Usually, I advise people (friends, family, etc.) to find out more about a movie before they watch it. But there is no rule without exception, so I confess that, this time, I made the mistake of watching this film without do it, last Christmas Eve, with my family, before the traditional Midnight Mass. I knew, however, that it was a Disney movie and it had a star cast with many respected names. It was a "quality guarantee", I reasoned. However, it didn't take many minutes to realize that it was a musical. Was that a problem? Not at all. I like any good movie, including musicals, so I will not be bored because it's a musical and I didn't know it.
Only now, after some reading, I realize that it's the adaptation of an American Broadway musical which I've obviously never seen. Very few Broadway musicals are brought to the stage here in Portugal. I cannot compare it with the original material but, giving credit to the opinions I read, it seems that it was able to honor the play, which is always positive. So, let's go to the movie itself.
The movie mixes a few traditional fairy tales ("Cinderella", "Rapunzel", "Jack and the Beanstalk", "Little Red Riding Hood") into a single story, deconstructing them and trying to convey a message: we should be careful about what is said to the children. I don't understand the need for this! All these tales have their own morals and I see no harm in any of them. You see, "Cinderella" teaches us to be patient and not to "pay evil with evil", because we will be rewarded in the future; "Rapunzel" teaches us to obey our parents and teaches also parents not to prevent their children from discovering the world and learn to defend themselves; "Jack and the Beanstalk" teaches us to be clever, not to be deceived, but also to be bold when it's needed. "Little Red Riding Hood" may be the most controversial because of its sexual connotation, but it also teaches us to obey our parents, not to trust unknown people. Are any of these things bad for a child's education? Why dismantle these stories and warn parents about them? There are much more serious things happening to our children under our noses... the technology addiction, the inability of our children to live without being attached to their cell phones or even the high-calorie food we give them are much more serious problems than any children's tale could be.
I also heard that the original play was darker, with a more adult approach and potentially inappropriate for children. I understand that, and I believe Disney has made an effort to adapt these content to an audience that, it's known, will have children. And I think that was a very difficult task because I read that play was very good and popular, and it's hard to fiddle with something that has a legion of fans behind, willing to defend it tooth and nail. Anyway, it's a different and original story, much closer to the original tales by Perrault and Grimm, and Disney needs needs to challenge herself. At that point, the movie hit it right.
Meryl Streep is extraordinary. A consecrated star, a movie icon, a film dame, but still has physical agility and mental openness to make movies like that! Great voice, great interpretation, what talent! It's worth watching the film just to see her strength; Anna Kendrick made a decent Cinderella and has a good voice but I expected more... sometimes, her was left in the cast; Emily Blunt was very well and has a melodious and elegant voice... she helped to reinforce the weight of the female characters; Tracey Ullman also did a good job; Johnny Depp is always good at this kind of characters, he already has experience and has a good voice too; I didn't know James Corden, but he was the most striking and interesting male actor in the film... he has a good voice and has managed to show some very pleasant psychological complexity; Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen were equally up to their challenge, even though their characters are quite disposable. Looking at the young cast, Lilla Crawford deserves a standing ovation.. this young promise has an excellent voice and it was truly delightful to see her perform. Daniel Huttlestone is not far behind, but his character wasn't as lively and cheerful. The rest of the cast simply did what they should when they should.
The technical aspects also don't deserve a negative criticism. As usual in this studio, everything was meticulously thought out. Scenarios were realistic and even CGI, when it was needed, was excellent and looked real, much better than in many action movies out there. I'm still thinking how they did the forest! The costumes also don't disappoint anyone and everything is perfectly in line with what we see in these stories. Maybe I could rethink the costumes of the two princes, I think they were too contemporary, but it's nothing serious. Finally, one last word to speak about soundtrack and the songs. As far as I've been reading, most of them have been imported directly from the musical. They're very beautiful songs, we cannot deny it. It's not that kind of song that stays in our ear days after we see the movie... but it's lively, sometimes quite emotional, always perfectly in line with everything else. There is a certain harmony in all these details that gives beauty to the film as a whole.
I conclude by saying that this film was very pleasing to me, it was a pleasant Christmas surprise and it pleased my family too. Okay, it's not a conventional Disney movie, it has some pretty dark moments, but life is that too. And I did not see anything so offensive to children! We watch much worse movies, buy video games full of blood and killings for our children... and then we complain about this movie? If we want to protect our children we must start by imposing rules in our own homes. Time to sleep, time to study, time to watch TV, rules to use the cell phone or computer. It's not what I see in most of my friends' homes that have kids. They rule more than their parents. It's easier for a stressed parent, who is tired to work, give everything the child asks in order to avoid a discussion or a tantrum. When that changes, then you can worry about the movies.