I’ve been a big supporter of this recent trend of turning this classic) fairy tale stories being adapted into darker live action movies (I’ve said the same thing around the release of “Maleficent” last year). I’ve been a big supporter of this because a lot of these original fairy tales that movies like “Sleeping Beauty are based off of are very dark and wicked tales. We will never get versions like the original stories (where Sleeping Beauty gets raped in her sleep) but there is a lot of different avenues you can go with these fairy tales. Yet, each time I feel like I’ve been burned by them. “Red Riding Hood”, “Snow White and the Huntsman”, “Jack the Giant Slayer”, and last year’s “Maleficent” have all been disappointing to me. After each one I continued to defend these sorts of adaptations and each time I’ve been let down.
So much so that when “Cinderella” was coming out I wasn’t all that interested initially. The trailers never jumped out at me and especially after “Maleficent” last year (which I really didn’t like), I just sort of shrugged my shoulders and thought here we go again. Oddly enough I sat in the packed movie theater and not only enjoyed this newest rendition I actually was pretty impressed with it. While all these other fairy tale movies (that I listed above) try to go darker and different with its adaptation, “Cinderella” is more traditional; playing it very faithful (at times too faithful) to the original animated movie but executing it in the best way possible.
I’m not sure if I really need to go into what “Cinderella” is about, I think everyone by now knows of the story. Still, if there is someone who doesn’t know (and stumbles across this blog instead of something more useful like IMDB) here is a brief little synopsis for you. “Cinderella” follows a young women, named Ella, at the mercy of her wicked step mother and step sisters after the unexpected passing of her father. She is a slave in her own house with her only friends being the mouse and other animals that live on her farm. Soon though after meeting a dashing new stranger in the forest, her fortunes begin to change.
This really is the story we all know. Whereas “Snow White and the Huntsman” and “Maleficent” tried to change the story up with different twists and darker tones, “Cinderella” is very much traditional. I admire those other movies taking risks and making changes creatively, but there was something refreshing (which could be because I didn’t like the other adaptations) about this version being very faithful. This is pretty lighthearted, and didn’t attempt to change the movie to accommodate a female empowerment message.
Trust me, I have no problem with female empowerment. The film industry should make more female centric movies and also produce movies with more female directors behind the helm as well. Yet last year’s “Maleficent” the third act got so burdened with it ‘s desperate attempt to make a female empowerment movie that it greatly hurt the film for me. I thought Disney’s “Frozen” did female empowerment wonderfully. “Cinderella” makes no attempt to make this empowering, it sticks with its traditional messages and themes which are great for kids to learn.
Cinderella herself is a wonderfully great archetype on screen to watch. She is so kind hearted, warm, and all around inviting to be around. She maybe more pure than Jesus himself, but she is the type of person you want to be around because of her good hearted nature. It just warms your heart and your day. “Downtown Abby” actress Lily James does a really nice job with the role. She is exemplifies everything that the character is and infinitely likeable in her performance.
In some ways this movie is a bit too faithful. There is no risks taken with the story, it’s very by the numbers. You’ve seen this story before, you know what’s going to happen. I would have liked this movie to be a little longer. I thought it was a bit short and could have shown more relation to Cinderella and her Step Mother. It got the relationship of them two perfectly. The filmmakers showed the seeds of the blossoming hated from the Step Mother that caused her to treat Cinderella so poorly, perfectly. I just think they needed a few more scenes to really drive home how wicked she could be, to infused your hated. It’s a minor complaint but one worth addressing.
So, how can this movie be worth watching if it’s the same exact story told before? I attribute this mostly to the often overlooked director Kenneth Branagh. Director of the 242 minute long “Hamlet “Henry V”, “Thor” and last year’s “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”, Branagh may retell the story almost note for note but he excels at everything making it worth watching again. He brings the tale alive with a lighthearted Shakespearian feel. His style is wonderfully alive and rich with passion. He directs his actors to their fullest, and his visual spender makes the movie something wonderful to look at. The relationships are well handled, the small tweaks he makes gives the character more depth and he strikes a chord between Disney fairy tale and his Shakespearian background. Most importantly he tells the story well. I really applaud his work here again, and truly wish he got more recognition (and also wished he casted himself in this feature; his acting ability would have been perfectly suited for this style of picture).
Branagh does a great job with cast outside of Lily James as well. “Game of Thrones” actor Richard Madden is (like Cinderella) very likeable and the chemistry between James and Madden feels so real you could almost taste it. I only wish for them to have shared more scenes together. Cate Blanchett seems born to play the part of the Step Mother. She is delectable, and over the top, but fun to watch be evil at the same time. A very memorable performance by Blanchett. Helena Bonham Carter plays the role you’d expect her to play in, the fairy godmother. Gleefully strange and weird, Carter maybe typecasted into this type of role but you still love it all the same. Stellan Skarsgård is good and so is Ben Chaplin and Nonso Anozie. My only complaint with the cast is Branagh didn’t give himself a role. I say again, he’d fit so well in this type of movie.
“Cinderella” may play things on the safe side, but it’s does so well at what it does that it’s hard to care that this is the same story note for note. Branagh continues to excel behind the camera, the story is well told, the casting is perfect and the magic is accessible to people of all ages. I went with my Grandmother, whom I was visiting with on a trip, and she loved it all the same as I did. As well as the dozens of kids that all applauded when the credits rolled up.