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Cinderella (2021)

Do we need another rendition of good ole’ Cinderella, especially only a few years after the Disney live-action version? The new Cinderella starring pop star Camila Cabello is a surprise jukebox musical, and it’s irreverent where it should be and progressive where social critiques are warranted with the source and historical context. In short, it’s a fleeting but fun experience that’s a winning 100 minutes for families with young children and adults who enjoy a peppy, self-referential musical. Written and directed by Kay Cannon (Pitch Perfect), this movie is packed with singing and dancing to the point that the talking only makes up perhaps twenty percent of the movie. This choice proves to be a durable source of energy and keeps the pacing running smooth. It’s also convenient because we don’t need extra time explaining the setup and character dynamics that we’re all so familiar with at this point thanks to the umpteenth renditions. The mash-up of popular songs kept me amused and guessing what would appear next, and the original songs contributed by Cabello have a nice soaring uplift to them as well as memorable hooks. There’s a “What a Man”/”Seven Nation Army” mashup at a ball that gave me strong Moulin Rouge vibes, especially with all that chaotic sashaying petticoat editing. The movie is also funnier than I expected, with consistent wise-cracking and one-liners that had me laughing and critiques about the patriarchal system from a progressive, feminist perspective. The evil stepmother, played by Idina Menzel (Frozen), is even given her own song detailing her tragic history of being a musical prodigy who had to give it all up in a society that only valued her as marriage material. Even she gets consideration and empathy. The winking feminist criticisms won’t be new to anyone over the age of twelve, but it’s still welcomed even as the film skates over the discordant plot elements to keep things light. The film delivers some bon mots of political thought to go along with its sugary sweetness of a contemporary sing-a-long musical that is easy to digest. Cabello has a natural charisma to her and is surprisingly adept with comedy, able to turn on a dime and deliver a hilarious self-effacing remark. She’s far better at acting than you might believe. If you have no interest in another version of Cinderella, I understand the fatigue with the property. However, this Cinderella understands your fatigue, provides something light and airy, with actors who seem to be legitimately having fun, and it’s got a consistent feminist perspective that chides the prevalent problems with the source material. It works as a family film and even as a diverting jukebox musical for adults whose tastes run a little sweet and a little tart.

Nate’s Grade: B

Tarzan (1999)

The next installment in Disney’s stranglehold on children is strikingly beautiful in its fluid animation, color, picture, and at times true excitement. But again it’s just more of the same.

Despite its rich animation, the story is again the lacking problem ringing in Disney’s big ears. Every word and action falls under the strict Disney formula code, which is restraining imaginative thought more than helping it. But that’s what you gotta’ do I guess if you wanna’ sell a billion of Tickle me Tarzan merchandise.

The plot is like a ghost of what Burroughs’ novel was originally, but with the typical Disney formula points; there’s the hero suffering from an identity crisis wanting something more, the fawn-like love interest who will eventually fall in love with the only available white man in central Africa, the treacherous one-note villain, and of course the bumbling sidekicks with comic relief and one-liners of slapstick and amusement for the kids. None of this was in The Iron Giant and it still managed to be a great film. Can we at least drop some of the items on the list?

The movie can get overly pretentious at times with the hammering of the ideals that nature… good, animals… good, man… bad. I’ve heard it all before, do I need it set to Phil Collins’ monotonous radio-friendly pop songs as well now?

Despite some flaws and the worse villain in a Disney movie of recent memory (a poor man’s Gaston) it is still enjoyable and worthwhile even with the creative constraint of the Mickey Mouse. Sure it’s already made millions but for my money Mulan was better.

Nate’s Grade: C+

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