Star Wars: The Force Awakens In Your Living Room

I am days away from getting on a plane to go run in the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon Weekend at Walt Disney World. Along with the packing and the costume planning, I’ve been doing a fair amount of immersion in the Star Wars universe to get me ready for these races. And while the original three films are still near and dear to me, most of my attention the past couple of weeks has been on Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Like many Star Wars fans, we were giddy at the release of this new film. We had Cordy and Mira watch the original trilogy ahead of seeing The Force Awakens, and they were nearly as excited as we were. Mira especially connected with the character of Rey, and I couldn’t be more happy to see a strong, positive female lead for her to look up to. It’s definitely made lightsaber battles among kids in our neighborhood more gender neutral, as no one questions that girls can be just as powerful with lightsabers now.

Mira will also be wearing her Rey costume for her first 10k at the Star Wars Dark Side 10k. (And I’ll be dressed as Rey for the half marathon.)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens..Ph: Film Frame..©Lucasfilm 2015

The months between the film’s theater release and it’s release on Blu-ray/digital HD felt like forever. But then it was finally here, and I’ve been thrilled with everything on this Blu-ray. (Disclosure: I received a copy for review.) So, why do I recommend adding Star Wars: The Force Awakens to your movie collection? Here are a few reasons.

The movie is still amazing, even on a smaller screen. Unlike the prequels, this film made me feel like a kid again. It remained more true to the original films with the reliance on more practical effects versus computer special effects, making everything around the actors feel more solid and also bringing back a “lived-in” feel for the universe that is on par with the original trilogy. The characters are well-defined without giving the audience everything you’ll ever need to know about them – there’s still plenty to learn about the new characters, and that’s exciting when I know there are still two more films ahead of us.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) with Stormtroopers Ph: David James ©Lucasfilm 2015

The story itself fits perfectly as a continuation of the previous Star Wars stories, and the action is fast paced and purposeful. Yes, there are plenty of nods to nostalgia, with moments in the film that seem to be written specifically to make fans swoon at the memories of the original trilogy, but I expected that, and I feel it was necessary to acknowledge the audience’s expectations for it and then move on.

I have a feeling the next two films will not need those moments, as we’ve now established the connection between old and new and can now move forward with the new story.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens..Ph: Film Frame..©Lucasfilm 2015Passing the…torch?

“Secrets of the Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey.” This bonus feature, included with the Blu-ray or digital HD versions, is a feature-length documentary that takes an in-depth look at the making of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This addition is priceless for fans, as it provides a fascinating look at everything that went into the concept and creation of this movie.

If you enjoy learning about the process of making a movie (and making one that has to live up to the legacy of the original trilogy!), this is probably one of the best documentaries to watch.

Deleted scenes. I always love watching deleted scenes to get a peek into some of the additional ideas the director and team had for the film. All of the deleted scenes included here added a little bit more to backstory and character development, but none were essential.

The Force Awakens is a little light on deleted scenes, honestly, although I’ve heard there are even more deleted scenes than what was included with this release, including an entire story arc that was removed for time. I’m hoping those deleted scenes weren’t released because they’re trying to work some of them in as backstory for the next film.

Behind the scenes featurettes that cover every area of interest. Do you like learning about how the creatures were made? There’s a bonus feature for that. Love that little BB-8 droid and want to know how he was built and filmed around the set? They’ve included a behind the scenes feature on that, too. Nearly every part of the film-making process is covered.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens..L to R: Director J.J. Abrams w/ actress Daisy Ridley (Rey) on set...Ph: David James..? 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Right Reserved.

Probably my favorite bonus feature is the “Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight” featurette, which shows how they built that surprisingly lifelike, snowy forest on a sound stage, as well as how they prepared and choreographed that brutal final battle.

Star Wars Snow BattleThis fight was epic.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens carries the legacy of the original trilogy into the next generation, and the story, action, and tone of the film fit seamlessly with the previous films. We’re thrilled to include it on our shelves next to the Original Trilogy (and yeah, the other three movies, too), and I think it’ll be a valued addition to your movie collection as well.

PS – Want some free activities for your kids? (Or, let’s be honest, for you?) I’ve got you covered here:

Recap: runDisney’s Princess Weekend 2016 Enchanted 10k

Well, a late recap is slightly better than never, right? Things are finally slowing down enough in life for me to write up the amazing weekend I had at Walt Disney World back in February.

A year before this, I ran my first 10k at the 2015 Princess weekend, and Aaron’s anniversary gift to me while on that trip was the promise that in 2016 I’d complete the Glass Slipper Challenge at Princess weekend. The Glass Slipper Challenge involves running the 10k on Saturday and the half marathon on Sunday – sounds a little crazy, and it really kinda is.

I was also traveling to this race by myself, since three of us are coming back in less than two weeks for the Star Wars Dark Side Challenge. I booked a room at Disney’s Pop Century resort, found a roommate in a race group to help cover the expenses, and was ready to run these two races. Well…mostly. I’ll admit I was under-trained due to winter, and other commitments, and mostly being lazy. But I was still determined to finish both races.

Before the race, though, is the expo. I didn’t arrive until Friday morning, so I missed some of the craziness I’d heard reports of the day before, which mostly involved long lines and people fighting over official race merchandise. Friday’s version of the expo was still crowded, but more relaxed. I picked up my race bib and shirts, browsed the expo for any good deals, and then dropped everything off at my room before spending the late afternoon at Magic Kingdom.

Princess expoSee? No long lines on Friday!

The primary reason I was going to Magic Kingdom that evening was to carb load at my favorite WDW pasta spot: Tony’s Town Square Restaurant. I met up with an Ohio friend for dinner and stuffed myself with shrimp scampi before going back to my room to get a few hours of sleep before the 10k the next morning.

3am is never an easy time to wake up. Nothing about 3am feels natural or comfortable. And yet 3am is when I had to be awake to get dressed for the race, get out to the bus stop, and take the bus over to the race corrals for the 5:30am start time. Thankfully, race day adrenaline kept me upright, but I was also more excited to be meeting up with friends Jana, Megan, and Megan’s husband Al in corral D. This was Megan’s first 10k, and she looked awesome in her Ursula running costume, with her husband dressed as King Neptune.

Pre-race photoPre-race selfie!

As for me, I never miss a chance at a running costume for a runDisney race. My outfit was Vanellope from Wreck-it Ralph. My only regret on my costume was that I wore my visor so it wasn’t easy to see the candy charms in my hair.

Vanellope Enchanted 10kVanellope is a princess.

The weather was much warmer than 2015, but still cool and comfortable for the start. Just like the 10k a year before, it was a great countdown and race start.


I stuck with Megan for the first two miles, trying my best to provide motivation and support. She was probably sick of my thumbs up and motivational pep talks before the first mile. I’m not sure when I became “that cheery runner” but I can promise that I am not that cheery by mile four or so.

At her urging, I went ahead of her after mile two, and as I ran solo I quickly found myself remembering the route from the previous year and felt a surge of joy to be doing this race again. The skies were just beginning to brighten as we turned off the freeway and onto the off-ramp towards the back of Epcot.

One of the most awesome parts of running the Enchanted 10k is being able to run through the World Showcase section of Epcot. I’m slow enough that the sun is just coming up when I reach this area, and there’s a hazy glow to everything. It’s beautiful, and provides for more ideal selfie locations than you can imagine. Runners were pulling off to the side all along this area to get photos, and yes, I was one of them.

Epcot selfie

As we crossed the bridge from the France pavilion to the United Kingdom pavilion, we turned towards the exit to the Boardwalk. There’s a short area just outside of Epcot where a rope divides the path in two, with those exiting Epcot starting their loop around the Boardwalk area on one side, and those returning from that loop on the other side. This is such a high energy area as runners going in opposite directions high five each other across the rope and cheer on their fellow runners. It’s a great mental boost for mile four, when legs and lungs are starting to complain.

The second most awesome part of running the Enchanted 10k is the crowd that gathers around the Boardwalk resort. Lots of spectators are here, some with funny signs, some offering pretzels or Twizzlers (THANK YOU!), and all providing a lot of cheering and positive energy. Also? More beautiful views.

View from the BoardwalkNo filters here, people. Just a beautiful scene with Spaceship Earth peeking out in the background.

Unlike the previous year, I’ve run more than a 10k, so the distance wasn’t as challenging for me this time. But even still, that last mile does start to feel rough. Thankfully, much of that mile is spent back inside Epcot, winding past The Land and The Seas with Nemo and Friends, around Spaceship Earth, and then making the final turn for the finish line.

Spaceship Earth - Enchanted 10kThe finish line is soooooo close!

The gospel choir was positioned right before the final turn, and I remember they were singing something with the lyrics, “Thank God, thank God, thank God…” as I was approaching them. As I passed, I chimed in, “Thank God I’m almost done!” with my hands up in the air, then reached out to high-five one of the choir members.

And then there it was – the finish. Before I knew it, I was across the line, had my medal, my Powerade, my mylar blanket, and my snackbox. I spread out the blanket to sit down and guzzled my Powerade, all while gazing at the pretty medal I had just earned.

Enchanted 10k medal

The Enchanted 10k is packed full of fun things to see in only 6.2 miles that go by very quickly. I didn’t even mention the character stops along the way. I’m a slow runner, so I usually don’t stop to get photos with the characters because I worry I’ll fall behind. But it’s still fun to see the characters as I run by.

Of course, this was only race #1. I still had to do more than double that distance the next morning, but not before getting some photos with my medal.

Showing off the medalKylo Ren didn’t seem all that impressed.

Part two coming soon!

Race Recap – runDisney Princess Enchanted 10k (Part 2)

[Note: This is part 2. You can find the first half of my recap in Part 1.]

Race Recap: runDisney's Enchanted 10k

The Race

At 5:30am, the Fairy Godmother took the stage with the race announcers, and provided the countdown for the first corral. Fireworks burst into the sky as the first group took off running.

Enchanted 10k Fireworks The first corral’s fireworks signaling the start of the race.

I shivered and continued to wait as three more corrals moved past us to the start line and went through their own countdowns. Finally, it was our turn.

My mylar blanket fell off of me as the group was moved to the start line. I wasn’t going to need it much longer anyway. I tightened my shoelaces and then bounced on my toes to warm up my legs while waiting for our moment. And then the fireworks went off for us – it was time to run.

Enchanted 10k starting line Blurry picture, but there was a lot going on in that moment.

Despite being cold and tired, I was going on pure adrenaline at this point. It was about half a minute before the crowd thinned out enough to actually run, but I burst across the starting line ready to fly with my Garmin watch signaling my intervals and my phone playing music from my running playlist.

I skipped my first walk interval because I was feeling so good. (Note to self: stop skipping your first walk interval. It only makes you slower later.) About half a mile down the road, I saw the first character appearance. Anna and Elsa were set up on a Frozen-themed overpass that we ran under. Disney, being a wise company, made sure there was no way to go meet Anna and Elsa or get a photo with them – the lines would have been unmanageable. But they had microphones and were waving and talking to the crowd as we ran below.

As I approached, I wanted them to notice me, since I was dressed as Elsa in her coronation outfit. I waved up to them, and caught Anna’s eye. She waved back and said, “Oh, Elsa, it must be corneration day! Uh, I mean, coronation day!” That recognition made my heart happy.

Skipping my first walk interval and parts of additional walk intervals caught up to me at the end of the first mile. I was suddenly tired, and about to turn the corner to climb a huge overpass. As I made the 180 degree turn, I worried I wasn’t going to be able to make it if I was this tired already. But I looked down at the road below, where I had been, and saw all of the people still behind me, some walking, some running. All shapes, all sizes. I wasn’t going to let my first moment of doubt bring me down.

And then, on that road below, I saw the balloon ladies. For those who don’t know, the balloon ladies are volunteers with large Disney balloons tied to them, who are the last to cross the start line, and keep the minimum 16 minute per mile pace. As long as you’re ahead of them, you won’t be swept from (pulled out of) the race. I’m told they’re a wonderfully supportive group of ladies who encourage all near them to keep going, but it’s also true that seeing them can make you very afraid. Yes, they were still nearly a quarter of a mile behind me, but that still felt too close for comfort. Seeing them gave me that extra push to make it to mile two faster than I made it to mile one.

There were a few characters along the route that you could stop and get photos with, but I didn’t stop out of fear of time. I passed by Alice and the card soldiers from the Queen of Hearts, then Tinkerbell and her fairy friends, and then we took an exit ramp that would lead us into the backstage area of Epcot. So far we had only been running on roads, but I was excited to run in the park itself. Greeting us at the backstage entrance were performers on stilts who waved and high-fived (or low-fived in their case) the runners who passed by.

We made another turn through a gate and I found myself in the World Showcase area of Epcot. The sun was up at this point, but still low, and everything had a beautiful glow to it. While I still wasn’t willing to stop and wait in lines to meet characters (Marie from Aristocats was in this area, as was Minnie Mouse in her princess dress), I did quickly run to the water’s edge for a selfie with Epcot’s Spaceship Earth in the background.

Selfie at EpcotOnly a little sweaty at this point, thanks to the chilly air.

After crossing the bridge from the France pavilion, we exited Epcot towards the Boardwalk resort. My second moment of doubt was hitting me as we ran up a hill to cross the bridge to the Boardwalk. I was tired, I was now starting to get sweaty, and I didn’t know how so many of the people around me looked so refreshed. Good acting? It was also while at the Boardwalk that I saw a woman walking the opposite direction with her 10k medal already around her neck. I had over two miles to go, while some were already DONE?

Luckily, this second moment of doubt was squashed by two excellently timed mood-boosters. First, there was a great crowd of spectators all along the Boardwalk, holding up signs of support and cheering us on. Knowing that they were still there cheering for those of us who were slower restored a lot of my confidence. If these strangers felt we could do it, then we could.

And the second was my running music playlist (on shuffle) serving up “Let It Go” into my headphones at just the right time. Yes, that song has been overplayed to death, but at the right moment, when you’re in the right emotional state, it’s like you’re hearing it for the first time and suddenly everything makes sense. Emotions are weird, and the timing of when they bubble up thoughts to the forefront of your mind is bizarre. There were tears in my eyes running through that area, but they were (mostly) tears of gratitude that I was at that race, and that I was doing it despite setbacks from the previous months.

Coming around the loop and back towards Epcot, sheer will was keeping me going past mile five. I had never run further than five miles before this, so the last 1.2 was all new territory. I was letting myself take more walk breaks through my run intervals because my legs felt heavy and sluggish.

I started to see the backstage area for Epcot again, and knew that once we were back inside the park it was a short distance around Spaceship Earth and out the gate to the finish line. It was serious effort to force myself to run at that point, and I would stumble a little each time a run interval ended – slowing to a walk was difficult when I could no longer feel my legs.

I made my way around Spaceship Earth, knowing the finish was just a little further. I even smiled and looked happy for the official photographers out on the course. Just as we entered the parking lot area for the final turn to the finish line, I heard Aaron yelling my name over my music. I turned to see him and the girls waving wildly at me and cheering. Seeing them was that last little boost I needed, and I pushed myself a little harder towards the big pink banner.

near the finishAaron’s photo as I just noticed them.

Crossing the finish line is such a rush. You’re exhausted, you want to collapse in a heap, but at the same time you’re victorious and want to take on the world. Or maybe you’re delirious – it’s hard to say. I was in a daze after finishing, stumbling forward towards the volunteers holding medals. I remember one of them putting a medal around my neck and congratulating me, and I smiled and gave a hoarse thank you back to her.

I then walked a little further, taking a water, a Powerade, and a snack box as I passed each table in the recovery area, and genuinely thanking each volunteer – they were handing me what I needed to recover, and I appreciated them for that. All of the volunteers I encountered were fantastic and helped make the event a positive experience with their enthusiasm and their encouragement.

Coincidentally, I reached the exit of the recovery area just as Aaron and the kids reached that same point from the other side. My hands were completely full, and I was starting to shiver and feel weak, so Aaron swiftly swept some of the items out of my hands so I could focus on getting the Powerade open. Once I had a little bit to eat and drink, it all sunk in. I did it. My first ever 10k distance, my first official runDisney race, and I did it.

I expected to cry at the finish line, but other than slightly watery eyes, it didn’t happen. Those tears were only during that emotional midway point at the Boardwalk, when my body started to protest going any further but my spirit said, “Nope! Not giving up today!” Maybe I was too happy to cry at the end? Maybe there was nothing to cry about? Maybe I was dehydrated? It didn’t matter – I was proud of my accomplishment, and happy to have run my first 10k at Disney.

Enchanted 10k Conquered And happy to have that bling around my neck!

Final Thoughts

The Princess Enchanted 10k was everything I expected and more. The course was great, the on-course entertainment kept my spirit up and made it fun, the other runners were friendly and encouraging, the volunteers were top notch, and you really can’t beat the experience of running through a Disney park.

Yes, it was a struggle to get through all 6.2 miles of it, and there were parts where I was dealing with aches and struggling. Despite those moments, though, it was fun. I can’t even believe I’m writing that running 6.2 miles was fun – the me from two years before this moment would totally roll her eyes at me. But it was fun. During the race, I wasn’t thinking about how many calories I was burning, or how running was going to get me into better shape. I was thinking about how cool it was to run at Disney, how running with a pack of people past Spaceship Earth was surreal, and how happy I was that my legs were strong enough to carry me through it all.

Showing off the medalYes, I wore that medal for the rest of our week at Disney.

A little over a week ago I ran a four mile St. Patrick’s Day race – my first race since the Enchanted 10k. During that run, I found myself wishing for Disney music and characters along the course. It wasn’t quite the same, running through neighborhoods and across a golf course without on-course entertainment and Minnie Mouse waiting at the finish line.

And like much of Disney, it’s easy to get addicted. I’m already planning my next runDisney event, and I’m going to push myself even further. I recently registered for the Wine & Dine Half Marathon at Walt Disney World in November. A half marathon sounds impossible to me right now, but I have months to get myself ready. It wasn’t that long ago that a 10k seemed impossible. Now I have a new dream to chase.

Race Recap – runDisney Princess Enchanted 10k (Part 1)

[Note: I tried writing this recap as a single post. It was nearly 3000 words. To spare your eyes, I’m breaking it up into two parts.]

Race Recap: runDisney's Enchanted 10k

It was after last year’s Disney Social Media Moms Conference, where I ran a two mile fun run through Disneyland, that I decided I wanted to run in a runDisney race event. I loved running through the parks, and wanted to do it as part of an official race, with a medal. I really hadn’t run anything more than a 5k, and the idea of traveling across several states just to run another 5k was not going to work. If I was going to do it, I had to challenge myself to something bigger.

I registered for the Enchanted 10k, part of the Princess Half Marathon weekend at Walt Disney World, back in July, so I was committed to this race months ahead of time. It’s a good thing, too, because I needed the extra time to get ready for it. An injury in mid-October led me to missing out on weeks of running as I rested my foot, tried to run again, injured it again, and then spent six weeks in a boot. When I was released to run again in mid-January, my orthopedic doctor recommended I take it slow and drop out of the 10k, because I wouldn’t have enough time to get ready for it. While I appreciated his opinion, I wasn’t letting this race slip past me. I got back into running, despite the cold weather, and did my best to increase my mileage again at a reasonable, but quick, rate.

A few weeks before the race, I had completed five miles. That was as far as I’d get before the race, due to needing time to rest and recover after losing my pregnancy. That moment left me emotionally raw. I lost one of the things I was looking forward to this year, and so when looking at this chance to run through a Disney park, I refused to lose this experience, too. I knew I could make it five miles, so another 1.2 was possible, even if it was just walking.

The Day Before the Race

We arrived in Walt Disney World on February 20, the morning of the Frozen 5k. On one hand, I wish I had done that race just because the medal was so cute. On the other, the 5k lived up to its name by setting a record low temperature that day – below freezing. It was – literally – the Frozen 5k. Perhaps it was a good thing that I missed it.

We skipped going right to our resort and instead went to the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex to pick up our race bibs at the Princess Half Marathon Expo. This was the second day of the expo, so there wasn’t as much of a crowd.

Enchanted 10k signGetting a photo in front of my race banner on a very chilly morning.

We received our bibs with practically no waiting, and the official merchandise lines weren’t that long, either. (Sadly, the Dooney & Bourke PHM purses sold out on the first day, so I missed my chance of getting one.)

The second area of the expo was a little more crowded, with lots of vendors to see, including my favorite SparkleSkirts. It was a run-nerd’s paradise of gear. I bought a new SparkleSkirt, and picked up the RawThreads hoodie that I had pre-ordered, while Aaron bought a new pair of sunglasses.

The kids were less thrilled to look at running gear all day, so we cut our time in the expo short, but not before spotting Jeff Galloway and stopping for a photo and an autograph.

Meeting Jeff Galloway

Jeff Galloway is the trainer for runDisney, and his run-walk-run method has helped many new runners cross the finish line. After I tried different couch-to-5k programs with little success (I almost always failed when I reached the 8 or 10 minute long running segments), I decided to give his method of interval running a try. It’s because of his method that I was confident that I could do this race, and I recommend him to all new runners I meet.

After the expo, we checked in to our resort, Port Orleans Riverside. We stayed at Port Orleans Riverside two years ago in one of the Princess rooms. This time we stayed on the other side of Riverside – Alligator Bayou. These rooms are decorated to have a more rustic look, but the bonus is that they also have a fold down bed.

Port Orleans Riverside Bayou Room The wooden box/bench on the left folds down into a bed.

We knew Mira was an active sleeper, but didn’t realize just how active until our stop on the drive down the night before, when sharing a bed with Cordy proved almost impossible. Mira woke Cordy up several times with her constant shifting around in bed. Having the fold-down bed in our resort room was perfect – now each kid could have her own bed!

My race was the next morning, and I was focused on drinking as much water as I could, stretching, and preparing myself. But I didn’t want to stay in the room all day, so we went to Magic Kingdom for a few hours, with the knowledge that I wanted to be in bed by 9pm and not do too much walking. That was still plenty of time to meet a couple of princesses, ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and eat dinner before going back to the room.

Cinderella Castle Seriously, I will never get tired of this view.

The Morning of the Race

My alarm went off just before 3am. Wait, 3am, you say? Yes, runDisney events start very early in the morning, and to be on the bus in time, it’s best to be out at the bus stop at 3:30am. I quickly got my running costume on (details on my costume will be another post), tried to do something with my hair and makeup, made sure I had everything I needed, and left the room to catch the bus.

10k race costumeThe “flat me” for the race – making sure I had everything I needed.

OMG it was cold outside. Not as cold as the people who ran the Frozen 5k endured, but it was still unusually cold for Florida at 39 degrees. I had leggings and a long sleeve shirt under my costume, but it still felt cold walking through the resort to the bus stop.

A bus was waiting and I enjoyed the short ride to sit and eat my bagel for breakfast. Once we arrived in the Epcot parking lot, I followed the thousands of people streaming into the race area. There were large clusters of people gathered around outdoor heaters. It was at this point that I pulled out my mylar blanket to help me stay warm.

Pre-race selfie Forget what you’ve heard, the cold did bother me.

It wasn’t long before we were sent to our corrals. I was disappointed to be in the last corral, worried that I’d have very little cushion to finish under the time limit, but I was still determined to finish. The corral was packed, and I worked my way up as close to the front of the corral as I could.

The corralLooking towards the front of corral E. (At least twice as many people behind me.)

Once we were in our corrals, we waited. I’m not sure how long we waited in the corrals. It was probably not as long as it felt to me. I refused to release my death grip on my mylar blanket and risk letting cold air in long enough to check my watch.

And then? Finally, it was go time. [To be continued in Part 2, which can be found here.]

Review: Disney’s (Live-Action) Cinderella

posterIn case you haven’t noticed, we’re big Disney fans in this household. Just a few weeks back, the entire family traveled to Walt Disney World to spend a week in the resorts and parks, and to take part in the Princess Half Marathon weekend. (I promise a recap post on that is coming soon!)

While at Disney, we saw promotions for the new live-action Cinderella movie, of course. And why not – the castle in Magic Kingdom is named for her, she was the most popular princess for a long time (before Rapunzel, Anna and Elsa came along), and her story is one that is known by just about every female from a young age. And with the teasers I saw, I knew we’d want to go watch this movie. Here’s our review of Cinderella.


The story of Cinderella follows the fortunes of young Ella whose merchant father remarries following the death of her mother. Eager to support her loving father, Ella welcomes her new stepmother and her daughters Anastasia and Drisella into the family home. But when Ella’s father unexpectedly passes away, she finds herself at the mercy of a jealous and cruel new family. Finally relegated to nothing more than a servant girl covered in ashes, and spitefully renamed Cinderlla, Ella could easily begin to lose hope. Yet, despite the cruelty inflicted upon her, Ella is determined to honor her mother’s dying words and to “have courage and be kind.”

She will not give in to despair nor despise those who mistreat her. And then there is the dashing stranger she meets in the woods. Unaware that he is really a prince, not merely an apprentice at the Palace, Ella finally feels she has met a kindred soul. It appears her fortunes may be about to change when the Palace sends out an open invitation for all maidens to attend a ball, raising Ella’s hopes of once again encountering the charming Kit. Alas, her stepmother forbids her to attend and callously rips apart her dress. But, as in all good fairy tales, help is at hand, and a kindly beggar woman (Helena Bonham-Carter) steps forward and – armed with a pumpkin and a few mice – changes Cinderella’s life forever.

Directed by Kenneth Branagh, Cinderella stars Lily James, Hayley Atwell, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter and Richard Madden.
(from Disney)

kinopoisk.ruThe Feature

The 2015 Cinderella follows the primary story of the classic 1950 version nearly identically. There are certain elements that have been changed – notably, the film is not a musical, and while she does get assistance from her mice friends, there are no talking animals in the film.

Where the films differ most is the focus on giving expanded backstory to each of the main characters. We get to see a lot more about Cinderella’s life before her mother died, and we get to see the close relationship between Ella and her father. The mantra of “have courage and be kind” is repeated and we see how it shapes Ella. We’re given a reason for why Ella never fights back or chooses to leave the house and strike out on her own. Similarly, we get to see a bit more between the Prince (Kit) and his father, and we see a charming relationship between Father and Son and between King and heir, and where those two relationships have to come into conflict.

Lady Tremaine is given a bit more backstory and explanation for her motives and for why she never cares for Ella. I’m not sure her backstory is enough to justify the pleasure she seems to take out of torturing Ella, but we learn she’s had her own share of heartbreak, too.

Best of all, however, we get scenes of Ella and the Prince where they do more than just dance. They get to talk to one another, and share secrets and thoughts and ideas. It’s still a short two scenes, and doesn’t leave them with much more time to build a lasting romance than Anna and Hans have in Frozen, but at least it’s more than just “They danced, and therefore they’re in love.”

Lily James gives us a very convincing Ella/Cinderella, and Richard Madden has cleaned up exceptionally from Game of Thrones to make a very dashing Disney Prince. Cate Blanchett plays Lady Tremaine with gusto, seeming very much like a younger Angelica Huston, and Helena Bonham-Carter’s Fairy Godmother is perhaps a bit more scatterbrained than the animated version, but is a heart-warming presence.

kinopoisk.ruThe Visuals

Kenneth Branagh has a fantastic eye for the cinema, and with a Disney-backed budget, we would expect nothing less than fantastic from the director who gave us Thor, Hamlet and Henry V. I chose those three films specifically to point out how high the bar was set.

Branagh surpasses it. Cinderella is absolutely breathtaking. From the little details of watching butterflies magically transform into jeweled accents, to the sweeping vistas of the kingdom, to exploring the little details that make Ella’s house a warm and loving home, Branagh uses the camera to overwhelm us visually, using both sweeping wide shots and intimate close-ups. The line between CGI and practical make-up and effects is hard to draw, and everything is given the attention to make the visual world of Cinderella a fully immersive experience.

fairygodmotherThe Music

Like their other recent live-action reimagining (Maleficent), Disney chose not to make Cinderella a musical. Instead, we get a beautiful score from Patrick Doyle, along with two after-the-credits reprises from the animated feature.

Doyle’s score is more than up to the task of guiding us through the emotional arc of the film, without ever once drawing attention to itself. I leave it to the viewer to decide if this is a good thing or if it merely makes his music serviceable, although Aaron and I lean towards the view that the music should only become the focus of a scene when it is, in fact, the focus of the scene.

During the post credits, Lily James sings “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” and it is very pretty, while Helena Bonham-Carter provides a humorous take on “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo” that left a smile on the faces of my entire family.

The Good

Breathtaking visuals, a strong score, and excellent acting gives us a film that manages to retain almost all of the charm of the animated film while giving additional depth to the characters and the story. Cinderella herself is notable for being given significantly more agency and drive in this film, as opposed to the mostly passive version we see in the animated classic. The Prince, as well, is more developed than the animated classic, showing us why the two of them might fall for each other. (And he wisely has the ability to recognize the girl he loves by her face, and not just her foot in a shoe.)

The Bad

The explanation for Lady Tremaine’s wickedness doesn’t really mesh with her actions when she first moves in with Ella and her father, even before his untimely death. Although Cate Blanchett does her best with the role, it never really manages to elevate her above the cartoon version of the character. She still seems to be evil for the joy of being evil.

Additionally, that deeper look at the characters comes with additional run-time, and even with the modest run-time of 112 minutes, Cinderella still felt like it was just a bit too long. Our kids were able to sit through the film, but were definitely a little wiggly during the slower moments. Branagh could have tightened a few scenes to keep it to a more kid-friendly length and (more importantly) pace.

ladytremaineFinal Thoughts

I was concerned that it would be a difficult task to bring a classic retelling of Cinderella back to the theaters, considering that Cinderella is thought of by many as weaker when compared to some of the modern Princesses, with a story centered around the girl being swept away from all of her problems by a dashing prince and fairy godmother. After all, it was less than two years ago that we were all charmed by the two sisters of Arendelle as they proved that a fairytale doesn’t always have to end with a handsome prince and a wedding.

Did Cinderella succeed? Mostly. It is, in almost every way I can think of, a better film than the animated one, and we certainly enjoyed it. The story itself still has issues from a feminist perspective, but I thought Disney did a good job of trying to manage those elements by providing more interaction between Cinderella and her Prince, and giving us a Cinderella with a lion’s heart. She fiercely believes in the values taught to her by her parents, unwilling to compromise on those values even at her own expense, and despite her miserable circumstances, it’s those same traits that eventually help her reach her happy ending. Although I’d argue that while “have courage and be kind” are admirable values, they’re less so if they cause you to let yourself be abused.

But at the same time, I don’t think it’s necessary to have a take-away lesson from every movie, and we’re allowed to have a heroine with flaws, mild as they may be in this case. It’s okay to watch a movie simply because it’s beautiful and lets us escape the mundane for a short while into a world where dreams can come true if you just believe. With that goal in mind, this movie is an absolute success. Cinderella is worth watching, and is sure to become a part of our movie collection.

Bonus: Frozen Fever

frozenfeverThere is, of course, the segment of the audience who is coming not for the feature, but just to see Frozen Fever, because of the… well… Frozen fever that has struck Disney fans. (No, we’re not immune. We love Frozen, and during our recent visit, we did the Meet and Greet with Anna and Elsa and attended “For the First Time In Forever: A Frozen Sing-A-Long” at Hollywood Studios.)

As a short, one should not expect Frozen Fever to have the same depth as the original feature. It doesn’t, and we shouldn’t expect it.

What it is, however, is a heartwarming short tale about Elsa (along with Olaf, Sven and Kristoff) trying to plan a perfect birthday for Anna (after thirteen years of Elsa being completely absent from Anna’s life during birthdays). But, despite being the Queen of Snow and Ice, Elsa is not immune to the type of cold that comes from a virus rather than chilled temperatures, and her magical abilities interact with her cold to make the day go rather less smoothly than planned.

It’s very cute, and all of the original voices (except for Hans) reprise their roles. The original song for the short “Making Today a Perfect Day” is charming and pleasant, and if it won’t push “Let It Go” out of your child’s playlist, it will at least add some variety to a soundtrack that most parents have heard repeatedly.

(Disclaimer: I was provided free tickets for the preview screening, however I received no other compensation. All opinions are mine and those of my family.)

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