Review: “Cinderella” is impressive, but was it and “Frozen Fever” necessary?

| March 11, 2015 | 19 Replies

Back in 2010, Disney and Tim Burton released Alice in Wonderland, a live action/CGI-heavy feature film shot in Disney Digital 3D, and it was a massive success. Alice in Wonderland was not a remake of the classic 1951 Disney animated feature nor was it a sequel despite the story taking place years after Alice’s time spent in Wonderland. Instead, it was just Burton’s best take on the Alice stories and although it isn’t a great film, it can still stand as an independent adaptation.

Disney knew there was a market in re-imagining their classic animated features into live action stories and that brings us to 2014 and MaleficentMaleficent promised to be a “reinvention, not just a retelling of the same story” of 1959’s Sleeping Beauty and Maleficent, the classic fictional Disney villain created specifically for the film. The movie ended up changing Maleficent into a victim of circumstance, removing her villain status and leaving her as a weak character who made some bad mistakes along the way, but ultimately atones them.

Maleficent left me with a bleak outlook towards future Disney adaptations of their animated classics, but Cinderella showed a lot of promise from the start with Kenneth Branagh signed on as director and Cate Blanchett and Richard Madden attached as Lady Tremaine and Prince Charming. However, the announcement of the live action Beauty and the Beast starring Emma Watson sparked a thought that Disney might be out of original ideas for live action features and can only rely on re-imagining their animated canon. This notion has gained more weight with the announcement of a new Dumbo feature with Tim Burton directing, but Cinderella provides a bit of hope for future Disney adaptations.

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Cinderella tells the story of Ella (Lily James), a bright-eyed girl who maintains positivity after losing her mother as a child and gaining an awful stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and stepsisters before losing her father as well. Cinderella changes minor details along the way, but for the most part it follows the same story as the Disney animated feature. The biggest changes include the backstory of Ella as a child, Cinderella and Prince Charming meeting for the first time in a forest instead of the ball, the Fairy Godmother character and the final discovery of Cinderella being the mystery girl. None of these changes affect the overall story, making Cinderella a strong film from beginning to finish.

(WARNING: Some spoilers throughout.)

The Good


The Story

Fans of the animated Cinderella will find themselves extremely pleased by this new adaptation. The animated feature is adapted from Charles Perrault’s version of the story, Cendrillon. This adaptation also uses Perrault’s version as the source material, which is why it resembles the animated feature so closely, but still retains small differences that harken back to the French story like lizards as Cinderella’s footmen. Bringing in Kenneth Branagh to direct was one of the best decisions Disney could’ve made, because he took the story and turned it into a great film with perfect pacing making Cinderella the complete opposite of Maleficent…a good movie.

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The Cast

Cinderella has a phenomenal cast to say the least. Lily James shows great range as the title character and should make her a leading lady in the future with a little luck. Cate Blanchett steals every scene she is in as Lady Tremaine. Her facial expressions and reactions provide some of the most humorous moments in the film. Richard Madden, also known as Robb Stark of Game of Thrones, doesn’t reinvent himself as an actor in the role of Prince Charming, but he adds life and actual charm to the character and girls will surely walk away from the movie swooning (does anyone still use this expression?). The stepsisters, played by Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera, provide a lot of the laughs and were perfectly cast.

The Visuals

Unless something spectacular is released in the next nine months, Cinderella is guaranteed to win an Academy Award for Best Costume Design. The visual elements throughout the film are absolutely stunning whether we are talking about the set design of Cinderella’s house or the costumes worn by all the characters. Even the CGI-created animals fit the tone of the film and don’t prove to be an awful distraction. The real  “wow” moment of the film is the gown transformation scene. Cinderella’s ball gown has been shown off in the marketing for some time now, but there will still be a gasp or two in the audience when it is seen in context for the first time. Not enough praise can be given to the entire visual design of the film.

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The Music

If you’re hoping and expecting Cinderella to be a musical like the animated feature then prepare to be disappointed. For those who enjoy a good score, prepare to be impressed with Patrick Doyle’s work. I doubt it will win any awards down the road, but the music blends perfectly with the visual elements on the screen. There are some nods to the classic Cinderella songs throughout the movie and the end credits feature “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” as sung by Lily James and “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” as sung by Helena Bonham Carter. Disney fans will also appreciate hearing “Lavender Blue” being sung. “Lavender Blue” is an old English folk song/nursery rhyme and it was sung by Burl Ives in Disney’s So Dear to My Heart, receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song.

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The Bad


The Gags

Cate Blanchett, Holliday Grainger, Sophie McShera and the CGI animals provided a lot of the humor in Cinderella and it worked well. However, there were two specific times that gags were used improperly and cheapened the film. Skip ahead to the next section if you don’t want any spoilers. In the Fairy Godmother scene, the pumpkin is transformed into the carriage while inside of a greenhouse leaving the Fairy Godmother and Cinderella squished between the pumpkin and the glass trying to get out. Kids will laugh at faces pressed against the panes and adults will most likely cringe a little.

The other instance involves one of Cinderella’s footmen. In the animated feature, Cinderella’s coachman is Major the horse and her footman is Bruno the dog. This adaptation uses lizards as the footmen like Perrault’s story and someone couldn’t resist having one of the lizards eat a fly off the carriage with an awful CGI tongue. Like the coach sequence, it is a split second that will get some giggles out of kids and leave a lot of film aficionados dead on the inside.

The Fairy Godmother

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The only real misstep in casting was Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother. The Fairy Godmother was changed into a character that watches over Cinderella, disguised as an old beggar and magically transforms into a younger, quirky Fairy Godmother than the one we know from the animated feature. That being said, Helena Bonham Carter plays this interpretation well enough, but I have to imagine such an important character could’ve been even better if played by someone like Helen Mirren. The only other bizarre casting was Nonso Anozie as the Captain. Anozie is a great actor to say the least, but he was basically the only diverse character in the movie and it stuck out like a sore thumb.

Frozen Fever

One of the greatest things Disney has done recently is running animated shorts before features just like Pixar. Shorts like Get a Horse! and Feast proved that Disney could be successful again in the animated short medium. Unfortunately, Frozen Fever doesn’t continue Disney’s streak of producing great shorts. Frozen Fever is set on Anna’s birthday and Elsa wants to make it the best day she’s ever had. Elsa develops a cold while setting up Anna’s birthday party with Kristoff, Sven and Olaf, but she can’t stop to rest and get well for the big day. Anna can clearly tell Elsa is sick and tries to get her to put the day on hold so she can get better, but Elsa won’t back down and continues on a sneezing rampage. The only problem is that little”Snowgies” are created after each sneeze and start to wreck havoc on the party.

Here is the issue – Frozen was a great film when it came out and it still is to this day even though many people are now sick of the blockbuster. Frozen Fever does tell a new story here with a completely forgettable song and adorable new snowmen Snowgies, but it fell short of being warranted. There are a lot of laughs in Frozen Fever and, once again, the Snowgies are extremely adorable, but the entire short feels like a commercial for the new dresses Anna and Elsa wear that will soon be available in stores for parents to buy for their kids. There is nothing wrong with Disney trying to make a dollar off of their properties, but they don’t need to be this transparent about it. Frozen Fever is not a bad short at all – it is just an attempt to continue the Frozen craze and sell more dresses to little princesses.

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The Outcome


I have to admit from the start that Cinderella is one of my favorite Disney animated features. I have been open about how worried I was for this new adaptation after the train wreck that was Maleficent, but I walked away completely impressed. After groaning about Frozen Fever for thirty seconds, Cinderella quickly brought a smile to my face that didn’t leave throughout the entire movie. Cinderella didn’t break new ground, but the acting, directing and visual elements all came together to make a really enjoyable film that will be praised by both adults and children.

However, it is still important to ask if this film needed to be made at all. Disney has been known for their adaptations, whether animated or live action, for as long as the studio has been making full-length features. When I went into Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent, I judged both of those films on their own merits initially. Afterwards, I asked myself if I would rather watch the animated features that came before, the live action adaptation or watch them both in conjunction with each other. I went into Cinderella with the same plan of action and although it doesn’t beat its animated counterpart for me, some will still walk away from this version seeing it as an equal or the better.

Still, did Cinderella need to get made? Probably not. The animated feature set a high standard for any Cinderella adaptation from the moment it was released. This new Disney version is easily the best version I’ve seen since the animated classic, but it still isn’t better. Other studios are going to try and make a new version of Cinderella at some point in time and I wouldn’t be surprised if Disney takes another crack at it 60 years from now. Some might be good, most will probably be bad and a few will have the privilege of being awful.

At the end of the day, Cinderella was a great film with a good meaning and a lot of heart and I can’t wait to watch it again. I cannot recommend it enough.


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Category: Entertainment, TV / Movies

  • Ginger Boone

    Great article Craig Williams keep up the good work

    • Phil Lindholm

      ”Cinderella” was a delight, and even more than I was hoping for. Still, after the abominable ”Maleficent”, I wasn’t sure I wanted to see it. The positive reviews convinced me the story hadn’t been destroyed. So far, I have seen it 12 times. As for the ‘Frozen Fever” short, although I never saw the original film, if THIS is an example of what THAT was like, I haven’t missed anything.

  • Maria

    I really enjoyed your review, Craig. Thanks!

  • Catherine

    Thank you for this great article! What age do you feel this movie is appropriate for? Would it entertain children as young as the animated feature did? Is it more scary than the animated film? I have a slightly timid 6yo I’m hoping to take. What are your thought? Thanks!

  • What the what.

    “The only other bizarre casting was Nonso Anozie as the Captain. Anozie is a great actor to say the least, but he was basically the only diverse character in the movie and it stuck out like a sore thumb.” Diverse? Do you mean black? Diverse is not an ethnicity or race. So black. So you are pointing out that because he is black, he sticks out like a sore thumb. Are you suggesting that he should have been cast differently?

    • Nadia

      adjective di·verse dī-ˈvərs, də-ˈ, ˈdī-ˌ

      : different from each other

      : made up of people or things that are different from each other

      • What the what.

        Yes, but Craig isolated the descriptor to just describe *one* person. Diverse is not an appropriate label for one person. Also, geez, way to be afraid of colorblind casting. ALSO,, there were several other black men in the film. And an Asian woman, and a Hispanic woman…but for some reason Craig saw one black man and gee, that shouldn’t happen. Everyone should be white, right? Because it just feels awkward to have one black man. And who would want Craig to feel awkward?

        • What the what.

          But really, the upsetting statement was “sticks out like a sore thumb.” If you, or Craig, do not see how that is a hurtful thing to say, then I give up. I can’t even. What if there were one black kid in a white classroom? Would you say that child “sticks out like a sore thumb”? That would just be rude, and Craig’s comment, if not racist (it was) was horribly, horribly rude.

          • susan

            “Way to be afraid of color-blind casting.”

            Sorry, but when are we blind to race? Of course the only black man with a secondary speaking role was noticeable. I don’t see where Craig W. said he was uncomfortable…but what if someone were made uncomfortable because as if we weren’t supposed to see color? What if Disney were to, I don’t know, actually deal with race maturely rather than plug up their ears and say “LALALALALA.” In “Princess and the Frog,” we see just a touch of race as an important matter come to light. They were just a hair away from making it a *significant* part of the story. A black man in a sea of white folk feels like a “token-black friend.” All other “diverse castings” were extras. We should be letting Disney know that viewers notice. We should talk about how to portray race relations responsibly rather than gloss over them.

            I’m sorry if “stuck out like a sore thumb” is hurtful…perhaps there’s a better way to put it or maybe Craig would like to elaborate? Nonetheless, it’s a legitimate question to ask: Do we like the post-racial / so-called color-blind spin Disney does? What are some potential alternatives?

  • Otto Tieleman

    Haven’t seen the movie. I like the original for what it is (overly sugar coated, baked in fat and again suger coated) but would have hoped the life action version wouldn’t be a carbon copy of that movie but closer to the source material.
    In the end it’s disapointing that the “master of storytelling” is only able to take original stories from other writers and re-use them again and again. At least Maleficent did something else (and was extreemly bad) proving my point.

  • Goofy_Guy

    I disagreed with his review when Maleficent came out, and after seeing it again continue to disagree…sure the movie removed “her villain status”, because of the new point of view, I saw nothing wrong with that, in fact I found it brilliant.

    However it “leaving her as a weak character” I find quiet weak minded. Villains are normally villains because they are truly weak in character, which is why, generally, we don’t ever get to know them very well in a story. In Maleficent, though, we get to know her very well, her loving, caring, trusting nature and her ability to overcome and reflect to realize her mistake in her miss-targeted revenge. As a leader she displayed strength, resolve, and deep compassion in her leadership, and she was respected and loved by all those in her realm.

    In MY world these traits indicate strength, not weakness. This film took a senseless villain to be feared not because she was strong but because she was of weak character and therefore unpredictable.

    Maleficent, the movie was a joy to watch from so many viewpoints:

    the story, the visuals, the amazing character arc of all those involved

    seeing everything from her point of view, providing for a brand new story built around the framework of the original

    And while seeing it from her point of view, “understanding” the original point of view and how it still stood true from it’s perspective, abiet it’s perverted power hungry, paranoid perspective.

    The ONLY problem I had with the film was that they renamed the fairies? Does someone else own the license to those names? Although I did love the fun Maleficent had with them.

    —-

    Although I won’t pass judgement on Helena as the Fairy Godmother, I did pause when I saw her in the preview…

    I do agree the my fellow commentators,in regards to Anozie

  • Goofy_Guy

    In regards to Frozen Fever Craig says: “does tell a new story here with a completely forgettable song and adorable new snowmen””a lot of laughs””the Snowgies are extremely adorable””is not a bad short at all”
    SOUNDS LIKE A GOOD REVIEW TO ME…
    “but it fell short of being warranted.”
    BUT WAIT, IT’S A SHORT (since when is a short warranted?), and considering Frozen Fever has yet to wear of, a little more Frozen is VERY warranted.
    “but the entire short feels like a commercial for the new dresses Anna and Elsa wear that will soon be available in stores for parents to buy for their kids. ”

    SO YOUR ENTIRE DISLIKE IS OVER THE FACT THAT ANNA AND ELSA ARE WEARING DIFFERENT DRESSES? GO FIGURE, GIRLS WEARING DIFFERENT DRESSES…AND THAT SOMEHOW SCREAMS COMMERCIALISM TO YOU?

  • slippers44

    Cinderella is my favorite Disney princess film. I thought Burton’s Alice was the best I’ve seen in years; a new make over of an old tale I have held dear to my heart. I am not a huge Burton fan, so don’t think I’m being bias. Now, Maleficent, love the new reworking of a beloved villain; she scared me to death as a young child, yet she remained my favorite villain. I was unsure of a whole new spin on my villain, but came away with a new reverence for Disney; here was the Disney I loved when Walt was alive. This new Maleficent is a brilliant retelling/reworking. I have written children stories since I was a child; if I could write such a reworking as this Maleficent I would leave this soil a complete person as a writer. Love the old Maleficent and always will, but I love the new twist on her story even more because she has evolved into a complete person. My last point; I saw a girl about age 10 at Disneyland’s Mickey’s Not so Very Scary Halloween Party 10/31/14. Spoke with her and marveled at her home made costume she did with her mother. She WAS the young Maleficent! I could see her love of this new villain by the shine in her eyes and the way she danced about, hopping and twirling, explaining how she and her mother worked on the wings and searched weeks for the dress fabric. Now, that is what Disney is all about to me as a retired teacher; imagination, inspiration and teaching children they can do anything they see in their mind’s eye and have it come out of their finger tips. What any teacher would give to inspire a child to such levels! I applaud Disney for being so bold as to rework a beloved classic. Can not wait to see the new Cinderella, hope I’m not disappointed with just another live action Cinderella like the one done with beautiful Whitney Houston.

  • Kat C

    So, when this review came out, I skipped over all the Cinderella stuff and went straight to Frozen Fever, because, I really didn’t care what I knew about that prior to seeing the film. I will admit, your reviewed peeved me on initial reading (as did the Maleficent review), but now having seen it, I agree (as I did w/ the Maleficent review once I saw it, albeit for different reasons), it was a rather bland and kinda pointless. I have no beef with Frozen, and have no problem with Disney giving the people what they want- Frozen. But if they are going to do it, I would hope that it has the heart and charm of the movie on which it is based. That is what has always been great about the Toy Story shorts. They have no point, no future storyline to set up. They are just cute little short films that capture the heart of the original films. The Frozen short was just blah. The Snowgies were cute and Olaf was funny, but beyond that they just didn’t capture a glimmer of the Frozen magic with the short. There was one brief moment in the short, that must have been needed to set up Frozen 2. I won’t mention it specifically so as not to spoil it for others, but it comes from Kristoff. ‘Nuf said.

    Now having read the Cinderella review, I have to say, I largely agree with you. The two cringe-worthy gags you mentioned left me feeling flat as well. Cate Blanchett stole the film, and Lily James (a.k.a Lady Rose) was just delightful as the titular character. The costuming was amazing. I loved that they didn’t try to overly modernize Ella, and that Lady Tremain was allowed to remain villainous throughout the piece. I didn’t care too much that she was given a sympathy speech, but at least it was over quick. I had high expectations with Kenneth Branagh directing, and I was not disappointed.

    I disagree regarding Helena Bonham Carter as the fairy godmother. She was delightful. Sure a Helen Mirren or Dame Maggie actress would have been more in keeping with the animated version, but this fairy godmother was more whimsical and was a lovely counterpoint to the seriousness of Ella. I also disagree about Nonso Anozie. He did not feel out of place at all. That is like saying Denzel Washington stuck out like a sore thumb in “Much Ado About Nothing.” Hardly! Additionally there was plenty of diversity in background actors, and it did not seem odd to have the Captain portrayed by a black actor. The Captain character itself was pretty pointless, but that is a whole separate issue.

    I agree with you, the animated film is better than the live action film. At least the live action version brought in enough elements from the Perrault and even the Grimm version of the story to not feel like the studio was simply regurgitating a film it had already made. I fear the same will not be true of some of the other live action films the studio has planned.

  • Susan

    Great review. The costumes were indeed *amazing* and brought an element to fantasy to an otherwise fairly forgettable set. I was really in love with Blanchett’s step-mother, and I enjoyed the mysterious back story. The back story doesn’t try to excuse her from bad doing, but it’s there more so than in the animated feature, leaving us to admit such bitterness is indeed not just in fairy tales.

    I quite liked the “Frozen Fever” song, “Making Today a Perfect Day.” But, in general, it sort of felt like the creators were all-too-well-aware of “Frozen’s” success; there seemed to be jokes (“A cold never bothered me anyway”) and references to relationships (“I love you, baby!”) that only die-hard fans would appreciate. I enjoyed the short, but it wasn’t very inventive. Slightly self-congratulatory and reminded me of the “Finally getting married!” part in Aladdin 3. Shame. Looks like straight to VHS–er, DVD–for “Frozen 2: Never Gonna Let It Go.”

    Are either necessary? Well, in fairness, little of Disney is “necessary” as such. I am getting a little bored with nostalgia for old princesses. Why not build a “princess” (or prince!) story as a live-action film from the get-go…maybe have black princess that doesn’t spend most of her time on screen as a frog?

    • susan

      PS: “Swooning” over Stark Charming is a totally appropriate word to choose.

  • BillK

    Wow, what a cynical review.

    Frozen “fever” if you will continues unabated – few are actually “sick” of it with most fans clamoring for more, and Frozen Fever is a delightful little extra along the lines of “Tangled Ever After.”

    I absolutely LOVED the “colds never bothered me anyway” callback of Elsa’s – it made a big chunk of the short for me.

    Quite frankly, I believe a huge chunk of the box office for Cinderella can be attributed to “Frozen Fever.”

  • M Annette

    I kind of agree about the Frozen short, it was not needed, but it was cute and kids will love it. I also agree with the praise given to Cinderella and even that the whole faces squashed against the glass scene was idiotic and that the movie may not have been necessary. However (speaking as someone who was never overly fond of the animated Cinderella) I personally do think it was a bit of an improvement. They are both very different movies so it’s really not fair to judge them against each other but if you must then I prefer the new one. And I know a lot of people who feel the same. If she were my favorite princess then I am sure I would be more critical of it (Belle happens to be mine so I am more nervous about what they will do to Beauty and the Beast) but as someone who was not in love with the cartoon I think the movie is excellent and even if it didnt need to be made I certainly appreciate its existence.

  • M Annette

    P.S. Your review of Maleficent was way harsh, I loved the movie. I do not think they made her a “weak character” at all. True its very different from Sleeping Beauty but it’s a retelling and not a remake for a reason, it’s supposed to be different. I think they did remarkably well with everything in that movie. Now Alice in Wonderland I agree, I was severely disappointed with that one.