Saturday, March 28, 2015

StarBoy91's Theatrical Escapade - Cinderella 2015

Written: March 20th-28th, 2015
Hello everyone, StarBoy91 here; passionate about video games, big retrophile, and fan of all things 16-bit; and I would like to welcome you all to a new segment of my blog I'd like to call Theatrical Escapade in which I discuss movies that I saw that are still in theatres at this point (regardless of what genre or what the target audience is, regardless of how I feel towards it, for it's escapist entertainment).  Not sure if it's something I'll commit to since I largely talk about video games, but I want to give it my best shot.  <=)  I decided that the first movie I would talk about in this Theatrical Escapade series is the latest Disney live action incarnation of Cinderella by masterful Shakespearean director Kenneth Branagh.
In case you are wondering if you've been following my blog up to this point: yes, I cannot get enough of drawing my avatar in the banners of certain posts (it's so fun to draw and represents me well); another thing is that when I make custom banners for these posts I will give a small visual hint at my feelings towards the movie in question, whether it was a positive experience or a negative one or even somewhere down the middle.
Now before I talk about the movie I feel it's appropriate to briefly go over the Disney short that precedes it: Frozen Fever.
Image from Rotten Tomatoes
Rated: G | Aspect Ratio: 2.24:1 | Running Time: 7 Minutes | Directed by: Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
Taking place after the events of 2013's fantastic animated feature Frozen, Elsa has been planning a special birthday for her young sister Anna for some time, but just as Elsa's about to be done and decides to spend time with Anna she starts catching a cold, creating a slew of baby snowmen called Snowgies each time she sneezes which are out causing trouble, especially at the place where the party will be celebrated.
When I first read the premise behind the short (before having seen it) I admit that I was like, "Really?  Elsa the Snow Queen catches a cold?"  That scenario didn't really click with me when I read it the first time considering that ice and cold elements are her specialty, but when watching the premise in motion I thought it made sense.
I enjoyed Frozen Fever a lot, its animation and colors are great, the set up was pretty ingenious, the new song "Making Today a Perfect Day" is quite catchy, it's got the charm and wit and humor that the movie's known for, and despite being only seven minutes long watching this made me feel like I was watching Frozen once more on the big screen.  =)  The fact that all the same people involved from said movie teamed up once more for the short, including the same composer (Christophe Beck) and co-directors and voice actors (Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad), is really amazing; the quality is about on par and the tiny snowmen were cute.  I liked it tremendously, kudos Disney.  =)
Now let's talk about the new Cinderella movie, and... okay before I delve right into how I felt about it I should probably share a bit of background that led up to it.
Image from Rotten Tomatoes
Rated: PG | Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 | Running Time: 102 Minutes | Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
I wasn't familiar with the original fairy tale when I was a child, but I was introduced to the story of Cinderella through a few adaptations.  One of them was the 1950 animated version done by Disney (of course) which I remember liking a lot at the time but have not watched it in full since I was a child, and another one was an anime from Japan (dubbed) that wasn't as long as the Disney one but was still decent in its own right; and I remember thinking at the time how interesting it was that in one version Cinderella gets a silver dress and glass slippers from her fairy godmother  while in the anime Cinderella got a pink dress with gold shoes (if I remember correctly) which appeared from the branches of a sentient tree.  This was probably one of the first (if not the first) instances where I saw two different (media) takes on the same story.
I also saw the two Disney animated sequels made for TV, and I saw the 2000 Italian animated Titanic movie Titanic, mille e una storia by Camillo Teti.  I know what you're thinking: what does that have to do with Cinderella?  Come on, it's pretty obvious!  One of the subplots revolving around Angelica, a pretty young lady who's under the control of the wicked stepmother and her two daughters?  That's Cinderella!  The way that she becomes the belle of the ball once she shows up with a pretty dress and dances with her love interest?  That is Cinderella.  The way the mice get chased after by a cat and the way that the mice help Angelica?  Once again, Cinderella!  It's funny how in what was already a rip-off of a highly successful movie (James Cameron's Titanic) the people involved managed to steal--oh, I'm sorry, "borrow"--elements from The Secret of NIMH, Anastasia, An American Tail, 101 Dalmatians, and Cinderella among other things.  I saw it in Italy once when I was thirteen in 2004 when I visited relatives, and I saw it again on YouTube years ago.  Not very good, but I've seen worse, believe it or not.  XD
Okay, I promise I won't take long to get to Kenneth Branagh's adaptation, so let me wrap this up quickly.  When I saw Maleficent in theatres (which I didn't find awful personally) last year I remember one of the trailers that played before it was a teaser with a glass slipper, indicating that the next live action fairy tale would be Cinderella.  A glass slipper, yeaaah, that says a lot about what that version will be like.  =|  So for the longest time I saw no screenshots for the movie (not until a few months ago), which made me a little worried that it would not be good.  So back in January I saw Rob Marshall's adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods (which had characters from The Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Cinderella), which I personally liked for all intents and purposes (despite its flaws); but before that one started I saw it: a trailer for the new Cinderella.  It had me intrigued, but at the same time I was a little reluctantly hesitant about it.  I can't explain it, but something about the trailer made me think it was going to be a bit heavy-handed and different.  <=\
But when I heard that Kenneth Branagh's interpretation would be a traditional take on not just the 1950 animated Disney classic but the classic Charles Perrault's Cendrillon from centuries ago as well (no modern day twists like in Alice in Wonderland by Tim Burton and Maleficent), coupled with the fact that its early reviews were immensely positive, it helped ease my concern a lot and the closer it got to the release date the more I wanted to see it (and not just for Frozen Fever, but because I genuinely wanted to see for myself if Cinderella 2015 was as good as a lot of people and critics made it out to be).  So on March 16th, after work I went to watch it on the big screen with an open mind.  And I just have to say: I... wholeheartedly... LOVED... this movie!  =D  It was so brilliant, that I honestly have no idea where to start.
Image from Rotten Tomatoes
It's the story we all know and love, except that it's fully realized and brought to life, and I applaud the filmmakers for following the golden rule of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".  Ella (Lily James) has had a golden childhood with her two caring and loving parents (Ben Chaplin and Hayley Atwell), but then one day her mother dies due to ill health, but not before imparting her secret to her daughter: "have courage and be kind".  So Ella and her father keep each other happy while Ella keeps those words to heart, but when her father decides it's time to marry again Ella is okay with it; so he marries Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett), who also lost her husband, moving in with her two daughters Anastasia and Drizella (Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera respectively).
But shortly afterwards Ella's father dies, leaving her at the hands of her stepsisters and Lady Tremaine, who treat her as a servant doing pretty much every cleaning and cooking for them.  One day she's given the nickname "Cinderella" for having ashes on her face, which affects her deeply, so she rides outside where she accidentally stumbles upon a young apprentice named "Kit", not knowing that he's Prince Charming (Richard Madden).  It's there they experience love at first sight, so he invites all royal and non-royal maidens in the kingdom to the upcoming ball in the hopes to see her again, wanting to marry her for love.  Forbidden by the Tremaine family to go there, Ella is left home alone in sorrow until she's granted an opportunity to attend the ball by an unexpected encounter with her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter).
Image from Rotten Tomatoes
The movie is very well-cast, and I loved how Kenneth Branagh (and screenplay writer Chris Weitz) managed to incorporate so much depth and development to these characters from the fairy tale, including the Prince Charming who's nicknamed "Kit".  I liked all the cast, actually, but there are some standouts; primarily Cate Blanchett's Lady Tremaine, who has a lot of fun playing Ella's wicked stepmother (without going too over the top) that she's almost worth the price of admission alone; plus, she's got a classy fashion choice.  Then there's Richard Madden who plays Ella's one true love, Kit, who's very likable and you can believe that he's enamored with her.  There is also Helena Bonham Carter who plays the Fairy Godmother, and she was one of the highlights of a movie that already was utterly satisfying to watch, for she's quirky, funny, and beautiful in her look and mannerisms (and she's only in it for one scene).  =)
Finally there's the title character herself, and--with all apologies to Drew Berrymore, Brandy, Anna Kendrick, and all the other actresses who played (or voiced) as her--Lily James is the perfect embodiment of Cinderella.  =)  She's nice, she's kind towards others, she's independent, she's strong, and she's humble as well; all of which makes her very appealing and charming.  James does a really good job at bringing the character to life that she becomes her own, and she looks divine when she wears the blue dress at the ball.  Her scenes with Kit are charming and amiable, and even though "love at first sight" is not a very easy scene to accomplish, James and Madden managed it perfectly in their first scene together and it feels genuine.
Image from Rotten Tomatoes
Cinderella 2015 is such a beautiful-looking movie to look at as well, for Branagh knows how to incorporate colors and visuals when it comes to his movies.  For example, during the ballroom scene the halls are golden and everyone is dressed in a multitude of colors, but the greatest contrast comes when Ella arrives with her blue dress (which glows radiantly), and it is a magnificently breathtaking and fun scene as well when they start dancing.  There is a bit of CG, but it's not overused and is solely limited to the anthropomorphic mice whenever the movie cuts to them and the transformation scene--which is a good thing because too much of it would've been distracting.  And the transformation scene, oh my God!  The transformation scene for when Ella's dress going from pink to blue as she's spinning around is an incredible feast for the eyes.  It's magical in every sense of the word.  =)
The set designs are also breathtaking to behold, whether it be the outskirts of town, the elegant castle interiors, or even the woods in one brief scene.  Haris Zambarloukos knows what it takes to make effective shots with his succinct cinematography, and he's got a good eye for great angles (such as the ballroom scene, and the scene where Lady Tremaine confronts Ella about the glass slipper).
Image from Rotten Tomatoes
Another highlight of the movie, for me personally, is Patrick Doyle's incredible score, which helps augment the story's sense of magic and wonder; plus the songs are emotionally driven they make their respective scenes work.  Some of my favorite cues are the themes for Ella and Kit, the music when Ella makes her entrance at the ball, and the music for the transformation by itself is enough to take my breath away.  During the credits are a few renditions of songs from the 1950 Disney classic, including a new song called "Strong" by Sonna Rele which is so inspiring that I feel it's a great way of bookending the film.
Image from Rotten Tomatoes
Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella is a sweet and charming delight to watch from beginning to end, and even though it's a pure fairy tale and opts for a more traditional take in this age of revisionism it's better off for it.  The moral of the story of being kind and having courage, and the story itself, has got a timeless appeal that simply makes it enchanting.  It also helps that the movie is beautiful, not just for its array of colors and cinematography, but in the way the story was handled and for giving many of its characters three-dimensional treatment that make them easy to relate to.  In making the story come to life none of the magic was lost, and it's clear how much influence the original Disney animated classic had on this movie.  This is live action Disney done right.  =)
This is a movie I loved a lot and it's one of those near-perfect movies for me personally; I honestly don't have anything bad to say about it.  Cinderella 2015 is feel-good entertainment, and I highly recommend giving it a watch.  If you have any concerns based solely on the way revisionist takes on Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent were handled (as well as Universal's Snow White and the Huntsman), you don't have to worry about any of that here because its old-fashioned and traditional in its execution and it is highly refreshing.  =)  And even though I enjoyed it tremendously I can understand why some wouldn't, and some may have seen it just because Frozen Fever precedes it, which is too bad because it really is great.
My Personal Score: 5/5
Judging by how good Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella turned out, it makes me eager to see the live action treatment which will be given to Beauty and the Beast with Emma Watson in a couple years' time.  =)  All I ask is that Luke Evans keep his facial hair when playing Gaston (no, seriously, he looks weird without it, in my opinion).
Stay tuned for my next Theatrical Escapade post as I talk about The Divergent Series: Insurgent, which I didn't feel was anywhere near as good as this film........... or its predecessor, rather......  O~0  Stay tuned!
I want to thank you for reading my honest Theatrical Escapade thoughts on this movie, so please leave me a comment and let me know whether you agree with me or not.  Until next time, I'm StarBoy91, and may your day shine brightly!  =)
<(^o^)^TO EACH THEIR OWN^(^o^)>

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