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:



Marvel’s Ant-Man Available on Blu-ray and Digital HD.

Ant-ManDisclaimer: We were provided a free digital download of Marvel’s Ant-Man for the purposes of this review.

The Marvel Movie machine rumbles on as they bring us the biggest tiny heroes to the screen. The saga of bringing Ant-Man to the big screen is kind of a fascinating one. Originally, this was to be the second of Marvel’s self-produced films. Edgar Wright, of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead fame was to write and direct the tale, on the heels of Iron Man. This was before there was any idea of such a thing as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the interconnected world of superhero films based on Marvel comics.

Due to one delay or another, Ant-Man kept being delayed, and as such, the need to rework the film to fit into the greater MCU arose, and eventually Edgar Wright and Marvel parted ways (although Wright has kept both a writing and a producing credit on the film).

What this means is that we have a very different Ant-Man then we would have had Wright made his film, but we also have one that was set to tie in to the greater narrative that Marvel and Disney have been crafting.

But does it work? That’s the big question. I asked Aaron to cover this one, as he knows far more of the backstory with this character. As is usually the case when we see movies together, we agree on most points with this assessment of Ant-Man.

Synopsis

Armed with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, master thief Scott Lang must embrace his inner-hero and help his mentor, Doctor Hank Pym, protect the secret behind his spectacular Ant-Man suit from a new generation of towering threats. Against seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Pym and Lang must plan and pull off a heist that will save the world.

Marvel’s Ant-Man stars Paul Rudd as Scott Lang aka Ant-Man, Evangeline Lilly as Hope Van Dyne, Corey Stoll as Darren Cross aka Yellowjacket, Bobby Cannavale as Paxton, Michael Peña as Luis, Judy Greer as Maggie, Tip “Ti” Harris as Dave, David Dastmalchian as Kurt, Wood Harris as Gale, Jordi Mollà as Castillo and Michael Douglas as Hank Pym.

Peyton Reed directs Marvel’s Ant-Man with Kevin Feige producing and Louis D’Esposito, Alan Fine, Victoria Alonso, Michael Grillo, Edgar Wright and Stan Lee serving as executive producers. Marvel’s Ant-Man delivers a high-stakes, tension-filled adventure on July 17, 2015.
(from Marvel.com/movies)
Antman_004

The Feature

There were a lot of interesting creative choices to be made in this film, beginning with the decision to use a Hank Pym, who is more a contemporary of Howard Stark than Tony, and whose superhero career (alongside his wife, Janet Van Dyne) started in the 1970s and ended in the late 1980s. In the present, set to become an Avenger alongside Captain America, Iron Man and Thor, we will see not Pym and Van Dyne as Ant-Man and the Wasp, but instead Scott Lang taking on the mantle.

It’s a curious choice from the point of view of a comic fan, but from the perspective of a film fan, it does give us an Ant-Man who is not a genius scientist, which frankly the Avengers will already full of. And the good news is that Paul Rudd is amazingly charming as Scott Lang.

As Lang, Rudd gives us a character who is motivated not by wealth or power, not by guilt or a strong sense of moral fiber, but is instead motivated by a drive to try to not let innocent people be hurt while sticking it to the “Man”, and simultaneously driven by the need to provide for his daughter.

In fact, the thing that unites Lang and Pym more than their shared mantle as Ant-Man is the need for a father to connect with and protect their daughter, while being completely unsure of how to do that. Being an ex-con, convicted for stealing from Lang’s former employer, Lang is unable to find a legal job to prove his responsibility and get access to his daughter again, and a heist gone wrong proves to Pym that Lang is the man he needs to be his successor.

Antman_005

Pym, played fantastically by Michael Douglas, is an older man, driven by the desire to protect the world from his Pym Particles being used by the wrong person. After all, a two-inch high assassin with the strength fifty times that of a normal man would be nigh-unstoppable. Pym’s former protégé, Darren Cross, has spent years trying to unlock the secrets of the Pym Particles, and is finally on the verge of both using the formula and unleashing his armored, flying, “Yellowjacket” suit.

Pym’s daughter, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lily) is working for Cross while secretly still aligning herself with her father. Hope is everything the daughter of a superhero could hope for – brilliant, driven, a skilled fighter, and capable of the mental discipline needed to control an army of ants – but for reasons unknown to her, her father doesn’t want her wearing the Ant-Man suit.

Along the way, we meet Lang’s former cellmate and other criminal compadres, who end up assisting Lang and Pym in their crusade against Cross; and experience the drama surrounding Lang’s ex-wife Maggie, daughter Cassie, and Maggie’s fiancée Paxton (who also happens to be a cop).

The entire film is fun and moves along briskly to the climax where Ant-Man and Yellowjacket fight for both control of the Pym Particles and for the safety of Lang’s family, and ends with a set-up to see Ant-Man in the next films in Marvel’s Phase Three of Films.

Antman_006

The Good

The casting is spot on in this film, with Rudd, Lily and Douglas especially standing out. The action is solid, the dialogue is sprinkle with quick one-liners, and the effects are superb. This is a very solid entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and seeing the different cast members introduced here in future films will be very welcome.

Antman_002

The Bad

Cross is one of the least interesting villains to enter into the realm of the MCU. He’s almost exactly a carbon copy of Obadiah Stane from Iron Man, and lacks all of the nuance and interest we’ve found in Loki, the Winter Soldier, or Ultron. He’s not awful – but he definitely represents a step back.

Antman_003

The Ugly

The remnants of Wright’s script are still visible, sometimes in awkward places. There are lines that feel like they were directly lifted from his pen in scenes that otherwise seem like they were completely reworked, and beats in the script that would have worked in a film that was more consistently marked by Wright’s style, but which stuck out like a sore thumb on their own.

The Bonus Material

The Blu-ray packs and Digital HD copies of Ant-Man include several bonus offerings, including an incredible look into how they created the world when seen from the size of an ant, and audio commentary by Peyton Reed And Paul Rudd. If you can’t get enough of the movie’s humor, there’s a fun gag reel of flubs, forgotten lines, and even a few intentional laughs. A collection of deleted scenes are also included. I enjoyed the deleted and extended scenes, but thought that the right choice was made to leave each out of the final cut as being unnecessary to further the plot and slowing down the pace in some instances.

Final Thoughts

I would have loved to see what Edgar Wright wanted to do with Ant-Man, but the truth is that once the Marvel Cinematic Universe became a thing, that was never going to happen. Wright is at his heart an independent film-maker, and being forced to rework his script to coincide with events that happened in other films, and to set up future films, was always going to be something he fought against – and Marvel has made it very clear that no creative talent is more important than their overall vision of the MCU. No actor, no director, no producer is more important than the whole (with the possible exception of Robert Downey Jr), and it is probably better to see Peyton Reed directing Ant-Man than to see Wright’s version of the film being hamstrung by Marvel’s requirements.

That said, as someone who is a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I think that this film is ultimately more satisfying than a stand-alone, Edgar Wright-driven Ant-Man like we might have gotten back in 2008. It’s a very solid middle entry into the overall saga of the MCU, and is probably at the right level of “everything changes” drama to be a good palate cleaner between Age of Ultron and Civil War. Scott Lang brings a different kind of personality, background and skills to the Avengers than we’ve seen in any of their other members, and this film is perhaps the perfect example of a popcorn film.

The one complaint I have was that it was remarkably predictable. There are tiny little moments that surprised me, but overall, there were no big twists to the film. It was enjoyable, but nothing hit me with the kind of “Wow, did not see that coming,” that I’ve experienced in most of the Marvel films. On the other hand, if I wasn’t surprised by anything in the film, I suspect the reviewability of the movie will be high, since my enjoyment wasn’t based on being surprised.

Ant-Man is a very solid superhero film, and if we hadn’t already seen almost all of the elements of the formula that made the movie already, I’d have been thoroughly wowed. Instead, I found myself thinking that there wasn’t a lot new to find here (other than the father-daughter relationships being the driving force of the film), but that it was still a perfectly enjoyable way to spend a few hours. And it’s not like superhero tales don’t all have a certain degree of similarity to begin with, but I still read comics each week. If I’m willing to buy six to ten comics each week that all have elements I’ve seen before, I can certainly afford to spend the money to watch a superhero film that has elements I’ve seen before. And I was happy to do so.

Antman_001

Bonus

Stan Lee makes his requisite cameo, and true to form, it’s a pretty darn funny one. Also as we’ve grown to expect (grown… because Ant-Man shrinks… get it?), there is a mid-credits stinger scene that addresses the question that has been on the minds of all of us ever since Ant-Man was mentioned as coming to cinemas – when do we get to see the Wasp? Finally, stick through all the way to the end credits for a sneak peek look at Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War.

 



Summer’s Here, and Cedar Point Is Waiting For You

Disclosure: I was provided with a complimentary one-night stay and park tickets by Cedar Point. All of the fun was an easy joint endeavor.

Can you feel it? Summer is finally here. I can practically hear the Phineas and Ferb song “Summer (Where Do We Begin)” right now. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, go take a listen.) I’m looking forward to the slower pace, no homework, and more travel just as much as the kids are.

Of course, here in Ohio, one of the first signs of summer is our amusement parks opening for the season. My family loves to go to Cedar Point to enjoy the warm days with the cool Lake Erie breezes. Cedar Point opened on May 9, and while I wasn’t able to get there for opening weekend, we did have the chance to go recently.

Hotel Breakers

One of the big changes this year is the renovation of their main resort hotel, Hotel Breakers.

Hotel Breakers

While I’ve always enjoyed previous stays at Hotel Breakers, I must confess that the hotel was starting to show its age (it opened in 1905 as the “largest and greatest hotel on the Great Lakes.”), so a facelift was in order. However, Cedar Point went far beyond a facelift and gave the hotel a complete deluxe makeover! Everything was renovated to make the space brighter, more open, and more modern, while still retaining the rich history of this landmark.

The lobby has a fresh new look, but I love the classic carousel horses on display, too.

Hotel Breakers carousel horses Beautiful carousel horses on display

Hotel Breakers lobbyThe historic photo of Breakers stretches along the wall of the check-in desk.

There’s a new area off of the lobby that has a Starbucks and a bar on the ground level, and a spectacular view up into the other floors.

Hotel Breakers towerIt was stunning to view in-person.

The rooms still have a lakeside aura to them, but the color scheme and decor has been updated to incorporate the amusement park feel, too. I especially love the bright colored comforters and the photo headboards on the beds!

Hotel Breakers headboards

It wasn’t just the inside that was new. There was a new exterior, too. The front entrance has been completed remodeled to remove the steps, and on the other side, new pools and lounging areas were installed, overlooking the beach and Lake Erie. We spent some time in the evening around the firepits, enjoying the cool breeze after the rain passed through.

Hotel Breakers firepits The carousel horse theme can be found throughout the hotel.

Other amenities include two pools and Jacuzzis, access to the Cedar Point Beach and Boardwalk, a gift shop, arcade, exercise room, three restaurants, Early Entry (access to some of the biggest rides and coasters before the park opens to the general public), discounted Cedar Point admission tickets, complimentary Wi-Fi and the comfort and convenience of staying right next to the rides and roller coasters of Cedar Point.

It was easy to fall asleep that night in the luxuriously comfortable beds, dreaming of the fun we had planned for the next day.

Cedar Point

One of the best perks of staying at a Cedar Point hotel for us is the one-hour early access for resort guests. That extra hour gives you the chance to ride some of the best rides with very short lines. I don’t think we waited longer than 5 minutes for any ride during that first hour.

We were there right at the start of early entry, and chose GateKeeper as our first ride of the day. Mira was FINALLY tall enough to ride it, and Cordy decided she was now brave enough to take on this winged coaster.

Cedar Point GateKeeper

The result? They both loved it! GateKeeper is two years old now, but still one of the best roller coasters out there. It’s a smooth ride that provides a thrilling experience – and it’s a slightly different experience depending on which side you sit on. You’ll have to decide for yourself which side is the best ride, but for me, I prefer the left wing.

Mira is still our Ride Warrior, willing to try just about any ride out there. But while she isn’t lacking in bravery, she is lacking in height. She was just a tiny bit too short to go on the new ride for this year, Rougarou. The standing coaster Mantis was taken down last year, and Rougarou rose from its ashes. It uses the same track, but has a new floorless design, with your feet dangling a short distance from the track below you. (There’s a video at the link I provided.) The height requirement for that one is 54″ though, and she’s about 53.75″. She took the news well, however, and can’t wait to ride it later this year when she’s grown just a bit more.

She wasn’t about to give up on new-to-her coasters, though, and so we did seek out the other 52″ coaster, Maverick. This is probably the twistiest coaster we’ve ever experienced. The name fits well – it feels like being on an out-of-control horse trying to twist and kick and throw you off. But it’s a lot of fun, too, including a speed launch up into a hill mid-ride. Even Cordy liked this one, and I was sure she would be too scared to ride it.

Cedar Point Maverick

While we love the thrill rides, there’s a lot more at Cedar Point than just roller coasters. There are plenty of family rides that are still exciting without being too scary, like Pipe Scream or the Monster in the Midway area.

Cedar Point - Monster

And there are plenty of classic rides, too, like the Tilt-a-Whirl, Antique Cars, and the historic (1920) racing carousel, Cedar Downs.

Cedar DownsYeah, I didn’t win that race.

For the little kids, there are plenty of little rides made just for them in Planet Snoopy, Camp Snoopy, and Kiddie Kingdom. Our two have now outgrown most of the kid rides in these areas (sniff, sniff), but thankfully they haven’t outgrown their love of Snoopy and the Peanuts gang.

Cedar Point Snoopy

They also haven’t outgrown the petting zoo in Frontiertown. But really, who wouldn’t want to pet fluffy animals?

Cedar Point Petting Zoo

It was so much fun to spend the weekend at Cedar Point again! There’s simply too much to do in a single day, so each visit gives us the chance to try something new or revisit old favorites.

We’re already planning a return in the fall for HalloWeekends and BloggyCon (and stay at Hotel Breakers again, of course), and Aaron and I will be there again in two weeks for the Cedar Point Run & Ride 10k and Half Marathon. I’m hoping that we can find time in our busy summer schedules to sneak another family visit in before school starts again.

It’s easy to day-trip a visit to Cedar Point from Columbus, or spend a few days there for a relaxing, close-to-home staycation. Check out their website for hotel reservations and deals on tickets to the roller coaster capital of the world!



Using HomeTeam™ To Stay Connected To Extended Family

My mom lives about an hour from us, which isn’t very far away. However, with her busy schedule, there are many times she might as well be in another state. It’s often difficult to schedule a time to get together so she can spend time with her granddaughters between our two schedules. So we’re often relying on phone calls for the kids to say hi to their grandmother and let her know what they’ve been up to.

Phone calls can only go so far, though, and my kids aren’t the best at keeping up conversation on the phone. The conversation usually involves my kids answering questions from relatives with short answers, or launching into a monologue about something they saw, and it’s only a few minutes before one party or the other is done talking. And even using Facetime, they can only get five minutes or so out of making silly faces or showing off their latest drawings.

There are over 70M grandparents in the US, and each year 1.7M people become new grandparents. According to the AARP, over half of grandparents in the U.S. live more than 100 miles from their grandchildren; 43 percent live more than 200 miles away. At the same time, Pew Research Center found that the use of communications and social networking services among seniors is skyrocketing. More than 65 percent of U.S. adults ages 50 to 64 were found to be using social networking services in 2014, up from 41 percent in 2009.

I recently had the chance to try out a new app from Panasonic that I’m really excited about. Their HomeTeam™ app was designed with the intent of connecting loved ones across generations and distance, creating shared memories of activities done together with the help of technology.

Not only can you video chat with relatives, but the app contains a library of shared activities you can do together, in real-time. Using a tablet or computer, now grandparents can read a story or play a game with their grandchildren while they talk to each other, even if they live thousands of miles away.

It’s a fairly easy process. The HomeTeam app will be available for tablets and computers. Once you and a family member have the app installed, you can add each other as contacts. Once you’ve accepted each other as contacts, they will appear in your list of contacts. To call someone, press the Connect button, then select the contact you want to call. A ringing phone sound plays for the other person, letting them know you’re calling.

HomeTeam app

Once you’re connected, you’re in full video mode. A small box in the upper left corner shows what your camera is recording, while the remainder of the screen is your friend or family member. There’s a menu that can be brought up on the bottom of the screen, letting you mute the call, end the call, or choose from books or games to share together.

HomeTeam menuMira and Aaron testing out the app.

The books range for all ages, with something for the smallest child to the most advanced reader. The games include easy-to-learn games like tic-tac-toe, plus more complex games like chess. (Be warned, depending on the skill levels, that could be a LONG call!) When playing games or reading books, the majority of the screen is the game or book, but the two video windows remain open on the left side.

HomeTeam tic-tac-toe

I wish something like this would have been around when my kids were younger. My mom liked reading stories to them before they could read very well, and we could have used this to share a bedtime story once or twice a week. Now that Cordy has learned to play chess, though, this app has widened the number of opponents for her to face off against.

I like that this app gives the kids a shared experience with family and friends, rather than just a call. The books or games give them something to talk about, and they have fun while creating memories together.

The HomeTeam app will be available in the App Store and Google Play on 3/24/15. New users will be able to sample the entire HomeTeam experience, including unlimited access to content and all features free of charge for 30 days. After that, a premium subscription for continued access to unlimited content is available by month ($8.99/mo) and by year ($89.99/yr).

Giveaway!

Which feature of HomeTeam™ are you most excited to use? Tell me in the comments for a chance to win a $100 VISA gift card.

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This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older (or nineteen (19) years of age or older in Alabama and Nebraska). Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. The notification email will come directly from BlogHer via the sweeps@blogher email address. You will have 2 business days to respond; otherwise a new winner will be selected.

The Official Rules are available here.

This sweepstakes runs from 4/15/2015 – 5/17/2015

Be sure to visit the Panasonic HomeTeam brand page on BlogHer.com where you can read other bloggers’ posts!



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.

Synopsis

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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