Aladdin Review

Aladdin

When Aladdin was released in 1992, it arrived at the height of the Disney Renaissance. Coming off the heels of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin was, for a time, the most successful animated film ever. It remains one of Disney’s most popular movies. But while Aladdin may have introduced audiences to one of Disney’s best characters, I’m afraid time has revealed the movie to be a bit of a one trick pony.

Aladdin sees its titular hero (Scott Weinger), a peasant of the streets of Agrabah, cross paths with Princess Jasmine (Linda Larkin), who has fled the palace for the day to avoid any more pompous suitors. Before their romance can blossom, they are separated by the forces of Agrabah’s corrupt Grand Vizier Jafar (Jonathan Freeman).Aladdin

Jafar plans on taking over Agrabah, and seeks the aid of a magic lamp, with which he can summon a powerful genie to grant his wishes. The lamp is located in an ancient chamber known as the Cave of Wonders, which is cursed to all but the “Diamond in the Rough.” It turns out Aladdin is this Diamond in the Rough. Aladdin finds the lamp and, hoping to reunite with Jasmine, frees the Genie (Robin Williams). And that’s when the fun begins.

AladdinThe Genie was a revelation of a character. He’s a non-stop barrage of visual gags and ad-libbed one-liners. Robin Williams’ performance was so full of energy that the animators must have had some trouble trying to create visuals that could keep up with it. But the end results couldn’t have been better. The Genie is still one of Disney’s best characters: his vocal performance is a thing of utter hilarity, and his supernatural qualities (as well as Williams’ improvisations) allowed for the character to break the fourth wall, impersonate celebrities, make references to (and even poke fun of) other Disney films, and provide a visual energy that Disney has rarely matched since.

It’s a shame then, that the rest of Aladdin simply can’t keep up. The movie does have good intentions, with a sweet message about being honest and true to yourself (Aladdin uses his first wish to become a prince, only for it to blow up in his face later), and the songs are memorable. But aside from that wonderful Genie, the rest of the characters are a bit bland, the and the story doesn’t match up to some of Disney’s better films.

AladdinAladdin himself is a cookie cutter hero. His character lacks any standout traits, and he more or less is just filling out the ‘main character’ position. Jasmine is equally uninteresting. She at least has a more standout character design, but her personality doesn’t differ much from any other princess character. The relationship between the two never comes off as anything more than your standard “poor guy meets rich girl” setup, with the exception of the film’s signature song. Even Jafar, who has since become one of the more iconic Disney villains, can kind of feel like a stand-in villain. He’s just here because the movie needs a bad guy.

But about those songs. Aladdin features a pretty great soundtrack, even if it never quite matches up to Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast. The previously mentioned signature song, “A Whole New World” is one of Disney’s better duets, and provides a moment of beauty in a film that otherwise relies on the laughs. “One Jump Ahead” serves as a basic but catchy introductory song for Aladdin’s character. “Prince Ali” is sung primarily by Williams’ Genie, and is appropriately one of Disney’s liveliest songs. But it’s Genie’s iconic number “Friend Like Me” that truly brings the house down.

The movie is also a visual delight, as it well utilizes its Arabian setting to provide an Earthy color scheme, only for things to burst with colors every time Genie’s antics take place. The characters are all well animated, and showcase both Disney’s expertise with the craft as well as their production values.Aladdin

Aladdin is an entertaining movie thanks to the catchy soundtrack and, of course, the irreplaceable Genie, who keep the whole thing afloat. But whenever there’s a break in between songs and Genie isn’t providing the laughs, I’m afraid Aladdin can be more than a little bland. Genie may be one of the Disney brand’s greatest creations, but take him out of the equation and Aladdin would be downright forgettable.

 

7

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Beauty and the Beast Review

Beauty and the Beast

Few Disney films are as beloved as Beauty and the Beast. Originally released in 1991, Beauty and the Beast polished the format laid down by The Little Mermaid to its peak, and it is often recognized as the best film from the Disney Renaissance era. In all the years since its release, Beauty and the Beast hasn’t lost a step. It remains one of the studio’s finest achievements.

Beauty and the Beast tells the story of Belle (Paige O’Hara), a young woman known throughout the village for her beauty, as well as her “peculiar” behavior (such as her fascination with books and fairy tales). After her father is kidnapped by the titular Beast (Robby Benson), she takes her father’s place as a prisoner in the Beast’s castle in exchange for her father’s freedom. But what starts off as a noble sacrifice becomes the story of romance and transformation.

The Beast was not always so beastly, at least not in physical appearance. He was once a handsome prince, but he and his castle were cursed by a mysterious enchantress as punishment for the prince’s unkindness. He became the Beast, and the staff of his castle were changed as well (though into more charming forms), the only hope of breaking the curse is for the Beast to learn to love another, and to earn their love in return.

It’s one of Disney’s best stories, and one of the few from the studio that emphasizes character as well as plot. The relationship between Belle and the Beast is a far more fleshed out romance than most of those found in Disney features. The movie takes the time to develop the main characters, so the film’s core relationship – despite being a fairy tale romance – feels believable.Beauty and the Beast

Belle is one of Disney’s stronger heroines, displaying a sense of independence that outshines any of her predecessors, while the Beast is far more interesting than any Prince Charming for being a tormented, and often antagonistic character.

They are joined by a parade of some of Disney’s most endearing sidekick characters: Lumiere the candlestick (Jerry Orbach) is romantic and rebellious, Cogsworth the clock (David Ogden Stiers) is pretentious and uptight, and Mrs. Potts the teapot (Angela Lansbury) is kindhearted and nurturing. There’s also Chip (Bradley Pierce) a teacup and Mrs. Potts’ son, as well as Belle’s father Maurice (Rex Everhart), a cooky and eccentric inventor.Beauty and the Beast

Along with the memorable heroes is an equally memorable villain in Gaston (Richard White), a man from Belle’s village who is beloved by the townspeople for his good looks, despite his ugly personality. Gaston is one of the more underrated Disney villains, showing a greater range of character than most of the baddies in the Disney canon. Gaston starts off as little more than a buffoonish oaf and a nuisance, trying to win Belle’s hand in marriage simply for her beauty, but by the third act, vanity and jealousy turn him into a monster.

Beauty and the BeastBeauty and the Beast boasts one of Disney’s best casts of characters. The main characters having a bit more to them than most Disney heroes, the sidekicks are all funny and charming (not to mention they actually have an integral role in the plot, and are never distracting from it), and its villain proves to be just as entertaining. Of course, it’s the songs that bring out the best of Beauty and the Beast’s story and characters.

The soundtrack to Beauty and the Beast has long-since become iconic. Its self-titled theme song – sung by Angela Lansbury’s Mrs. Potts – being hauntingly beautiful. “Be Our Guest” is among the most fun and smile-inducing Disney songs. “Belle” serves as one of the best ‘introductory songs’ in the studio’s history. And few Disney songs come close to the hilarity of “Gaston,” in which its titular villain and his sycophants sing of his manly accomplishments.

The animation, while maybe not quite matching up to the later Disney Renaissance films, remains colorful and full of detail. This is especially true during the aforementioned musical numbers, which gave a whole new life to Disney features. There are some small instances during close-up shots where the animation isn’t always so consistent, but on the whole Beauty and the Beast is still a lovely film.

The character designs are still some of Disney’s best. Belle is an appropriate beauty, while the Beast couldn’t look more beastly if he were live-action or rendered through a computer. The supporting cast all boast simple, charming designs, while Gaston is a walking parody of masculinity. Beauty and the Beast

The Little Mermaid began the Broadway musical-style of Disney songs and storytelling, but with Beauty and the Beast, Disney perfected their craft. It would remain unmatched in the Disney canon until Frozen was released over two decades later. Beauty and the Beast was, and is, one of Disney’s most entertaining, romantic and magical animated features.

 

9

The Rescuers Down Under Review

Rescuers Down Under

The Rescuers Down Under is often seen as the ‘forgotten’ film of the Disney Renaissance. Released in between fan favorites The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, The Rescuers Down Under had the unfortunate honor of being the bridge from one beloved classic to another. While The Rescuers Down Under does have some merits to boast, its status of being in the shadow of its predecessor and successor isn’t entirely unfair. In the end, it’s just not as memorable as Disney’s other offerings of the time.

The Rescuers Down Under does have the distinction of being the first ‘true’ Disney sequel, and one of the select few sequels that are considered part of Disney’s official canon of animated films, being a sequel to the 1977 film The Rescuers. At the time of Down Under’s production, The Rescuers was the last hit Disney had made, so a sequel was seen as a means to get the studio back on track. Little did they know that The Little Mermaid – which was in production at the same time as Down Under – would be the movie that revitalized the Disney brand. The Rescuers Down Under ended up being an honest effort, but a misdirected one.

The story revolves around an Australian boy named Cody, who befriends a rare golden eagle named Marahute, after saving the bird from a poacher’s trap. Said poacher, who goes by the name McLeach, then kidnaps the boy as to find out the eagle’s whereabouts.Rescuers Down Under

The animals of the outback then send a message to the Rescue Aid Society (the organization of international mice from the first film), who recruit returning heroes Bernard (Bob Newhart) and Miss Bianca (Eva Gabor) for the rescue mission to save Cody. Along the way, Bernard continuously tries to work up the courage to propose to Miss Bianca.

It’s a simple enough setup, but the stories never quite mesh together. The Rescuers themselves aren’t even introduced until after a good chunk of the movie has passed, and when they do show up, they don’t seem nearly as important as Cody or any of his animal friends. It almost feels like the Rescuers were shoehorned into an entirely different movie, forcing an otherwise unrelated film to become a sequel.

Just the same, the storylines involving the Rescuers seem underdeveloped as they get lost to the bigger story. Bernard and Bianca’s relationship never gets the attention it needs. A kangaroo mouse named Jake even joins the duo in the outback, seemingly setting up a possible rival for Bernard over Bianca’s affections, but nothing really comes of it.

There is one charming sidekick character in Wilbur the Albatross (John Candy), who serves as the Rescuers’ transport to Australia, but he gets stuck in an unnecessary subplot involving a back injury that only serves to further distract the story. This is a shame, since a Disney character voiced by John Candy could have been gold if used properly.Rescuers Down Under

There are additional sidekicks with the various animals McLeach has kidnapped, who also try to help Cody escape, but they lack the humor and charm needed to make them memorable. This is echoed by the movie itself, as these animal characters seem forgotten by the plot as quickly as they’re introduced.

Cody may not be the most memorable character either, but he’s capable enough to not detract from the film. McLeach is also pretty forgettable, which is all the greater of an offense when you realize he’s one of the few Disney villains who can be described as such. Disney usually excels at creating villains you love to hate, but McLeach is the kind of mustache-twirler you boo solely on principle. He’s neither evil or entertaining enough to give him any real sense of presence.

By now this all seems largely dismissive, but The Rescuers Down Under does have its qualities. The animation is a delight, boasting a richness in detail and motion that proudly displays Disney’s production values. The action sequences are also well executed, with the flying scenes with Cody and Marahute in particular holding up to those of today’s animated films, which always seem to be trying to ‘out-flying sequence’ each other.Rescuers Down Under

As a whole, The Rescuers Down Under is one of Disney’s lesser animated features, and certainly the weakest of the Disney Renaissance era. Its animation may be top notch, and its action scenes well paced, but its characters lack the endearing qualities we associate with the Disney brand, and its story is never quite sure what to do with itself. It includes bits and pieces of a sequel that are seemingly forcing themselves into another movie, which only hurts both of its halves.

As a sequel to The Rescuers and as its own movie, The Rescuers Down Under is too unfocused to soar alongside Marahute.

 

5

The Little Mermaid Review

The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid is one of the most beloved of all Disney movies. Released in 1989, The Little Mermaid breathed new life into the Disney brand, creating the broadway musical-style Disney movies we still see today, as well as kickstarting the Disney Renaissance – a period that saw one Disney hit after another – that continued throughout the 1990s. In terms of pure entertainment value, The Little Mermaid remains a highlight in the Disney canon. In regards to its message and narrative, however, I’m afraid that The Little Mermaid shows a bit of age.

 

We all know the story by this point: the titular Mermaid Ariel (Jodi Benson) is the daughter of King Triton. Ariel is too free-spirited and rambunctious to be confined to the sea, she dreams of seeing the world above the waves. She finds the human world to be a more fascinating place, collecting so many human trinkets that she needs a treasure trove to store them all.The Little Mermaid

Ariel ends up saving the life of a human, Prince Eric, and she immediately falls in love with him. The sea witch Ursula (Pat Carrol) has the power to grant Ariel’s wish to live on land with Prince Eric, but at the cost of the mermaid’s beautiful voice. But Ursula has ulterior motives, and plans on using Ariel to get revenge on King Triton.

The Little Mermaid features some of Disney’s most memorable characters. Ariel is one of the stronger Disney heroines, showing a sense of ambition and drive that her predecessors such as Snow White never did, and Ursula is one of Disney’s most iconic villains with reason. She’s effectively scary and equally charismatic, making her a villain you love to hate.

Ariel’s sidekicks include Sebastion, a charming crab who serves as Ariel’s perpetually nervous caretaker, and Flounder, a fish who fills the ‘little buddy’ role better than most. There’s also Scuttle the seagull, who gives Ariel information on her human trinkets with less-than accurate knowledge.Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid boasts an appealing cast of characters, but its main stars might just be the musical numbers. Most Disney animated films have songs in them, but The Little Mermaid is one of the few (along the likes of Beauty and the Beast and Frozen) where the songs feel so integral to the narrative that it can truly be labelled a musical.

The movie’s centerpiece song, “Part of Your World” remains one of the most beloved of Disney songs, and the Oscar-winning “Under the Sea” is still one of the most fun. While the other featured numbers may not be as iconic, they are nonetheless just as entertaining (Ursula’s musical number “Poor Unfortunate Souls” is an underrated highlight).

On top of it all, the animation is lively and colorful, and expresses such quality that it’s hard to believe the movie was made during one of Disney’s rougher periods. There were no cut corners in bringing Ariel to life.

However, as entertaining as the film still is, there are elements in the story that haven’t aged so gracefully. The major drawback to the film is, strangely enough, Ariel’s infatuation with Prince Eric. As sweet and well meaning as the film is, the love story at the heart of it all feels a bit naive. That is, when it isn’t outright eye-rolling.

The problem is that Ariel, who on one hand was Disney’s first attempt to make their female characters interesting, basically falls head over heels (pardon, fins) for Prince Eric based solely on the fact that he’s the most attractive human she encounters. Before he even knows she exists, Ariel is ready to leave behind her life and family just because, well, he’s hot.The Little Mermaid

Sure, Eric ends up being a nice enough guy. In fact, he may be a little too perfect for his (or more accurately, his movie’s) own good. Prince Eric is, unquestionably, the most boring and bland character in the movie. Granted, he never needed to be as interesting as Ariel or as fun as Sebastion, but Eric’s cardboard personality only make Ariel’s infatuation with him seem all the more questionable. The Little Mermaid was supposed to be a sweet and timeless love story, but Ariel’s “love” for Prince Eric more often than not comes off as little more than a juvenile crush.

Perhaps The Little Mermaid isn’t the most meaningful Disney movie then. But it still is one of Disney’s most fun offerings. Aside from Prince Eric, the characters are memorable, the animation is lovely and the soundtrack remains one of Disney’s best. Its idea of love may be misguided and outdated, but in terms of sheer entertainment value, The Little Mermaid holds up. Swimmingly.

 

8

 

Animated Films That Won Live-Action Movie Awards

Since the early 2000s,  more and more film award shows and committees have been introducing awards for animated films. The Oscars now have the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, an award which was later replicated by the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs and the Japan Academy Prize (Japanese Academy Awards). The up side to this is that it finally gives these award shows the opportunity to acknowledge animated features, which have been notoriously ignored in the past. The downside is that these awards often come as something of a token, as animated films are rarely even nominated for any other awards on these shows (lest they be for music or songs), despite whatever critical acclaim and admiration these animated films have received.

But every once in a while, the people behind some of these awards manage to overcome their biases, and there are some animated films that have actually won Best Picture awards and the like from some award presentations. I’ve given up hoping that the Oscars will some day crown an animated film with their top prize – considering only three animated films have ever been nominated for it (already a bit iffy), and that none of them were taken seriously as contenders – but that doesn’t mean others haven’t acknowledged the merits and timeless appeal of animated movies.

The following is a short list of some of the animated films that proved they could not only go toe-to-toe with live-action films at award shows, but even overcome their competition. Keep in mind that this is merely a short list of examples. I’m mainly focusing on the animated films that won the big awards at more prominent award shows, so there are probably a few others I’m missing. I’m also not including various critic awards, since it’s been long-established that critics enjoy animated films just fine, but award committees are tougher to win over.

So without further rambling, here are some of the exceptional animated films that overcame the odds, and won Best Picture awards that are usually reserved for live-action films.

 

My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

My Neighbor Totoro

Won: Mainichi Film Award for Best Film

Hayao Miyazaki’s tale about two girls who meet a magical forest spirit is one of the most beloved Japanese films of all time. It is also the earliest animated film I can think of that nabbed a Best Picture award over live-action competition, winning the Mainichi Film Award for Best Film. What makes this win all the more notable is that the Mainichi Film Awards already had a long-established animation award (they now have two, the older of which now going to smaller features and the newer going to big budget animations). Totoro won their animation award, and then went on to win the big prize as well. Well deserved.

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Beauty and the Beast

Won: Golden Globe Award for Best Picture – Musical or Comedy

While Disney’s Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, it became the first animated film to win the big prize at the Golden Globes. Beauty and the Beast remains one of Disney’s most charming features, and with a wonderful soundtrack to boot. How could it not win the musical category?

The Lion King (1994)

The Lion King

Won: Golden Globe Award for Best Picture – Musical or Comedy

I may not be the biggest fan of The Lion King, but no doubt the film has a very strong appeal to many viewers, as is evidenced by its repeating of Beauty and the Beast’s win for the Golden Globe Award for Best Picture. It was the highest-grossing animated film ever at the time, and its Golden Globe win only capped off its success.

Princess Mononoke (1997)

Princess Mononoke

Won: Japanese Academy Award for Best Picture, Mainichi Film Award for Best Film

Hayao Miyazaki once again created magic when he released Princess Mononoke in 1997, which briefly became the highest-grossing film in Japan’s history (it still ranks in the top 10). It also became the first animated film to be nominated for and win Best Picture at the Japanese Academy Awards. It then became the second animated film to win the Mainichi Film Award’s top honor (also claiming its animation award). Princess Mononoke was a landmark animated film at the box office and in acclaim.

Toy Story 2 (1999)

Toy Story 2

Won: Golden Globe Award for Best Picture – Musical or Comedy

The third animated film to win the Golden Globe for Best Picture is also, sadly, the last. Shrek, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles would all get nominations, but after the Golden Globes established their Best Animated Feature category, their rules state that any films nominated in the animation category are ineligible for either of the Best Picture awards (the least they could have done was named the newer award “Best Picture – Animated“). But at least this trend went out on a high note, as Toy Story 2 is one of Pixar’s best.

Spirited Away (2001)

Spirited Away

Won: Japanese Academy Award for Best Picture, Mainichi Film Award for Best Film, Berlin Film Festival’s ‘Golden Bear Award’ for Best Film

Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece, Spirited Away, remains the highest-grossing film in Japanese history to this day. It also became the second animated film to be nominated for and win Best Picture at the Japanese Academy Awards (sadly, since the inception of the Japan Academy Prize’s Animation Award a few years later, no other animated film has been nominated for Best Picture).

Spirited Away followed suit with Totoro and Mononoke by winning the Mainichi Film Award for Best Film (where it also won the Animation Award, Best Director for Miyazaki, and Best Music for Joe Hisaishi). Spirited Away also became the first (and only) animated film to win the big prize at the Berlin International Film Festival. This string of awards would culminate with the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, giving that award some depth and credibility in its early days.

When it comes to animated films winning live-action movie awards, Spirited Away is the big dog in this league of animated all-stars.

Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

Wallace and Gromit

Won: BAFTA for Best British Film

Given the huge popularity of the Wallace and Gromit characters, it still comes as a surprise to some that the duo have only starred in a small handful of short films and one feature film. But that one feature film is the only animated movie to win the BAFTA award for Best British Film. Not bad for an absentminded inventor and his mute dog.

Frozen (2013)

Frozen

Won: Japanese Academy Award for Best Foreign Film

Frozen has taken over the world (and rightfully so, it’s so lovable), becoming the most successful animated film ever made, and winning numerous awards for Animated Features and for its music. But Frozen’s impact has undoubtedly been biggest in Japan, where it ranks as one of the country’s highest-grossing movies (it was the first film since Spirited Away that actually contested Miyazaki’s box office champ). It broke all home video records in Japan (overtaking Spirited Away in this instance), and it has etched its way into Japanese popular culture. It shouldn’t be too surprising then that it also became the first animated film to win the Japanese Academy Award for Best Foreign Film (previously, Toy Story 3 was the only other animated nominee in the award’s history).

The Oscars apparently couldn’t get over themselves and give Frozen a Best Picture mention, but the Japanese Academy Awards made up for it by acknowledging the film’s unprecedented appeal.

The Good and Bad of Disney’s Live Action Cinderella

Cinderella

Disney’s live-action version of Cinderella is a bit of a mixed bag. Sure, it could be a whole lot worse than it is, but it also could be a whole lot better. It’s inoffensive, but it doesn’t exactly justify Disney’s recent obsession with turning their animated back catalogue into live-action films. So here’s a brief lists of the things I think worked for the new Cinderella, and the things that didn’t work.

 

The Good

It Means Well

While a straight up adaptation of Cinderella may seem a tad superfluous, seeing as Disney’s animated version is already synonymous with the House of Mouse, you have to appreciate that the live-action Cinderella isn’t trying to make the story into something “cool” or “edgy” to try to appeal to today’s audiences. It’s not trying to be hip or sexy. It’s just Cinderella. In this day and age, that’s kind of relieving.

 

It’s Better than Maleficent

Disney’s last attempt at turning one of their animated films into a live-action feature, Maleficent, was a bit of a mess. There wasn’t a single plot twist that didn’t feel both predictable and forced. It never knew whether it wanted to be a charming Disney movie or something (*cue Napoleon Dynamite-style groan*) darker and edgier. And its core relationship between Maleficent and Aurora never quite worked.

Cinderella, although lacking in surprises, at least knows what it’s going for. It may be the same story of Cinderella we all know, but I’ll take that over the clunkiness (and garish visuals) of Maleficent.

 

A Dash of Ethnic Diversity

Cinderella doesn’t aim for a whole lot of modernization, but it does have at least one respectably modern aspect about it. The movie acknowledges some diversity in the people of Cinderella’s kingdom without ever forcibly pointing it out, making it feel like a kind of idealized fairy tale world. However, there are still some areas that could have definitely benefitted from some modernization. More on that in a moment…

 

Cate Blanchett

CinderellaThank God for Cate Blanchett, who steals every last scene she’s in as Lady Tremaine (AKA the Wicked Stepmother). She commands every last scene she’s in. It doesn’t matter that her character is ridiculously antagonistic, Cate Blanchett makes Lady Tremaine interesting based on performance alone. Even when the film is at its shakiest, Cate Blanchett helps liven things up.

 

Frozen Fever!

Frozen FeverAww yeah! Frozen! Woo! Seriously, we all know the short film Frozen Fever is the primary reason Cinderella has done so well at the box office. People can’t get enough of their Frozen fix (self most especially included), and even seven minutes back in Arendelle is worth the ticket price.

 

 

The Bad

Cinderella Herself

CinderellaFirst thing’s first, I like Lily James as Cinderella. She’s charming. But although she fits the part, the part in question is still stuck in a very backwards role. I mentioned that the film makes some modernizations in ethnic diversity, yet no such improvements are even attempted on Cinderella herself.

Cinderella is still the same helpless mope she always was, if not more so. As a child, her parents teach her to “be kind and courageous.” Good advice, except once Cinderella ends up in the household of Lady Tremaine and her new, wicked stepsisters, she interprets her parents’ words as “let cruel and vindictive people walk all over you and never stand up for yourself.” There’s a great deal of difference between being kindhearted and being a pushover.

It doesn’t help that Cinderella is never given any real defining qualities other than her longing for a better life. It never seems to don on her that maybe she can be the one to make her life better. When the day is finally saved not by the heroine, but by a group of CG mice, I think it’s a sign that Cinderella needs to stop being such a sad sack. She could learn a great deal from those two sisters from Arendelle.

 

Character Backstories That Don’t Go Anywhere

Again, you have to applaud the effort. This Cinderella does give a couple of attempts at fleshing out some of the main characters by giving them more detailed backstories. The problem is that these backstories are all kind of forced into the movie through monologues, and the story never benefits from them. Lady Tremaine gives one such monologue, and although the delivery is great, it ends up going nowhere. Sure, it tries to make Tremaine a more sympathetic character (though it’s pretty hard to sympathize with someone so unreasonably cruel), but it ultimately doesn’t change her character, or her relationship with Cinderella. Again, at least the movie tried to add some interest to the characters, but I suppose these things are easier said (through monologues) than done.

 

 The Underutilized Fairy Godmother

CinderellaI actually enjoyed Helena Bonham Carter’s take on the Fairy Godmother. The character seemed like she knew her role as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, but she got sidetracked on her way into the story, and kind of goes through the motions to make up for lost time. It’s a fun take on the character…for about two minutes, then she never shows up again. Granted, I wouldn’t want her to just magically get Cinderella out of all her jams (I’m looking your way, Blue Fairy from Pinocchio), but she’s a fun character who disappears all too quickly.

 

The Sidekicks Just Don’t Work

I don’t know if it’s the CG, or if it’s merely a result of the story’s transition to live-action, but the sidekicks never won me over. The mice may be cute, but something about them just comes off as sidetracking. Without the cartoonish personalities found in the animated version, they just kind of take up time. The same goes for the goose-turned-coachman and the lizards-turned-footmen (the former being charmless and the latter unnerving). The sidekicks are one aspect of the animated version that simply don’t translate in this live-action adaptation.

 

 

So Cinderella has its share of problems, but at least it has some good points as well. I’m still not onboard the whole Disney animation-turned live-action train, but at the very least Cinderella proves that, even with its missteps, this subcategory of Disney flicks isn’t entirely hopeless.

Why Frozen 2 Must Deliver the Goods

*Caution: Some spoilers ahead!*

Frozen

Frozen 2 has officially been announced to be in the early planning stages by Walt Disney Animation Studios. While animated sequels come in by the droves these days, this is one animated sequel whose announcement comes as a huge deal for a number of reasons.

The most obvious of such reasons being that Frozen is the most successful animated film of all time, yet it’s taken well over a year for this sequel to be announced (compare that to other animated films of today, where multiple sequels are announced after the opening weekend). Another reason this is interesting is that it’s a sequel to a Disney animated film. Sure, the 90s Disney films were tainted with straight-to-video sequels, but Disney was well aware of their “less-than favorable” quality. Not only has Disney long-since discontinued the entire concept of straight-to-video sequels, but those that they made are not counted as official movies in the Disney canon. The only ‘true’ Disney sequels are The Rescuers Down Under, Fantasia 2000 and Winnie the Pooh, the latter two of which aren’t necessarily continuations of their predecessors, either. Pixar and Dreamworks seem to have a heyday with sequels these days, but a true Disney sequel is a rarity.

So while it may seem obvious that a film as successful as Frozen would get a sequel, the circumstances of time and its lineage are something to note.

But one thing is certain: Frozen 2 must deliver.

On a personal level, Frozen is my favorite Disney movie of all time. I had gotten to a point where I still enjoyed Disney films, but thought that the studio was merely capable of making entertaining movies, not artistic ones. Then Frozen came along and was not only the most fun Disney movie I’d seen (and I’ve seen every Disney animated film), but also one that, finally, had deeper meanings, thematics and character development to it (a trait that carried over, to a lesser degree, to Big Hero 6). It proved me wrong so beautifully and I enjoyed it so immensely that I’m not afraid to admit it’s one of my favorite films, animated or otherwise.

Outside of personal interest, Frozen is also the animated film that has seemingly taken over the world. It’s not simply a movie that made a lot of money, it’s a genuinely beloved phenomenon. Yes, I will even say it’s on Star Wars levels of movie mania, and it has gained an international appeal that few movies can claim (it ranks as the third highest grossing film in Japan, where it topped the box office for sixteen straight weeks).

Suffice to say, there are a lot of people who will want this sequel to deliver. And deliver it must.

Frozen

First and foremost, Frozen 2 must tell a story as meaningful as the first, but it shouldn’t simply rehash the same themes. It can expand on them and introduce new thematics, but simply having Elsa become fearful again would only feel like someone hit a reset button. It would undo Frozen’s ending, and that’s a no no.

Then there’s the villain scenario. Simply having Prince Hans return for revenge would be too simple. Hans can still make an appearance, but he’s served his thematic purposes, and no longer needs to be the villain. Either introduce a new villain who can also serve a purpose for the movie’s themes, or just leave out the villain concept altogether and center the story’s conflicts around the heroes (which Frozen also did to great success).

Introducing new characters almost seems inevitable, and that’s fine, provided they don’t take the spotlight away from the main characters. Olaf and Sven don’t need a third member of their comedic troupe, and Elsa most certainly doesn’t need a romantic interest (a large part of the character’s appeal has been her independence). Frozen strayed from Disney norms by focusing its primary relationship on sisterhood, putting romance in the background when it wasn’t tossing it aside entirely. Frozen 2 would be wise to do the same. It can’t be just another Disney movie. It has to live up to the uniqueness of the original.

Given Frozen’s predominantly girl power attitude, it wouldn’t be too surprising if a third female character is introduced. Once again, this is fine, so long as any such character doesn’t overshadow Anna and Elsa, or get shoehorned into the plot (no long-lost third sister, please).

Then there’s the songs. Good heavens, how does one follow-up Let It Go? But they’re going to have to give it a try. With how wonderfully infectious the songs in Frozen were, the sequel can’t have anything less than that. These songs must etch their way into my brain and – ironically enough – never let go. Frozen

 

Of course, I have great faith in Frozen 2. Disney has not set a release date, meaning they’ve more or less given the filmmakers the time they need to get it right. Disney has also given the filmmakers full creative control, another great sign. Best of all, those filmmakers are Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, who masterminded the original Frozen and shaped what was originally going to be another Disney princess movie into something truly special.

So I do have faith in Frozen 2 (more so than I do Toy Story 4 or Finding Dory). I believe Disney knows they have awoken a sleeping giant with Frozen, and they’ll want to make sure the sequel to their most popular movie isn’t just a mere cash-in (this isn’t the Michael Eisner era anymore). But Frozen 2 must be a sequel of Toy Story 2-like quality. One that takes what you loved about the original, and adds to it while also creating an identity of its own. Frozen 2 is already guaranteed to win over the box office. But if it wants to live up to the original Frozen, it must win over our hearts as well. I think it can do just that.