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Cinderella the Cat

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 03/11/19 08:43:46

"Realizing half of its ideas isn't bad when a film has so many."
3 stars (Just Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I feel a bit ungrateful wondering how "Cinderella the Cat" got made when I enjoyed enough pieces to shade my "it's okay" score toward the positive, but it's a decidedly odd movie that has to stretch to do its most worthy bits and which, as an animated film based on a fairy tale, is often going to have people coming at it with the wrong idea or ignoring it for the same reason. It is, if nothing else, interestingly eccentric, which isn't always enough.

As it opens, Don Vittorio Basile (voice of Mariano Rigillo), a much-beloved tycoon, is set to open a new "Science and Memory Hub" in a future Naples, with his massive high-tech yacht, the Megaribe, as its centerpiece. He's also planning to marry Angelica (voice of Maria Pia Calzone), who has several children to Vittorio's one, but also a lover in Salvatore Lo Giusto (voice of Massimiliano Gallo), who has plans for Angelica to soon become a widow. Those plans come to pass, and ten years on, Vittorio's dreams are in ruins; Salvatore, Angelica, her daughters, and Vittorio's daughter Mia (voice of Mariacarla Norall) live aboard the declining Megaribe, the latter as little more than a prisoner, because Salvatore knows that the only way to control the Basile fortune for good is to marry Mia.

A modern/futuristic retelling of "Cinderella" may seem like a played-out concept, but its four directors and their three co-writers seem to have enough ideas between them that you can certainly see the potential from the attention-grabbing opening all the way through. The movie has a bunch of wonderfully loopy pieces to it, from a yacht seemingly designed to be a ghost ship to a tragic (yet arguably still wicked) stepmother to a transvestite stepsister to glass slippers used to smuggle cocaine to a spunky take on the title character. It's got a new treat for the audience every five minutes, to the point where it could be overwhelming. That it never really seems to go off the rails is at least partially a product of its Italian DNA: The songs are equal parts cheery and mournful, there's a casual sexiness that is only occasionally exploitative (and then knowingly), and a certain fatalism and loyalty where the characters' situations are concerned.

Of course, it still is "Cinderella", which means that Mia doesn't actually <I>do</I> much until the end, when that situation changes with a vengeance; she more or less stumbles through, waiting for the ship to fill her in on what the audience either knows or can easiy surmise. Indeed, she's a fairly minor part of the story for much of the movie, and the man filling the role of Prince Charming is kind of appealing by default - guard Primo Gemito (voice of Alessandro Gassman) is concerned and uncomfortable, which is as close to heroic as any of these characters are going to get, but even he spends more time being pulled around by seemingly less-important characters than actually doing anything.

Some animated films will make up for shortcomings like this through sheer "look at this!" visual invention, but this one kind of has to strain for it; the budget is not huge and concentrating it in one place seems to leave the rest of the film weaker. Though filmmakers are probably wise to not attempt too much detail with the motion-captured animation, it does tend to feel a bit stiff at times, and there's a bit less room to make that a style rather than a shortcoming. And given how adult some of the movie is, I'm not sure who it's for - its too whimsical for some, too dark for others - often both at once - and maybe there are too many cooks involved and not enough resources to find a style that makes it all work.

It's worth mentioning that the festival didn't seem to have received as high-quality a digital file for this as they did for some of their other programming, and that can't have helped a film that was often showcasing visual invention. I'll probably watch it again given a chance, though - the thrilling promise of the opening and the moments when it shines make up for its failings, even if one doesn't have a soft spot for movies so unapologetically weird.

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