Haha so I just got to see the new Frozen short today, along with Disney’s new live-action, Cinderella, which I gave a chance since critics seemed to dig it. Here’s what I thought of both.
The premise of Frozen Fever is pretty simple: Elsa gets “sick” but is trying to throw Anna an awesome birthday party. The whole cast is back: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, and Josh Gad all reprising their beloved roles as Anna, Elsa, and Olaf. And that’s really important because Frozen Fever relies more so on its well-established characters than story to fill up its albeit limited running time with gags and laughs. It’s cute and fun, but lacks the real emotional punch of the better Pixar shorts, and even from the Frozen movie itself. This isn’t to say Disney is incapable of making great shorts, as demonstrated by Feast which preceded Big Hero 6 and fan favorite Paperman. It’s just to say that returning directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee aimed more for entertainment than emotion, which is completely fine by me in a short.
As it was an integral piece of the puzzle for Frozen’s unsuspecting success back in 2013, music plays a big role in moving Frozen Fever along at a brisk pace, replacing most of the character’s dialogue. The song, “Making Today a Perfect Day,” starts off really good, reminding me of a deleted Frozen song, “Life’s Too Short.” It’s reference to the mega-hit song, Let It Go, is absolutely hilarious, and garnered universal laughs at the theater I saw it in. However, it gets a little too goofy for my personal liking as the song goes on, with the lyrics becoming pretty uncreative by the end of it.
Still, I enjoyed revisiting all the characters I got to know and love in Frozen. Now that I got my dosage of grown-up Anna and Elsa actually being friends, I am kind of excited for Frozen 2, which has gone official as of only a few days ago I believe. I wasn’t sure how their friendship was going to affect the complexity of their relationship, but I liked how their friendship played out on the big screen. A sequel would probably test their relationship somehow, but I’d much rather see it not get broken up and focus on something else like Anna’s relationship with Kristoff. I’d even be down for a sequel providing Elsa with a love interest. It sounds like I really want a rom-com, don’t I?
But for real, the fact that this sequel gets me pumped for Frozen 2 is probably all the directors could ask for. I wouldn’t say it’s worth the price of admission alone, but the movie that plays along with Frozen Fever is actually not bad.
After I saw the mess that was Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland, I essentially gave up hope on the Disney live-actions of their animated classics. I didn’t see Maleficent, for example. Thing didn’t change when I saw the Cinderella trailers, and I became only more deflated about the whole enterprise after hearing Emma Watson landed the role of Belle in Disney’s scheduled live-action version of Beauty and the Beauty (oh, wait, people actually like this casting choice? more on this later…). From the trailers, it looked like Cinderella was going to use a darker, duller color palette, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The film is gorgeously and vibrantly shot. Only for the ball does it darken its palette, which makes sense since it occurs at nighttime.
I thought the CGI mice were going to be absolutely laughable, but they turned out to be rather cute and distinctive. The little squeaks and mumbles they deliver is surprisingly enough to convey what they have to say. Still, less CGI could have been used, as some of the effects looked pretty fake to me, and even unnecessary.
I think what I really admired about this live-action adaption is how squarely it looked at the animated version and remained truthful to it. Even if some of the plot elements are silly now, director Kenneth Branagh doesn’t flinch to present the events as it was done by Walt Disney himself back in 1950. It’s extremely respectful to the source material, which makes it easier to forgive the occasional cheesy scene here and there.
Also, there’s a real sense that Branagh studied a lot of Disney prior to filming this. The rose garden the prince shows off to Cinderella reminded me a lot of the imagery to be found in Alice in Wonderland with the Queen of Hearts’ palace, and the blue dress Cinderella wears (which is NOT the silver one cartoon Cinderella wore to the ball) really reminded me of Belle’s outfit, which sticks out against the largely yellow, brown, and green color scheme of everything else. That dress Lily James wears while playing Cinderella is really stunning, by the way. Deserves a lot of credit from the costumes team.
This isn’t to say that Branagh’s version of Cinderella hasn’t made a few modernist touches, the likes of Frozen or Tangled where the female heroine is made stronger and where the love and first sight mentality is slanted. Most of these changes were justified, and actually made the film a bit deeper and sophisticated than Walt Disney’s film. The prince, for example, has a name, and Cinderella actually meets him prior to the ball; all changes that helped the screenplay out.
Still, this version didn’t manage to fully capture what I loved about the animated one. This one is a bit blunt about the whole message of its story (even for children) while Walt Disney’s was more implied. Disney’s was more dramatic as opposed to explicit, allowing scenes to swell up in emotion without the distraction of words. And the songs that made it a musical was not an accessory, but rather, necessary. And it shows in Branagh’s version. In fact, the few instances of singing utilized in Branagh’s Cinderella was actually really effective and even lovely, and made me wonder why there wasn’t more of it. Disney’s live-action version of Cinderella isn’t better than the animated classic.
But I’d be lying if I wasn’t sympathetic about it. You can tell the team Disney put together for this tried really hard. And it darn near succeeded in making a thoroughly enjoyable live-action fairytale adaptation. And that gives me confidence in Disney’s upcoming live-action Beauty and the Beast, my favorite animated movie of all time. If only Emma Watson wasn’t set out to play Belle.
I’m probably going to get a lot of hate for saying this, but when has that ever stopped me? Disney casted Emma Watson to play Belle only because people love Emma Watson. In other words, it’s a marketing move. People think she’s beautiful, so duh, why not cast her as Belle, am I right?
EXCEPT THAT SHE CAN’T SING! Okay, it’s not like she CAN’T sing, but she’s not a professional! She’s never done it in a movie before, unless you count the little bit in Noah. And from my limited research on her, she has NO theater experience. Zero. Paige O’Hara was rocking the Broadway stage for more than 5 years prior to auditioning for the role of Belle. She auditioned against 500 of the best and brightest singers in New York. Is Disney telling us that Emma Watson is the best actress/singer they could find?!?
No. I don’t believe it. There’s only one explanation to me: money. They want to make money, and they believe Emma will bring the star power necessary for the film to succeed financially. Right off the bat, they are telling me that they don’t care about the art, but only the product. Beauty and the Beast is a flat-out musical. Alan Menken will tell you that. Howard Ashman, if he could rise from the grave, will tell you that. This casting choice tells me that Disney doesn’t understand why we loved Beauty and the Beast in the first place.
But hey, at least they are making the live-action Beauty and the Beast a musical. And if Emma can provide the vocals, then I think this one actually has a chance of being the movie Branagh’s Cinderella was trying to be: a proper live-action adaptation of a Disney animated classic. More singing Disney! I want more singing.
Final Grade: C+ (79%)–Visually rivals the animated classic, but fails to fully function outside the musical format.