Cinderella: A Movie Review

Courtesy Disney

Courtesy Disney

I think it is kind of crazy for me to admit that so far, my favorite movie of 2015 is a live action remake of a Disney Princess cartoon from the 50’s. I did not have high hopes for this movie when I went with a gaggle of girls to see it a few weeks ago for my buddy Anna Jackson’s birthday. I mean, as a sprouting movie buff with a potentially devastating arsenal of criticism and analysis, I went into the theater with knives a sharpened, ready to gleefully eviscerate the bloated corpse of an obvious Disney cash-grab with extreme prejudice. As the many advertisements and trailers ended, Disney presented a Frozen short. I got the impression that the fullness of the theater was directly attributed to the promised glimpse at Anna and Elsa of Arendale. Since Frozen was still an undeniable cultural behemoth even a year and a half after its release, it didn’t surprise me that its many, many fans would pay good money to see a third rate Disney remake if the shrewd producers dangled a tantalizing short in front of us as bait. The short, Frozen Fever was decent enough. Elsa had allergies or something, which I as the proverbial bubble child greatly related to. It ended to a thunderous applause by the many female fans in the theater and I waited with complete certainty that the feature, Cinderella, would doubtlessly flounder and die. I licked my lips, mind ready to pounce.

I watched the movie. The credits rolled. I applauded thunderously with the entire theater as I clapped with an enthusiasm that would have made the Maddie from two hours ago do a double take. I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least, to find that this “third-rate cash grab” was made with an appreciation and warmth that is almost nonexistent in the modern moviesphere so inundated with cheap, effects-laden remakes and soulless, grittily-rebooted blockbusters. They made Cinderella (an animated movie from 1950 that most people slept through) actually enjoyable! In my opinion, this recent remake was even better than the original (now I suppose I must turn in my hipster badge and irony firearm because I have just admitted that a modern reboot was better).

Princess Party 2013

Princess Party 2013

Look, I like every other girl in America, watched all the Disney Princess movies. I had a princess birthday party, a bunch of princess dolls, and all the VHS tapes (remember, this was the early 2000’s) of the Disney movies on repeat. Of all the animated movies, my favorite was Beauty and the Beast (duh) and my least favorite was Cinderella. I just had a really hard time relating to Cinderella’s character. In one word, she was BORING. I know the whole happy-even-though-she-is-being-brutally-abused thing is an integral part of her character, but come on! In the original movie she contributes nothing to the story. She is a completely one-dimensional, passive character who just sort of lets stuff happen to her. Now I know that’s sort of a product of the times, 1950 wasn’t really known for its spunky heroines who define their own futures, but even Snow White from 1937, who spends the Third Act of her own movie comatose had a 100 times more personality then the animated Cinderella. Snow White gets stuff done.

She successfully organizes a house populated by seven bachelors just because she can. Cinderella’s hard-working for sure, but she doesn’t really do much. By far the worst character in the animated Cinderella movie is the Prince. The guy literally does not have a name, even in official Disney merchandise. He and Cinderella just sort of dance around and boom, in love. Not even a single conversation passes between them. I think the prince only has one line in the entire movie which is “Where are you going?” The dude is eye-candy plain and simple. A waltzing Roomba could replace his character and there wouldn’t be any difference in the story. The original Cinderella is pretty and pointless, which is why I had really, really low expectations for its modern adaptation. Well at least it couldn’t be worse then Maleficent.


Courtesy Disney/Wikja

Courtesy Disney/Wikja

The 2015 version of Cinderella was amazing. It blew all my preconceived prejudices and biases out of the water. First of all, it was amazingly well made. I’m talking Oscar-worthy costuming and set design. The few months I spent working with the set team for V2 made me really appreciate how much work goes into the costumes and set pieces in a production. The dresses, the scenery, the little tiny touches in the furniture and paintings were all absolutely breathtaking. Cinderella’s blue gown, the one she goes to the ball in, it was absolutely stunning. I’m letting my REALLY girly side show on this, but good gracious Lord that dress was beautiful. I read an article that said Cinderella’s dress used more than 270 yards of fabric, with 10,000 Swarovski crystal sewed into it. It took 18 tailors 500 hours to make. I usually don’t think clothes are worth squealing over, but darn it I’m going to squeal over that dress. It was gorgeous, all the costumes in that movie were gorgeous. Sandy Powell, the costume designer, deserves her fourth Oscar for that one.

The Dress - Courtesy Disney

The Dress – Courtesy Disney

But even beyond the wonderful aesthetic production values, the story and acting made me really connect with this ancient story, retold for countless generations about a poor, downtrodden girl who rises from the ashes and wins the heart of the ruler with the help of a little magic transformation. Cinderella was still the same good, selfless girl who did thankless tasks and took heaps of abuse with a good attitude, but this time around we got to see why she was able to do that. It takes a lot of work to be good and selfless in the face of ugliness and evil. This version’s Cinderella, played convincingly by a sparkly-eyed Lily James, shows us her early life marked by happiness and kindness that was ingrained into her by her parents, who told her to “Always have courage and be kind.” When that childhood abruptly ended and left her an orphan under the oppressive rule of her wickedly manipulative and cruel stepmother, Cinderella uses her parents’ lessons to keep out of despair and protect her ancestral home. But what this movie shows is how hard cruelty can be, even to the most selfless of people. When her stepmother refuses to allow her stepdaughter to even eat with them at breakfast and mocks her disheveled appearance, Cinderella flees to the forest in tears. But fate allows her to run into a royal hunting party led by the handsome (and this time named) Prince Kit. When she intervenes for the sake of the stag the party is hunting, Kit becomes enamored with her kindness and courage, and by the fact that she does not recognize him as the prince and speaks freely. I was taken by the great chemistry shared by Cinderella and Kit even in this early scene that made the whole love at first sight shtick palpable to me, the jaded modern viewer.

Thus proceeds the classical Cinderella story of a ball, the stepmother refusing to let Cinderella go, the fairy godmother’s intervention, and the gorgeous dance between the prince and the mystery woman, Cinderella. But also added is the relationship between Prince Kit and his father the King, who sees how Cinderella’s outlook of courage and kindness has made his son a better man and future king. He allows his son to marry a common girl for love rather than a princess for advantage.

Courtesy Disney

Courtesy Disney

There is the search for the girl with the glass slipper, but in this version, Cinderella’s wicked stepmother sees the initial profit to be gained by letting Cinderella become queen, and offers to let Cinderella answer the prince’s summons if she makes the stepmother head of the palace household and puppet master of the Prince. But Cinderella, knowing that the safety of the kingdom and the freedom of the Prince would be jeopardized by such a situation, refuses the stepmother’s offer and is resigned to her life of drudgery as a result.

But the prince finds her and even with the revelation that his true love is nothing more then a poor scullery maid, he choses her as his bride anyway. Before she leaves to become queen, Cinderella turns to her cruel and wicked stepmother and forgives her for the years of torment, destroying the woman’s cold exterior and making her see how evil she truly was. The bible teaches about not being a slave to unforgiveness. Forgiveness has truly great power!

I thought this version gave the old story an emotional element yet unseen. It had high stakes and high tension but a big payoff in the end. It was a beautiful movie that kept the traditional fairy tale heart intact in a world populated with revisionist twists and gritty reboots. I thought that was quite the achievement to craft a fairy tale that would appeal to the modern view. It was truly a wonderful movie that will delight anyone. Cinderella is for once a great role model, strong and selfless and well as courageous and kind. She suffered, but that suffering only refined her into a more empathetic person who could understand the pain of others, even those who were unkind to her. It is ironic that this kindness to those who may be cruel to you is exactly what we were learning at church. I saw the film again a few weeks later and it was even better the second time.


4 out of 4 stars

The Love of a Cat - Hobbes

The Love of a Cat – Hobbes

Maleficent Not Magnificant

Courtesy Disney

Courtesy Disney

Ever since I was a little girl, my dad has always taken me to see movies. It was a part of the very fabric of my childhood, the films, actors, and stories all intertwining like thread in the tapestry of my pop culture education.

Last week, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, my dad looked at me and said it was a good time to go see a movie. We decided on the recent summer blockbuster Maleficent, an alternate look at Disney’s classic animated Sleeping Beauty from the viewpoint of the titular evil sorceress Maleficent, played by the incredibly high cheekbones of Angelina Jolie. As a huge fan of Broadway’s wonderful Wicked, the story of The Wizard of Oz from the perspective of the viridescent Wicked Witch of the West, I was super excited about learning the backstory of one of Disney’s most elegant and charmingly evil villainesses.

For those who haven’t seen the movie, I’ll give you the chance to cover your eyes and ears and scream “LALALALALA!!” at the top of your lungs because here be spoilers. Like serious spoilers. I’m basically going to be giving away the whole plot of the movie so if you want to be surprised when you see it don’t read on.

Maleficent begins with the voiceover of an elderly Princess Aurora (the narcoleptic heroine from the familiar tale of Sleeping Beauty, which for those who have lived under a rock for the past 300 years is about of a fifteen year old girl who’s deathly allergic to spinning wheels and somehow manages to prick her finger on the only spindle in the entire country) narrating the tragic tale of Maleficent, a powerful fairy who cursed the infant Aurora with eternal slumber. In an attempt at Wicked-esque revisionism, she gives us a backstory on the delightfully immoral witch.

We first see Maleficent as a young buffalo-horned fairy-girl, innocent and kind in her dealings as she lives in the peaceful democratic fairy paradise that is Sweden… I mean… the Moors. She meets and falls in love with a human boy named Stefan. But Stefan is very power-hungry and ambitious and he later betrays Maleficent by cutting off her wings so he can become King of the humans.

So Maleficent, in her revenge, crashes the christening of Stefan’s newborn daughter and curses her with the whole Sleeping Beauty shtick, except in this version, Maleficent, not the third blue fairy, who adds on the whole true love’s kiss clause.

Aurora is sent to live with the three imbecilic fairies who don’t even know what babies eat and Maleficent ends up raising Aurora herself because otherwise the three fairies would have long let the child toddle right off a cliff.

Of course, Maleficent grows to love the kid but she cannot break her own curse. Her punishment on Stefan for revenge has given her no satistfaction and has harmed her even more. Aurora ends up pricking her finger on the spindle of the spinning wheel and in a move directly copied from Frozen, it ends up being Maleficent, not her dashing Bieber-like prince, who gives her the true love’s kiss that wakes the doe-eyed princess up.

Maleficent’s whole deal is that she wants to protect her people, the fairies, from the encroachment of humans. She also hates Stefan’s guts for totally breaking her heart and crippling her. She’s got a lot of hate going on and it’s very justified. Stefan, of course, has always had bad guilt about how he cut Maleficent’s wings off, but now the girl he used to love has just cursed his kid so he is totally justified to hate on Maleficent. The thing is, they both have bad faults and they both have sinned against each other. Now when I saw this movie, I was constantly expecting it to be a meditation of the corrupting darkness of revenge in the lives of two former friends. It definitely goes into that. Maleficent only becomes truly evil after she curses Aurora and Stefan really goes to the dark side when he tries to destroy the Moors to avenge his cursed daughter.

But I ended up being really unsatisfied with the ending of this movie. I had liked it a lot from the beginning to the final act, but it ended without any real redemption for Stefan. Whenever there is a story about revenge, the only way to make it satisfying is through the redemptive power of forgiveness. Maleficent never forgave Stefan and he never forgave Maleficent. They took their hate right up to a climactic tower battle in which Stefan ended up plummeting to his death because he could not forgive her. His character, which could have been as complex and multifaceted Maleficent’s, ended up falling flat (no pun intended) as just another power-hungry psychopath. I know the whole thing about this movie is role reversal, but isn’t the point of a gritty reboot from the bad guy’s perspective to show that there are no true villains? Stefan’s character in this movie was just as two dimensional as Maleficent’s in Sleeping Beauty. Power drove him crazy and he stayed crazy through the whole movie. He never got his moment to forgive Maleficent. He was never a sympathetic character.

I know that the whole theme of the Maleficent/Stefan relationship was to show them as complementary opposites, but I felt so dissatisfied seeing his broken body lying in the ruins of his castle as his former friend turned enemy looked down at him impassively. In my mind, it would have been more moving to see the two old enemies forgive each other. To me it seemed like the entire movie was aiming for them to overcome their mutual betrayals and forgive but it missed the mark. In the end, Maleficent got her revenge from Stefan, who even had the clichéd villainy to try to stab her in the back after she tried to make peace so he could die truly evil in the eyes of the audience. It’s like the whole debatable of making Greedo shoot at Han first in the original Star Wars movie to make him “more heroic”. The whole point of having anti-heroes is that their morality is not drawn on such staunch lines. Everyone has the capacity to make good and bad decisions in life. For a gritty reboot that lauds itself as seeing a story from a different perspective, Maleficent ended up drawing the lines of good and evil just as arbitrarily as the movie it was trying to make more realistic. The whole theme the movie was trying to get at was all about how unforgiveness enslaves the soul and corrupts it. The only thing that can end the endless cycle of revenge is forgiveness, but no one really forgave anyone.

What made me mad with this movie about character complexity was that by the ending, nobody but Maleficent was complex. Take the character of Aurora as the wide-eyed ingénue. The girl got whatever she wanted in life without ever lifting a finger. From her birth she was blessed by the fairies with extraordinary beauty and the literal gift (not joking) of “everybody always loving her”. Want to live in the magic fairy kingdom that no human is allowed in? Sure you can, Aurora! Here’s a hot prince who is desperately in love with you as a side!

The thing I disliked the most about Aurora was that she never made any sacrifices or had to give up what she wanted. All her life she wanted to live in magic fairy land. Since she’s never actually had to deal with a hard situation in her life, I expected the end of Maleficent to show her growing up and taking the responsibility for the human kingdom she’s just inherited via tower pushing. Since Stefan had basically oppressed the humans into oblivion, I thought the ending would show Aurora selflessly sacrificing her childish dreams of a perfect paradise to do the hard thing in the real world that is leading her flawed people who need her. Everyone is always talking about what a good person Aurora is, so why not use her caring, compassionate personality to turn around the human kingdom and make it good again?

But the thing about the ending of the movie is that after the big battle is won, we never see the human kingdom again. Aurora becomes the queen of the Moors (you know, the magical fairy democracy which made a big point in the beginning about needing no king). Yeah, she says the two kingdoms were united under her rule, but all we see is Aurora prancing around in magic fairy land, leaving the people in her actual kingdom to presumably suck it up while their queen indulges her own whims. Aurora sacrifices nothing.

Maybe I’m looking at this too deeply (and I must admit that I have a problem with psychoanalyzing fictional entertainment), but I felt like none of the themes the movie was trying to make actually came full circle. It talked about sacrifice, and betrayal, and forgiveness, and redemption, but it never really dived below the surface into what those things actually mean. The ending of Maleficent, despite being garishly happy and full of big smiles and colorful flowers, did not do it for me. It ended up not satisfying me emotionally or mentally because it did not go deep enough into what writer’s call the “human condition”. Of course, not being deep isn’t what was the problem. I like absurdness and fun just as much as anyone, but the thing about Maleficent is that it was claiming to give us depth. It wanted to be serious and hard hitting but it missed.

I’m certainly not saying you shouldn’t see the movie, though. It was good. Perhaps I, like Maleficent, ironically misjudged things. Please submit your own analysis below! Have a great day!

Man of Steel

Courtesy Legendary Pictures

Courtesy Legendary Pictures

I went and saw the new movie “Man of Steel” in theaters today. (NOTE: I may have spoilers in here so read at your own risk). Now I am a big superhero movie geek, so I am not entirely unbiased when it comes to movies like this one, but I must admit, it was really good. But even though I am a sucker for unabashed hero vs. villain throwdowns and epic explosions, I have to say, on the heels of Ms. Gwen’s talk on Saturday, this might be one of the first superhero movies that has made me think about what it really means to be a superhero. As Superman is THE superhero, he’s probably the best example to examine.

So let’s take a look the character of this movie’s incarnation of the preeminent man in blue spandex, Clark Kent. Now Clark, our Superman is an alien who has pretty much been endowed with godlike powers. He can fly into the stars, crush steel with his bare hands, shoot laserbeams out of his eyeballs, do pretty much anything. But unlike other great superheroes that have graced the box offices of America, Superman has a singular quality that makes him different. He has another ability, that many would probably not notice on first examination, what I call Super-Humility.

Take a look at any one of Superman’s actions in “Man of Steel”; all are infused with an impossible sense of modesty that is just astounding. Superman is pretty much a god but he never loses his temper and never fights back when a puny earthling slights him or insults him. There’s a scene in the movie where Clark Kent is a kid and a schoolyard bully is pushing him down on a chain-link fence and punching him. Now Clark can easily end it; he could destroy this thug with his pinky but instead he turns the other cheek and allows the kid to keep taunting him. Somehow, Superman is able to selflessly rise above all the hatred and fear thrown at him because he only wants to help people.

It doesn’t even end at Super-Humility either, Superman is also completely under authority, despite the fact that he is in all respects, completely above everyone else in everything. There’s another scene in the movie where Superman is about to confront the villain to save the world and he has a plan to stop the evil machines that are about to destroy Earth. But Superman doesn’t just take control and do it, after explaining his plan to the army general, he then asks the man’s permission to go ahead with it. To reiterate, Superman did not need the general’s permission, but he asked him first anyway because he respected the man’s authority.

Probably the most shocking example of Superman’s respect for authority is when he is younger and his adoptive father charges him not to reveal his powers because he doesn’t think the world is ready. Then a tornado is coming and his father goes back into it to rescue people and is about to be killed. Clark is about to go back and save him, which would reveal his powers, but his father looks back and tells him not to. Clark loves his father and you can see the anguish on his face but he obeys his dad and doesn’t save him. What other superhero would trust like that or obey like that.

What other person would obey their authority even when it lead to somebody’s death. Then I realized as we were driving home, Jesus did that. Jesus had godlike power and turned the other cheek. Jesus obeyed his father even when it lead to death on a cross. The Krytonians kept on saying how it was Superman’s responsibility to be an ideal that the people of Earth could look up to and I realized that Jesus was that to us. What made Superman a hero is what make the characteristics of Christ christlike: Love, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Thankfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control. Ms. Gwen’s talk suddenly took on more dimensions for me. Like she said, we are superheroes because we have those characteristics that Christ had, that superhuman ability to love even when we are confronted with hate. We have superpowers. Being in God’s spirit makes us superheroes able to fight against evil for His glory, just like Ms. Gwen said. It’s just so cool.