Page to Screen: Cinderella (2015)

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Cinderella
based on the 1950 motion picture and the fairy tale by Charles Perrault

★★★½☆

2015 • 112 minutes • Walt Disney Pictures

Despite my fervently fevered hopes, there was never any real chance that Kenneth Branagh’s live-action adaptation of Disney’s Cinderella would follow in the radically feminist footsteps of Maleficent. While Sleeping Beauty is widely considered one of the best Disney films, Cinderella is the film that saved Walt Disney Animation from shutting down in the early fifties. The film and the character are so intertwined with the company that Walt Disney World is crowned by her castle. Letting Linda Woolverton turn in a script that is literally about destroying the patriarchy for Maleficent is one thing; letting Christ Weitz radically change what Jess Plummer calls the “ur-Disney movie” is quite another.

So Branagh’s Cinderella doesn’t make many changes to the original film. We do get a bit more of Ella’s childhood (including a kind turn by Hayley Atwell as Ella’s mother), an adorable meet-cute in the forest between Ella and the Prince, a more fleshed out relationship between the Prince and his father, and some half-hearted court intrigue involving the Grand Duke. Any commentary on the original text is largely kept to Ella’s characterization. The film deepens her already established compassion, best expressed in the scene where Lady Tremaine is horrified to discover that Ella pities her. She questions why things are the way they are, but the most radical implication of that is that Ella is a vegetarian. Lady Tremaine gets a sympathetic backstory in one brief scene, but a pointedly feminist retelling it is not.

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At The Movies: Muppets Most Wanted (2013)

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Muppets Most Wanted

★★½☆☆

2014 • 112 minutes • Walt Disney Pictures

Do the Muppets really work on the silver screen if they’re playing themselves?

As a child of the nineties, I was introduced to the Muppets as a very unique group of day players in The Muppet Christmas Carol, Muppet Treasure Island, and the short-lived Muppets Tonight. Even The Muppets Movie, which sets out to tell the troupe’s origin story, is a surreal, meta wonderland. The fourth wall has always taken a well-received beating from the Muppets, from Rizzo’s shock that someone would die in a kid’s movie in Muppet Treasure Island (Gonzo reassures him that it’s literature) to the script being used as a plot device in The Muppet Movie to the very existence of Statler and Waldorf, who can considered the forerunners of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew.

When the action is about the Muppets playing other characters or different versions of themselves, it can be sublime. But when it’s about the Muppets’ lives and tries to balance resolving and leaving open their usual and necessarily unresolved character beats (Piggy and Kermit’s relationship is always on the edge of a knife, Scooter is always frazzled, Sam is always disapproving and stoic), it can fall flat. Case in point: Muppets Most Wanted.

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