Sunday, March 15, 2015

let's go out to a movie

Warning! This post may include some uncharacteristic gushing not normally found on this blog. - JPiC

My love of all things Disney is no secret. I visited Walt Disney World for the first time on the theme park's tenth anniversary. Three years later, I was there on my honeymoon. My family and I have gone on to many, many more trips to the central Florida tourist mecca and have even branched out to the original West Coast park, Disneyland. Plus, for goodness sake, this is in my house, covertly concealed behind an unassuming door on the third floor.

Even though, our son has grown and moved into his own house, my wife and I still look for excuses to see Disney movies. While the majority of them don't appeal to us (i.e. the recent Tinkerbell "female empowerment" series comes to mind, as well as throwaways like the Pixar self-ripoff Planes* and its sequel), there are a few that we'd still like to see on the big screen. It's kind of weird, though for two adults, over 50, to sit in the audience of a kids' movie, obviously unaccompanied by kids — especially in these times of overly-suspicious parents and child predators. Once, we went to an early mid-week, school-night showing of the Winnie the Pooh movie, where were assured the audience would be small and mostly child-free. (We were right.) Other times, we just unashamedly purchased tickets for a special 3-D release of The Nightmare Before Christmas, because — goddammit! — it's one of our favorite movies!

Just the other day, my wife's friend Pinta asked if we would like to join her and her family to see the new live-action version of Disney's classic princess tale Cinderella. Pinta was a student in one of my wife's classes way back in another lifetime when Mrs. P taught nursery school in the early 80s. Now, so many years later, Mrs. P reconnected (via the all-powerful Facebook) with Pinta, who is now an attorney and married with two children. Whether we like it or not Pinta is now our peer. We happily accepted the invitation, seeing Pinta's kids as the perfect cover to see a movie of which we were decidedly not the target audience.

We met Pinta at the theater. She and her children had already selected seats and were now munching popcorn and ignoring the pre-show advertisements, until, of course an ad for a new Nintendo game splashed colorfully across the massive screen. The audience filled and the air was thick with the high-pitched excited chatter of children ages 3 to 9. Mrs. P engaged Pinta's children in animated conversation until the film began. (Among her many talents, my wife is a real-life Pied Piper.)

Soon, the lights dimmed and screen came alive with a short animated film based on and starring the characters from Disney's wildly popular film Frozen. The audience paid full and close attention, a rarity for a film geared towards the younger population. Next was Cinderella, the feature presentation.

After the disappointment that was Maleficent (an over-hyped live-action retelling of the animated Sleeping Beauty), I really didn't have a whole lot of hope for Cinderella. However, as the movie progressed, I found myself really enjoying it. The film was beautifully and imaginatively shot, with unexpected and daring camera angles. The storytelling — the most important part of a children's movie — was right on the money. While it got a wee bit heady at times (expecting a young moviegoer to endure three parental deaths was asking a lot), but it did not dwell on any scenes longer than necessary. The film, while suitably grandiose and regal, moved its 112-minute runtime along at a pretty good clip. It was a satisfying spectacle and, based on the silence in the theater, it held the interest of the audience, both young and old.

At the helm.
Scene stealers.
I think Disney realized its errors with Maleficent and made a conscious effort to remedy them with Cinderella, First off, they secured veteran actor-director Kenneth Branagh to helm the project. After allowing first (and so far only) time director Robert Stromberg to direct Maleficent, they went with a seasoned and proven director, fresh from calling the shots on the blockbuster money-making super hero flick Thor. Then, the folks at Disney nabbed two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett for the role of Cinderella's evil stepmother. Branagh signed his one-time domestic partner, the always reliable and always quirky Helena Bonham Carter for the small, but pivotal role of the Fairy Godmother. Exhibiting a skewed take on the animated version of "Lady Tremaine," Blanchett commanded attention and devoured the scenery in every screen appearance, playing the part as an understated and restrained version of Al Pacino's "Big Boy Caprice" from Dick Tracy. Bonham Carter, outfitted with a set of exaggerated false teeth and an impossibly billowy gown, likewise stole the show in a screen appearance that lasted no more that ten minutes. The supporting players, including the youthful leads (Downton Abbey's Lily James and Game of Thrones' Richard Madden), were expertly cast and wonderfully entertaining. The film locked its young audience in a state of bewilderment, enchantment and — best of all — silence for a little over an hour and a half, a difficult feat in these times of constant distraction and short attention spans.

Disney has plans for several more live-action versions of selections from its vast library of animated features, including Beauty and the Beast and the recently-announced Dumbo under the direction of eccentric visionary Tim Burton. Disney has tapped a veritable gold mine, making, remaking and releasing films without paying a dime in additional licensing. They already own the rights to these films and need only market them, something at which Disney is a proven master. They are essentially printing their own money, something they technically already do.

If Disney learns from and improves with each subsequent release, they will undoubtedly be successful with this little motion picture endeavor. Inexplicably, it is something no other studio has attempted.

As a Disney stockholder, I have a lot of faith in the House that Mouse built.

*Planes was released under the Disney Studios banner. Although Pixar, the studio that created Cars, is owned by Disney, it is run as a separate entity. But, because Disney, the greatest marketer in the world, owns Pixar, they can do whatever they want with its characters. It's a pretty good benefit for being a multifaceted entertainment conglomerate.

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