Now, after watching the movie on Instant View, I'm wondering if those original reviewers had even seen the film.
There are the expected elements - the prince, the ball, the pumpkin carriage. And, there are a number of nods to Disney's animated classic - a cat named Lucifer, a mouse named Gus-gus, and a good deal of "bippity-boppity-boo" type magic, and even a little bit of singing (though it is, thankfully, not a musical)
But, there is also an added depth to the characters, fodder for good discussions about arranged marriages...
King: I know you love the people, Kit. But I also know that your head’s been turned. You’ve only met her once, in the forest. Prince: And you’d have me marry someone I've only met once tonight.
...second marriages, and the difficulties of international and inter-familial relationships, with Buddhist underpinnings (to live is to suffer, but we must continue on with kindness and courage), all set against a very lovely rococo inspired background (the homeschool mom in me really loved that!)
In fact, we've been sifting through Google images of Watteau...
All of us enjoyed the acting, cinematography, tone, music, and special effects of the movie. This came as a big surprise to me, because as I mentioned, I really expected to be bored by the tired old, already done story. Instead, I found myself wrapped up in a fresh, fun, and lively retelling.
What I absolutely love most about this version of the story though, is that we finally get some insight into the wicked step-mother.
Married for love, then widowed, she marries again for the sake of her daughters. Unfortunately she finds the man she married is still very much in love with his late wife. After over-hearing that he finds her and her daughters "trying", she is left alone, widowed again, with his beautiful, sweet, innocent daughter (who, he just happened to mention, takes after her mother), in a house filled with memories of her rival. That's enough to make pretty much anyone a bit bitter, if not cruel - and she is still cruel, if in a slightly more sympathetic way.
All in all, I'd have to say I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the entire twinkly, flirtatious, infatuation-filled, but modernly grounded flight into fairy tales and fancy.