When Ella meets a dashing stranger in the woods, unaware that he is really the Prince (Richard Madden) and not merely Kit, an apprentice at the palace, she believes she has finally found a kindred soul.
Kenneth Branagh’s live-action adaptation of the classic fairytale, Cinderella, is hitting theaters this weekend and inviting a new generation to get caught up in the magical story. It’s a story that’s been retold a number of times, so how does Disney’s newest version stack up? Check out my full review to find out!
This is kind of a tough review for me to do here, mostly because I have so many issues with fairy tale stories to begin with. While they aren’t necessarily bad or not enjoyable, they just don’t work for me. They’re a little too straightforward and convenient, eliminating a lot of tension. Again, this doesn’t mean they aren’t good, I just have a harder time getting into the story. So, like I said, doing this Cinderella review is a little tough because the new version is a very clear-cut adaptation of the fairy tale and remains true to that...but it’s also IMPRESSIVELY well done.
In fact, I would venture to say that this new Cinderella movie is quite possibly the best version of this story being told. But because I don’t care so much about the story in general, I won’t talk over much about it. The truth is, if you’re like me and not big on fairy tale narratives, then you’ll be somewhat ambivalent to the film (though it has enough high points to still be worthwhile). If you love these kinds of stories, then you’re definitely in for a treat.
The task set before Disney with this new Cinderella film, besides making it live-action, was to bring the story to a new generation of viewers and be able to appeal more modern audiences, all while retaining a classical feel. By and large, the film adheres very closely to the animated film and story we all know fairly well. The cruel stepmother is there with the wicked and dim-witted step-sisters, along with the innocent Ella (name change) who lost both of her parents very tragically and now forced to live practically as a slave.
All the basic parts of the story remain intact, and the differences are subtle, but really add to the overall film. Gone is the musical aspects and the talking animals. While the mice are still present in the film (and admittedly were part of my favorite moments in the film), they don’t talk with Cinderella in the same way as the animated feature. While magic and fantastical elements still remain prevalent in certain parts of the story, they filmmakers toned it down a tad in other areas to make it a little more accessible.
Frankly, I liked the half-and-half approach to the re-telling of the story. Where other live-action adaptations of Cinderella have attempted to go purely realistic and I don’t think the results were as effective. Kenneth Branagh’s version strikes an interesting balance in which magic is there but not overly used, thus making it more important an impressive when it happens.
One of the other major changes in the film is the central theme. Cinderella has always been a tale about hardship and being rewarded for the struggle, but the new film takes it another step further. Instead of just enduring the hardships, the new film actively talks about facing your problems with “courage and kindness”, basically telling us to be ourselves no matter the circumstances. Just because someone is awful to us, doesn’t give us the right to be awful back. We must continue to be kind and find ways to be “better” than that. It’s a powerful theme, and added into the mix with the Cinderella story, it makes for a convincing one in the film.
Like I said, the changes may seem minor, but they do a great job of expanding the story and giving it new meaning for this day and age.
Cinderella looks amazing. There, I said it. Seriously, this is a gorgeously shot film where each scene is filled with nuances to dazzle the eyes. While it may not have a multitude of fantastical creatures or landscapes like Maleficent did (the previous Disney live-action adaptation), it’s not less pleasing on the eyes. The amount of detail that went into every shot in this film is pretty impressive, and is easily the best aspect of the film. Even if you don’t care for fairy tales, you can’t deny how good the film presents itself.
It truly feels like a fairy tale come to life in that everything is so...pristine and perfect. Nothing feels out of place, and everything sparkles in just the right way. More than that, there’s one scene in particular that stood out to me: when her dress magically transforms before going to the Ball. In reality, it’s simple effect, but so well done that it instantly snagged my attention. From the music, to the way the background blacks out and isolates the character, and how the magical sparkling effect trails around as she spins...all of it combines into something amazing.
It’s little things like this, which continually keep your eyes firmly on the screen. You don’t want to miss any of the visual quirks spread throughout the film. Even on the small scenes, the camera work and Branagh’s choice of movement is masterful.
The Performing Arts
Cinderella features a solid cast, and all of them do a wonderful job. Lily James as the titular character, absolutely makes this film work. Obviously the story and film in general rests on her shoulders, but she carries it well, managing to outshine a veteran like Cate Blanchet (who is a astoundingly wicked step-mother). James is believable as the young and innocent girl, but also comes off as strong and unbroken. She’s charming, witty, smart, and elegant which are pretty much all the things needed in a Disney princess.
Richard Madden plays the Prince well, coming off as charming without being obnoxious about it. He’s genuinely likeable in the role, and I believed in his capacity to love Cinderella and her ideals. More importantly, he works as a character rather than just some MacGuffin that everyone is trying to get their hands on.
While the film is populated with smaller roles, everyone did a pretty great job. While her screen time was short, Helena Bonham Carter was memorable in her role as the fairy God-Mother. The step-sisters are funny, and the animals turned human servants are hilarious in the little capcity that they’re given.
My only real complaint in the acting department isn’t really the actors’ fault. It comes back to the fairy tale aspect of the story. All the performances are a little too...much. I’m not sure that’s the right way to phrase it, but that’s how it is. It was the same problem I had with Maleficent, and will likely continue to have in regards to these kind of movies. Again, it’s nothing against the actors, as that’s just how the story is designed to be performed. So if stuff like that doesn’t bother you, then you’ll be perfectly fine.
[Sidenote: The screening I attended did have the new Frozen short film attached to it, Frozen Fever, and I have to mention it quickly...because it was pretty good. If you’re a fan of the animated movie, you’ll get a real kick out of the new material. It’s got another catchy song, and manages to include just about every single character in fun little ways that don’t feel forced or cramped.]
It’s not going to be for everyone, but if you like Disney movies and classic stories, you won’t be wasting your money when you purchase this ticket.