In the world of American Girl, titular characters are, more often than not, given a birthday. As Cécile Rey’s birthday is on May 28th, I wanted to watch a movie that had something to do with music. This is because music plays an important role in her and Marie-Grace’s story. With that said, I decided to review the 1993 movie, Rigoletto, for my next blog follower dedication review! While I heard good things about this particular title, I have never seen it until this year. The one constant statement was how Rigoletto was “Phantom of the Opera for kids”. As someone who has seen the 2004 adaptation of the musical, I was curious to see how it could be adapted into a family friendly version. If you have taken notice, I have recently relied on older movies for my blog’s content. Come to think of it, I only reviewed one new release in 2021 so far. That’s because I enjoy discovering films that are new to me, as well as finding hidden gems in the world of cinema. This also correlates with my blog’s mission of giving underrated titles a “standing ovation”. Now, let’s raise the curtain on this review of Rigoletto!
Things I liked about the film:
The acting: Even though I liked the acting performances from the film’s younger cast members, it’s the movie’s older cast members that stole the show for me! One noteworthy performance was John Huntington’s! Portraying Ribaldi’s butler, Hans, John was able to serve as the story’s comic relief while, at times, being intimidating. When Bonnie’s mother visits Ribaldi’s house in an effort to address an impending eviction notice, Hans gives her a set of instructions. The tone in his voice and the look in his eyes is so intense and direct, even the audience may feel intimidated by his demeanor. But, as I mentioned before, Hans can also be a source of comic relief. In one scene, Hans makes a comment about music. This comment causes Ribaldi to throw a book at Hans. Even though the moment itself was hilarious, I was caught off guard because it was so sudden. While we’re on the subject of Ribaldi, let’s talk about Joseph Paur’s performance! His portrayal of Ribaldi reminded me a lot of the Beast from Beauty and the Beast. In scenes that were more suspenseful in tone, Ribaldi’s persona was aggressive and powerful, with his presence appearing intimidating at times. For more gentler moments in the film, such as when Ribaldi was giving advice to a boy named Porter, his personality was kinder. This allowed Ribaldi to become an approachable character as the story went on. Despite appearing in the film for a short amount of time, I liked Tracey Williams’ portrayal of Gabriella. Not only did she have a pleasant on-screen personality, but she also had good on-screen chemistry with Joseph Paur! Honestly, I wish she had appeared in more scenes.
The music: Because this movie is loosely based on the opera of the same name, there are musical elements within the story. Even though the musical elements were limited, I really liked the music! A memorable song is ‘The Curse’. Performed by Joseph Paur, this was an operatic piece that was powerful and emotional in tone and musical scope. It reminded me of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra songs ‘The Moment’ and ‘This Is Who You Are’. Toward the end of the movie, Ivey Lloyd, the actress who portrayed Bonnie, performed a song titled ‘The Melody Within’. While Ivey’s voice in the movie sounded fine and delicate, the song itself complimented her talents! Not only was it pleasant to listen to, but it also contained a good message. Musical numbers like ‘The Curse’ and ‘The Melody Within’ gave weight to the film.
Wisdom within the script: As I watched Rigoletto, there were several moments where wisdom could be heard within the script. This was such a pleasant surprise, as I was not expecting to hear that. When Bonnie’s mother tries to talk to Ribaldi about her eviction notice, Ribaldi explains how she has a home while he has a house. During this explanation, it is clear that Ribaldi had enough self-awareness to know what really mattered the most. After interacting with a rude peer, Bonnie reminds her friends how pointless it is to match unkindness with unkindness. While this piece of wisdom was simple, it served as a reminder for how to treat others. What also helped was how these pieces are woven into the script through dialogue. It prevented the wisdom from coming across as mini lectures or heavy-handed.
What I didn’t like about the film:
The “disappearing disabilities” subplot: In the town of Castle Gate, there are several citizens who have a disability. These disabilities could be seen or heard; from a young boy who stuttered to a woman who relied on a wheelchair in order to move from place to place. But as the film progressed, their disabilities were magically reversed. Without spoiling the movie, I understand why this subplot was in the story, as it did serve an important message. On the other hand, it kind of contradicts another important message, one about inner beauty. According to IMDB, Rigoletto “is a branch off of the story line of “Beauty and the Beast”, a story where you would find this kind of message. However, it feels like the movie’s creative team wanted to have their cake and eat it too.
Little to no context: Rigoletto is the second movie I’ve recently reviewed where there was little to no context in certain areas of the story. Toward the beginning of the film, it was stated that Ribaldi’s face became disfigured due to an “accident”. But the audience never learns about the accident itself, as well as Ribaldi’s life before he came to Castle Gate. Ribaldi reveals a magical mirror that he claims was given to him by “Snow White”. However, it is never explained if the mirror actually contains magic or is magical in a figurative sense. Similar to what I said in my review of The Girl Who Spelled Freedom, context would have been beneficial in understanding Ribaldi as a character.
Under-utilizing musical potential: While I liked the songs in Rigoletto, I wish it had been a musical, similar to productions like Beauty and the Beast or The Sound of Music. Throughout the film, I can think of only four scenes that featured characters singing. Even though the story should be the first priority of any movie, Rigoletto relied on the script’s drama more than the film’s musical components. I’m also disappointed by the missed opportunity for at least one duet. Maybe Ribaldi and Bonnie could have sang a song about friendship. Perhaps Gabriella and Ribaldi could have shared a romantic, but wholesome melody. This idea might have become a reality had the movie been a musical instead of a drama with musical elements.
My overall impression:
As I said in my introduction, Rigoletto has been compared to Phantom of the Opera. However, it felt more like a live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. Because I like the 1991 version of the aforementioned story, I didn’t mind this subversion of expectations. In fact, I found Rigoletto to be an interesting re-telling! The emphasis on music within the world of Castle Gate helped the film obtain its own identity. Having the story take place during the Great Depression and relying less on fantastical elements also helps the film’s case. The movie did have its strengths, but it also had its flaws too. I honestly wish Rigoletto had been a musical like Beauty and the Beast, so its full potential could have been reached. If you do like films with musical elements or are a fan of “modern” fairy tale re-tellings , I would definitely recommend this movie! As this review reaches the final curtain, I want to thank all my followers for helping 18 Cinema Lane make it this far! Like I’ve said before, this blog would not be the same without you!
Overall score: 7.8 out of 10
Have you seen Rigoletto? Are there any musical movies you enjoy watching? Let me know in the comment section!
Have fun at the movies!