Sunday, March 22, 2015

Frozen Fever and Cinderella Reviews

Last week was spring break in East Tennessee, and I took the opportunity to take my amazing niece to see the new Cinderella movie. From the trailers, I could tell it would either be really good or terribly bad, which for other movies would usually makes me wait until the rental release to see it. But this particular Disney release has the new Frozen short, Frozen Fever, playing before the feature, and I simply can't resist anything Frozen.  So off we went, and we had a blast. I'm splitting the reviews up and I'll try my best to avoid any spoilers!

Frozen Fever
 I was beyond excited when I first heard about this short, and my expectations soared to the sky. Thankfully, a few days before seeing it, I came across a video on the Disney blog to help everyone learn the lyrics to the new song. I showed it to A, since he's obsessed with all things Frozen as well. He loved it, but J and I were both seriously disappointed. The musical composition is great, but the lyrics are seriously lacking. Honestly, it seems like a first draft. Which is terrible, and I hate to say it! I love all the songs in Frozen, and the writers are the same, but the short seems much more juvenile than the film. Since it's playing before Cinderella, which is sure to draw all ages (or so I'd think, and the fact that it's currently the number one movie in the WORLD would attest to that as well), I expected a song that would appeal to all ages as well. That little preview tempered my expectations, and I can happily say that I still love the short film, even if the song isn't as perfect as the ones in Frozen.

The plot is great: it's Anna's birthday, and Elsa is trying to make up for all the birthdays Anna spent without her. There has been lots of planning, and so of course something has to go wrong. Elsa catches a cold (you've got to love Disney and their use of irony!) and naturally hijinks ensue. There's cake and presents and a dash of Oaken, too. Olaf, Sven, and Kristoff are back as well, lending a helping hand.

Overall, I really enjoyed it. The original voice actors are back, and Disney has a good track record with shorts as mini-sequels (I also loved Tangled Ever After, when that came out a few years back. The Toy Story shorts and TV adaptations are great, too!). I think A will love it, when it finally comes out for him to be able to see it (despite my Twitter pleas, Disney has yet to make just the short available for the Frozen-crazed toddlers of the world who can't sit through a whole movie.) I'm crossing my fingers it will be available for purchase by itself, and not just with Cinderella.

Here's the trailer, in case you haven't seen it yet:


My skepticism with this film was based on the trailer. In case you missed that, as well, here it is:

I knew from that it it would either be great or terrible, depending on which side of the cheesy pendulum it fell on. I can, gratefully, say that it is not overly cheesy at all. It's quite wonderful, and I can see how it's the number one movie in the world.

There are many things I love about this film, from the costumes to the sincerity to establishing the characters. The characters are well-developed and flawed, from the main characters to the supporting ones. Even the King, Grand Duke, Captain and household servants are well-developed, with clear motives for their actions.

If not for the sincerity, and very good acting, this film would have come across as cheesy. Lily James, who plays Cinderella, does a wonderful job of showing the innocence and genuine heart that Cinderella possesses. Cate Blanchett, as Lady Tremaine, does a wonderful job as well. She's cold and calculating, but also honest with her motives. The film runs a bit long at an hour and 45 minutes, but that's partly due to establishing the background these characters draw from. Lady Tremaine, especially, has an important build up. We get to see the growing resentment, as her new husband clearly favors his daughter and misses his deceased wife. We also find out more about how life has treated her, and brought her to this point, later in the film. It's nice to see a villain portrayed in a way that they're descent into evil is reasonable, and that we have to be careful to stay true to ourselves throughout the bad, not letting life's hardships taint our spirit. Darkness is a slippery slope, and Lady Tremaine demonstrates that very well.

The film also showcases the relationship between father and son and King and Prince, and how difficult it can be to balance both of those relationships. The relationship between the Prince and Cinderella is also established prior to the ball, which is refreshing from a modern standpoint. He likes the way she sees the world, and she likes his willingness to change his perspective to see things multiple ways. It's nice to see that they're well-suited for one another before they fall in love, which many love stories don't take the time to do.

I did get teary during this film, partly because there's a lot of parent death. This can't be too much of a spoiler, as we know from the original story and Disney's animated film that both of Cinderella's parents die, which is what causes her servanthood predicament. But this film takes the time to establish their family before tragedy strikes, allowing the viewer to get to know each character as an individual and cog in the clockwork of their family. It makes the inevitable death of the parents painful, because the viewer has already empathized with Ella and her family, and their innate goodness makes it hard to see them in pain.

One of my concerns was how the filmmakers would handle Ella's loneliness. In many films with a solitary character, another character is added for them to speak to. In I Am Legend, they added a dog; in Coraline, they gave her a friend. In the traditional tales of Cinderella, her goodness extends to all creatures great and small; she speaks to the birds, the mice, the field animals. In the animated adaptation, they speak back. I was worried about breaking the magical realism with talking animals, but I needn't have worried. The film does a great job of establishing both that the animals are listening and that she's perceived as looney by her stepsisters for talking to herself.

Many trailers included most of the scene with the fairy godmother, played by Helena Bonham Carter. I was surprised at how little she was in the film, considering how much she was in the trailers. But they do a great job of keeping with the slightly zany character established in previous adaptations while also making her unique to this one. Helena Bonham Carter does a great job, as always, and really gives the character life.

When I taught mythology and fairy tales as a teacher, my students would often ask logistical questions. Why didn't the slipper fit anyone else? Why didn't Ella leave? The film does a great job of subtly answering those questions to establish the realism aspect of the magical realism genre. They also allow the view to see Ella's breaking point, as well as stand up for herself once she has nothing left to lose.

I know, everything I've said has been good! But there were a few moments where I was perturbed. This is such a silly and shallow thing, but I can't imagine why they didn't have Lily James' eyebrows match her hair. One of my initial concerns with the movie is that when they tried to do a live-action remake of Snow White with Mirror, Mirror, they had Julia Roberts and still somehow made a terrible movie. One of the things I remember most is the actress' eyebrows that played Snow White: they were overgrown and nearly formed a unibrow. I'd read a review of that movie, saying it was bad, and complaining about those eyebrows. I thought the reviewer was being shallow and judgmental, but it really was terribly distracting.

Another negative to this Cinderella was the transformation of the animals into people for the coach. The lizards and goose still maintained a lot of their original characteristics, and it was just a bit much. They even have one of the lizard footmen eat a fly when he's supposed to be a person. It was to relieve tension during a dramatic moment, but still. It was a bit much.

The dress is a character unto itself, but it got a bit distracting as well. It's gorgeous, yes, but the poor girl could barely move in it. This dress was just a bit too puffy, and you could see it getting caught up in the Prince's legs while they were dancing. The transformation of the dress was Walt Disney's favorite piece of animation, and I can see why. This transformation is the cheesiest part of the film, as she slowly twirls and cranes her neck with her eyes closed. The original animated transformation is much more downplayed, with Cinderella being surprised at the result.
Here's the Disney animated transformation, for comparison:

The hair, makeup and costumes for this film were astounding, and I hope they get nominated for Oscars because they truly deserve it.

The entire film was just delightful, and it's one I can see myself watching again. The emphasis on goodness and kindness is such a wonderful message, with some modern notes dotted in on standing up for yourself and being brave.

Have you seen these new releases yet? What did you think? Sound off in the comments!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Bad Hair Day, Ripley's Aquarium, Indoor Zoo: A Month in Review

I know, y'all. I'm sorry. I totally disappeared for a month! This post will, of course, have your Disney fix and a few bonus reviews as well.  Here's what I've been up to:

Bad Hair Day
 I know the new Disney Channel Original Movie Bad Hair Day premiered in February and I'm way late, so I'll only do a mini-review.
The characters were nicely crafted, shucking stereotypes. I can't tell you how refreshing it was to have a main female character be super smart and enjoy dabbling in beauty products and trends without some drastic makeover montage. Bad Hair Day's protagonist is a tech wiz and a girly girl, and that's awesome. Multi-facted personalities are a fact of life, and stereotypes in television and movies perpetuate that.
Of course the plot line is a little far fetched, from jewel-heists to kidnappings, but like most Disney stories it's told with a lot of heart. Sincerity goes a long way in making up for predictable twists, and Disney nails it. Bad Hair Day was enjoyable to watch, with deep characters, funny quips and a heartwarming ending.

After nearly two years apart, my favorite (and only) sister and I were reunited last week. It was so much fun, I can't even begin to describe it. My son, A, totally fell in love with her all over again. He was glued to her side the whole time she was here, even climbing in to bed with her one night. We always have fun together, whether we're hanging out at home or adventuring out and about. Here's a review of some of the adventuring we did.

Since moving to Tennessee, we live in the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our proximity to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg allows us many day trips to experience things that people travel from all over to see and do.  While my best sis was visiting, we hit a few local attractions and ate many delicious foods (here's looking at you, Krispy Kreme, O'Charley's and Olive Garden!).

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies
As a huge animal lover, I'm a bit obsessed with aquariums. I love seeing how magical these creatures look, and I'd heard great things about this aquarium. We were worried about the amount of time we'd have, since J had to work and we wouldn't get there until 5, and they close at 9 in the spring. We ended up having more than enough time, spending just over two hours there. Admission is pricey, which is why we've been waiting for a special occasion to go; with $25 for adults with kids admittance varying from $5 and up, you want to make sure you're there long enough to get your money's worth.

By far, the best part was the shark tunnel. Stretching and turning, the tunnel has a moving sidewalk that goes on for quite a while, affording you every angle of view you could want of many different kinds of sharks. There was also a spooky sign explaining the scratches on the tunnel were from a shark attack in 2011. The only negative is that they play suspenseful music the whole time, perpetuating the bad stereotype sharks have. I know, I'm crazy. But many shark species are becoming endangered because people kill them out of fear. End of rant.
You're allowed to take photos, and the sharks are so accustomed to people and noise they just keep swimming (5 points if you got the Finding Nemo reference!). I thought our photos came out great, but later realized they're a bit grainy and sometimes unfocused. The tunnel is very dim, I'm sure for the comfort of the sharks, and I only took my iPhone to take photos with. (Apple has ruined me; I hardly ever take anything other than my iPhone 5 for photos!).

There are a lot of exploratory areas and knowledgable staff. There's even an indoor waterfall! My 2 year old had the best time, looking at fish and penguins, and trying to catch the wave pattern on the floor made by overhead lights. We were able to catch two shows, the fish feeding dive show and the sting ray dive show. Both were great, with the divers interacting with the fish and the audience. I was surprised at how toddler friendly it is. Many windows are at toddler height, so he could see the fish really well. There are also a lot of tunnels and areas that are small, and clearly just for kids. He had a great time.

Disney has spoiled me a bit when it comes to attractions like these: I go in expecting a Disney-like experience, where every part of every attraction is both informative and entertaining. When I leave Disney, I always feel…fulfilled. I've never been disappointed at Disney. I found, after all the excitement leading up to the aquarium (TripAdvisor does list it as the #1 aquarium in the US), that I felt a little let down after, as if it were a little anti-climactic. There isn't anything that I can say was disappointing, except for the lack of marine mammals (I'm used to seeing dolphins, thanks to the Indianapolis Zoo. I'm a dolphin nut). We had a great time, and I loved getting to experience it. It isn't something I can see us doing frequently, especially since it isn't an all day experience. But we still had a blast, and there is a lot to see.

My feelings might also be tempered by the giant freaking crabs. I'm terrified of crabs, and the ones here were so large at first I thought there were fake. It's…excessive.

We planned on going to WonderWorks, the upside-down building with a hands-on museum/interactive experience. Unfortunately we didn't have enough time, and had to settle for plan B: a poorly researched decision that may have scarred us for life. Of course, I could be being melodramatic (just a little). I'd recently seen mention of a little indoor zoo in Pigeon Forge, and since we had a rainy day with only an hour or two to fill, we decided to give it a try. A horrible decision.

We pulled up to Rain Forest Adventures Indoor Zoo to find a near empty parking lot (not a good sign, as WonderWorks had been packed and traffic in Pigeon Forge was sluggish). When we opened the door, we were hit in the face with an intense stench. We hadn't thought of the smelliness of an indoor zoo. You enter into the gift shop, where you pay $12 a person. A loved the monkeys, and they were great. They're the first exhibit you come across, and they're happily playing and swinging and chomping on fruit. What follows are quite a few reptiles (snakes! lots of snakes!), amphibians, insects (spiders…blech), and birds. The birds are very, very loud. Oh, and rats. There are rats. When A walked up to a drinking fountain, I glanced up to see a very large insect not in a cage. I pulled him away and realized it was a 3-inch long cockroach, just hanging out on the wall. No thank you! We moved on, and found several more roaches scurrying about. One lizard, which had been sleeping, awoke and started hanging out near the front glass of his enclosure. We moved closer to see until we realized he was trying to get to the roach hanging out on our side of the glass.

There was also an outdoor petting zoo area with goats, llamas, chicken, and sheep. The goats were cute, and the sheep were very baaa-y and trying to eat the sign on our side of their fence. The chickens were just hanging out, in the open, no fences or enclosures, and at eye-level of my 5'10" sister. We didn't see them at first (I'm quite a bit lower, so I had to look up). There's nothing quite like turning your head and being face to face with a chicken. I was excited about the llamas, because A loves, loves, loves Llama Llama Red Pajama and the Llama Llama series. However, the llamas were terrifying. We were seriously concerned for our safety just walking by. They weren't necessarily aggressive, but this one giant black one was pressed up against the fence and glaring at us the entire time we were outside.

Overall, the whole experience left us sneaking out to avoid small talk and using hand sanitizer the moment we were out the door. It gave us a good laugh, and will always be the scary zoo to create funny stories, but I wouldn't recommend anyone go there. Except maybe my enemies (but I don't really have any, so I guess I won't be recommending it at all).

What else have we been up to? Well, I decided to take advantage of Netflix's free trial to try and watch all 7 seasons of Boy Meets World. I'm so enamored with Girl Meets World I wanted to refresh my memory and get all the inside jokes and references to the original series. I don't know if I'll make it, since I'm 1/3 into season 3 and my trial is halfway over, but that's my goal.

I'm sorry for the absence and I'll try and do better, but spring has FINALLY come to East Tennessee and boy, have I been loving it. Now it's time to get on Spring Cleaning and tackle that yard work we put off last fall.

Has Spring come to your area yet?