March to Disney: From Snow White to Cinderella

This is a series of posts this month wherein I will focus on Disney films. For more on my background with Disney films and about the timing of this focus please read the introductory post here.

It’s interesting to note that Cinderella was released in 1950. If you count the hybrid films (Song of the South and So Dear to My Heart) and the package films (Make Mine Music, Fun and Fancy Free, Saludos Amigos and Three Caballeros) it was the 12th animated feature that Disney had released. In a way it was like the circle closing after having started with a princess tale and embedded Silly Symphonies, Disney’s name for their early musically-inclined shorts.

In both the case of Cinderella and Snow White the anthropomorphism of the animals manifests itself by their interaction and communication, non-verbal in the former and verbal in the latter, that the protagonist shares with them. What Snow White possesses is much of what would become staples of Disney fare such as the great heightened moments. The innovation of technique in Snow White to an extent masquerades the embedding of familiar, albeit more defenestrated, tropes of earlier shorts. If you compare the narrative movement of Snow White to the films that follow, the progenitor of the Disney films ends up feeling like a cozy, quaint dream that, aside from the inherent value of the story and its bolder moments, isn’t tremendously riveting on a purely narrative level.

Cinderella is not entirely dissimilar with its asides to the mouse subplots, but is differentiated by having more parallel action. The ball is introduced early on and the Stepmother is a terrifying, yet very real, and down-to-earth villainess. The witch’s transformation and magic mirror are bold, tremendous images that stand out more than does anything in Cinderella. Cinderella’s coach, and, of course, the iconic castle are the standout visuals there.

This isn’t really to knock either of the two films. Of course, I still enjoy them both. Between the films I think Cinderella may work better and definitely has a slightly more forward pre-feminist-movement Disney princess.

The experiments that Disney went on after Snow White and before Cinderella, were highly interesting and for the most part wildly successful. In 1940 there was both Pinocchio and Fantasia. In narrative terms on opposite ends of the spectrum, but both really push the frontiers of what they could do with visuals.

While the Silly Symphony aspect of these films stands out, the musicality of Dumbo is well-embeded. Not only that but in terms of narrative it can’t move fast enough, the tempo of the music pushes the pace of the edits and allows the story to flow perfectly. There are many beats, and much emotion wrenched out of just barely an hour in Dumbo, which makes it even more staggering.

Bambi created a world devoid of humans, allowed real fears and traumas to sneak in still managed to tell a charming uplifting story with very little dialogue and not a lot of fat either.

The last untouched upon films pre-1950 that are all-animated would be the aforementioned package films, which are a pastiche of shorts so it by definition they have a more storybook, anthology feel to them. The sensibility is overgrown, related shorts.

So between 1937 and 1950 Disney about ran the gamut of what could be done at the time, and with Cinderella seemed to be consciously setting down a milestone with a similar tale. As if to say, “Thirteen years ago we were there, now we’re here and moving upward and onward.”

Review- Chernobyl Diaries

The nuclear incident in Chernobyl is one of the most unfortunate events in modern human history. It’s effects are far-reaching in terms of both distance and time, as the illnesses caused by radiation spread far and wide. Lest you confuse this with a Wikipedia entry that’s about as much as I need to say up front save that the Chernobyl incident is one I learned a great deal about and have a tremendous amount of sympathy for. Therefore, despite the fact that it’s rare, this was a film I was likely to be sensitive to in the horror genre. However, I went in hopefully, as horror cannot play it safe and I was rather surprised that this angle hadn’t yet been taken.

One of the few things I can happily report is that the film is not overly-exploitative. The deliberate pacing of it, the restraint it shows and the fact that it takes the point of view of a group of American tourists looking for an extreme locale make it much more palatable.

However, that is not to say it works entirely. The film works to about its midway point and then it starts to seriously degenerate into typically silly, dumb tropes that are only half-baked and highly illogical. Granted Hitchcock had a very valid point about feasibility, and it usually doesn’t come into play in horror, but what I mean is it seems the consequences of the exploration could’ve been greater and more logical simultaneously, so why not do that?

The set-up works very well and what’s more the acting is quite good. I speak frequently of acting when it comes to horror films because quite often it is not a prerequisite for this kind of film, or many actually, to have exceptional thespians to work on a narrative and technical level. However, this film has no weak-link that stands out in that regard. Particularly effective is Jesse McCartney, who not only plays the requisite Doubting Thomas but also spends a good deal of time injured. He is a talented actor who should be getting many more chances to show what he can do aside from being my favorite Chipmunk.

The film thankfully doesn’t take the found footage approach but there are a few unusual decisions visually. Some of them work well, some of them not so well. When the tour group is first threatened we watch the first search part go out from afar, see muzzle flashes, hear off screen noises but we eventually lose them. In a vacuum it’s an effective tactic, however, combining it with how minimal the rest of the film is it’s regrettable in hindsight. Towards the end there looks like there’s an incredible fight and struggle. The shame of it is I can’t see it because of the crazy handheld swish-pans and frenetic editing. The handheld camera in modern cinema is perhaps the biggest double-edged sword. Much vitality is added to action shots with the jostling that goes on, with the proximity that we get to the subject, but the pace of the edit needn’t be as frantic as the framing if we need to see something.

The climax of the film and the conclusion is so unsatisfying it nearly taints all that preceded it. Now, it’s is by no means The Devil Inside but perhaps this would’ve been a case where a few more incidents and a little less explanation would’ve made a bigger impact. The film falls close to over-explication than under and perhaps less truly would’ve been more here.

The Chernobyl Diaries
simmers for a while and never really comes to a full boil, which in the end leaves it tepid and a bad taste in your mouth.