, onto something a bit colder…

Frozen Fever is one of the cutest little shorts Disney has done in a while, but I left feeling a twinge of disappointment. (Ugh, I hate typing those words.)

The bright spots: Elsa’s GREEN DRESS. I need it. Now. Shut up and take my money, Disney merchandising. I love the song. I found it just as catchy as “For the First Time in Forever.” Love the throwback to Hans and the snowball planting him firmly in a pile of horse crap. Kristoff’s accidental confession of love makes me smile. So sweet, and clearly it was Anna’s first time hearing those words! I wish they’d hung on that frame a second longer just to let the weight of those words sink in. And whatever those adorable little baby sentient snow creatures were blew me away. SO CUTE (and soooo marketable as plush toys. Mark my words, people…).

The whole thing felt a bit…rushed. Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck openly admit to struggling with a story for the short, yet this feels like the “oh well, we gotta have something so this will do” option. Granted, the characters created by Lee and Buck are so complex that a short film wouldn’t do a proper story justice. I found Frozen Fever an excellent short to one of the biggest movies in animated history, and the story is impressive considering how little turnaround Lee and Buck had to craft something. Geez people, they won the Oscar last year! Give them time to breathe!

**A fair warning to parents of young children: there are several deaths throughout the film, though none are particularly gruesome or gory. They are, however, very emotionally charged. Please note this isn’t anything overdone from the original (her parents still die in the 1950 animated version too), but the deaths occur after you’ve become attached to the characters.

All in all, Cinderella will lead to a magical night. Enjoy!

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