Tuesday, April 24, 2012

1950 - Cinderella

1950 - Cinderella

WE MADE IT! After the rough slog of anthology films, we’re finally back to full-length stories, and boy did they bring it. This period of films, which I’m referring to as The Restoration, put an end to the slashed budgets, scaled back animation, and occasional blatant racism of the anthologies and replaced it with extravagant financing, expertly rendered backgrounds and characters, and… okay, occasional blatant racism. I’m looking your way, Peter Pan. But we’ll get to him. Cinderella was a remarkable return to form for the company. They dumped nearly all the money they made off the anthologies into it, and it really shows. The profits from this went on to finance one of their most classic periods, and now we finally get to see it. Relieved? So am I. So get some petit-fours and champagne, and let’s talk about Cinderella.

I have to say, I’ve felt a bit bad about the past few reviews, in which I took movies I quite liked, breezed over the good stuff, and focused on the negative. This isn’t because I’m a negative person, it’s just that “Bumble Boogie” doesn’t have much to write about it, whereas “Pecos Bill” is deserving of three paragraphs of scorn and more. So it’s so nice for me to have one where the bad can be glanced over, because the good is so much more interesting. Guess I should get the bad out of the way first.

Okay, there is quite a lot of padding in this movie. I mean a lot. We all know the fairy tale, and there’s not a lot there, so they fill it out with slapstick bits with Cindy’s little mouse friends and stuff like that. It’s actually a full 20 minutes into the movie before anyone besides Cindy is even awake. Also, this is going to sound weird, but I hate the Fairy Godmother. She’s only in that one scene, she's not foreshadowed remotely, and she’s never mentioned again. The film would have been so much more satisfying if Cindy had made her own way to the ball. That probably sounds weird since it’s so famous as a fairy tale and all, and it would require some plot changes for the leaving at midnight thing (perhaps she runs off for fear of being discovered?),  but it really is unsatisfying to have this stuff just handed to her when she’s demonstrated a surprising amount of agency so far.

Not that I'd necessarily list fashion design among her talents, but she's trying, and that's important.
I should explain. A lot of feminist criticism of this story focuses on how Cinders is more or less an extreme doormat who lets herself get crapped on, goes to a ball because of fairy magic, and then gets married to a man she barely knows. In this version, even though all that has to happen, they make it work so much better. It’s small changes, like making her sarcastic when the others aren’t around, or having her politely speak up and get shot down rather than meekly accepting it. It makes her a good deal more interesting, and shows that she’ll take opportunities when they present themselves, even if she doesn’t go looking for them. And she’s not after the prince, she just wants to go out, and doesn’t even realize the man she spent the night dancing with was the guy throwing the party.

The prince, by the way, barely features.  He’s really only in the scene at the ball. The bulk of the royal stuff is actually done by the king, with his assistant, the Grand Duke. This is great, because it solves another one of the typical problems with the story, i.e. the slipper thing. When the prince grandly (and offscreen) declares that he will marry the girl who fit’s the slipper, it is clear that he’s speaking metaphorically, but the king, whose plot thread is that he’s desperate to marry off his son so he can get some grandchildren, gets fed up with his son’s bullroar.

King: He said that, did he? (kisses the slipper) HAHA! We've got him! 
Grand Duke: But, Sire, this slipper may fit any number of girls. 
King: That's his problem! He's given his word, we'll hold him to it.  
Seriously, though, these guys are awesome.

See? A minor fix, and we’ve got comedy, character development, and the closing of a plot hole. The Duke himself is a great hapless-underling type comic sidekick. He’s used to poke fun at some of the sillier conventions of the fairy tale, e.g. love at first sight, and there’s a lot of monocle comedy with him, which I love. These two really elevate the story from its starting point, and the stuff with them, unlike some other things, lengthens the film without padding it.

The villain is also terrific. Lady Tremaine (Yes, she has a name, though it’s only mentioned once in a blink and you miss it way, provided you blink your ears,) could have just been a retread of The Queen from Snow White; a wicked stepmother who’s simply cruel for cruelty’s sake. And again, to a certain extent she is, since the story demands it. She isn’t just a rampaging monster. She prefers her own children, but doesn’t seem blind to their flaws, and just as she’s shown breaking down Cindy, she’s also shown trying to improve them. The girls are also fleshed out, having slightly differentiated personalities. They’re both mean to Cindy, but Anastasia is more rude and kind of dumb, while Drizella is spiteful and petty. Look, it’s amazing that they even got names, let alone that I can remember them two weeks later.

This kid knows what's up.

Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the production. It’s amazing. The sets (backgrounds, whatever,) are massive in scope and incredibly detailed. Everything seems huge, from Cinderella’s sprawling country house to the royal palace. Oddly, the smallest place seems to be the outdoors, which makes sense, because it’s where she loses her magical ‘zaz. The character designs and animation are great as well. There’s a lot of really nice touches, like how they decided to make the stepsisters just a bit odd looking, rather than hideous trolls.

This was a LOT better than I was expecting. I figured it would be enjoyable, but still annoying from my fairy tale-disliking perspective. I assumed it would be too generic, too stereotypical, lazily plotted, but they addressed every issue I would have had, and did it with top-notch technical work. I’m more than ever certain that I made the right decision calling this the Restoration. If they can keep this up, we’re in for a long run of very good movies, and nothing can possibly throw this off track.

That’s called foreshadowing, folks.

Her bedroom's at the top. Because that's where you want your servant. In the most inconvenient place to call them..


* As an example of the good character touches I mentioned: When Lady Tremaine is reading the announcement of the prince’s ball, and gets to the part where it says all  eligible woman must attend, Anastasia bursts out “And I’m SO eligible!”

* There’s also a bit where Cinders loses a shoe going up the stairs at the beginning. See? It’s these little bits that make the coming shoe loss seem less stupid. I still don’t know why she loses her shoes so often, though. Maybe because she has no toes.

*Speaking of Cinderella’s appearance, the marketing folks at Disney Princesses seem to think she is blonde and wears a blue dress. Turns out she’s a redhead with a silvery-white dress. Focus, guys.

*One of Cinderella’s mouse friends is named “Octavius, or Gus for short.” I have to assume that this is a reference to the Roman emperor Octavius, whose royal name was Caesar Augustus. Damn, movie. Good one.
That no toes thing wasn't a joke, by the way. See?

* This is the only movie I’ve ever seen with a POV shot through a monocle. Why doesn’t that happen more often!?

* Um… this note just says “Ringwraiths”. I don’t remember why I wrote that.

* Hey! End credits! And apparently June Foray was in it? I didn’t know she did anything for Disney, but when you’re as prolific as she, it’s inevitable, I guess. I just always saw her more as a WB/Hanna-Barbera gal.

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