There isn’t anything left to be said about this new Mulan remake, and I haven’t even seen it. I pretty much checked out of the whole thing early on, once news came that they were stripping this new version of both “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” one of the greatest Disney musical numbers (fight me), and bi icon Li Shang, and now they’re trying to charge me thirty bucks to watch this thing on a service I’m already paying for? No, thank you, and by thank you, I mean fuck you. But while yet another live action remake is making its rounds of disappointment, I want to talk about one that, at least retroactively, might be the best one Disney has made: 2015’s Cinderella.
This movie never quite reaches ‘great,’ but it is solidly ‘good,’ which is far more than you can say for Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, or The Lion King, which all seem to be mixed bags at best (Full disclosure: I haven’t seen the last two remakes, either. After Beauty and the Beast left me feeling hollow and kind of sad, I fell off this remake train entirely). Disney’s attempts to update these movies are admirable, and what most people would want to see in a remake of such recent movies, I guess, but I fully don’t understand how they manage to screw this up time and time again.
For me, the live action Beauty and the Beast failed in every meaningful way, but especially because it seemed to lack any and all charm. There was no chemistry between Watson’s Belle and Steven’s Beast, and the only people seeming to have any kind of fun are Luke Evans and Josh Gad. Everyone else is just kind of pushing through it like the movie is some kind of work meeting they have to get through on a Friday afternoon before a three day weekend. Then there’s the same criticisms that all these new remakes have: this forced ‘woke’ narrative that never really sits right and the singing, especially Watson’s, is just ruined in post-production, and I know there’s a great deal of criticism that it’s too close to the original, but honestly I wish it had been more faithful.
The Cinderella remake is everything Beauty and the Beast wasn’t. They do strip the musical numbers, but the music in the original cartoon were mostly just Cindy singing to herself so the remake doesn’t lose much doing so. There are little additions to the plot here and there, but given how threadbare the plot of the original is, the additions feel like completing a thought instead of extra padding. The movie spends a few extra minutes showing how Cindy’s life was before both her parents died; Cindy and the prince meet before the ball and get to pine over each other for a couple of weeks before the big day; and both the Prince and Lady Tremaine get their characters expanded.
I really love what they did with Lady Tremaine. They managed to humanize her while still leaving her as the villain. She was in love with her first husband, who died. She married Cindy’s father for money – and she’s very careful to explain it was to support her daughters, whether you believe it or not – and then he dies and now she’s left in a house she hates with no money anyway and a living reminder that her second husband didn’t love her all that much, either. And after all that, they still leave her as a villain. You never root for her, not once, because she’s taking all of her hate and disappointment and lashing out a child who hasn’t really done anything to her (henceforth known as pulling a Snape, fuck you, you stringy haired bastard). It’s just enough of a tragic backstory so that at the end, when Cindy pauses before leaving for her new life and tells her ‘I forgive you,’ you understand why she did that, instead of just saying ‘eat shit and die’ and burning the house down as she left which is what she totally should have done in the cartoon, because that Lady Tremaine is the devil.
The way they expanded the Prince was nice, too. And I really mean it with that word. Nice. The explicit lesson of the movie is “Have courage and be kind,” and with all the superhero movies and action movies out there, I think this is a really great lesson for kids. You don’t have to be a badass to be a hero, you just have to be a good person. The Prince – Kit – is a genuinely nice guy who is just a little torn about who he is supposed to marry and who he wants to marry. He’s not complex, there’s no harrowing backstory or dark twist, because there doesn’t have to be. It’s a children’s movie based on a fairy tale, not everything has to be The Usual Suspects.
Additionally, I absolutely adore the scene where his father is dying (weird statement, hear me out). Usually men in movies have to be tough, and in another movie Kit might have just stood there stoically while a single tear rolled down his eyes or something else boring. Instead, both Kit and his father are crying, actually say the words ‘I love you’ to each other, and then Kit curls up next to him in bed like he’s a little kid again and his father just holds him. It is so rare to get scenes of men showing emotion to each other like that, and I just love it so, so much.
And then there’s Cindy herself, equally soft and heroic. She doesn’t know how to fight. She’s never mean. She’s a girl who was raised to be kind, and even as she’s dumped into terrible circumstances she still does her best. She meets a nice dude in the woods and wants to go to the ball to hang out again, and through a little effort and a lot of magic she makes it happen. Then she meets this nice dude and finds out he’s actually the prince and becomes scared he won’t like her if he knows what she is, but in the end just straight tells him because she’d rather be with someone who loves her for her. She is an actual Strong Female Character instead of what male writers still imagine they should be, aka A Man but with Boobs.
Overall, the movie is beautiful and charming. And it’s not trying to be much more than what the original was. Helena Bonham Carter is delightfully dotty as the fairy godmother, and they include just the right amount of magical realism throughout to help carry the transformation scene. It’s not trying to exist in the real world at all. The kingdoms are mostly vague and, when specific, obviously fake. The colors are oversaturated, and the royalty aren’t all inbred. It’s a fairy tale movie, something maybe these newer live actions remakes forgot.