Classic Fairytale at its Finest
by: Anthony Zangrillo
As a part of Disney’s effort to transform animated classics into live-action fairytales, Cinderella captures the magic of the original story. While the film elects to replicate, rather than transcend the animated tale, the sets, costumes, and cinematography successfully create a fantastic world for the characters to thrive. Director Kenneth Brannagh harnesses the fun and beauty of the original, while the script provides an extra level of depth for the famous princess, creating a memorable film for a new generation of audiences.
In a new twist, the film opens to a young Ella (Eloise Webb), debating the existence of fairy godmothers with her loving mother (Haley Atwell). Ella leaps with joy as her traveling father (Ben Chaplin) returns to the country home. Unfortunately, this tale takes a tragic turn, as Ella’s mother succumbs to a deathly illness. Ella (Lily James) grows into a courageous and kind woman, as her father remarries to the vile Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett), who brings along two insufferable daughters, Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drizella (Sophie McShera). While on a business trip, Ella’s father perishes, leaving Ella to suffer the domestic, housekeeping tortures of her cruel and unusual new family.
Rechristened as the dirty, overworked “Cinderella,” the princess-to-be comes across Kit (Richard Madden), the handsome Prince Charming. As a result of their brief encounter, Kit becomes infatuated with the mysterious country girl, and he plans to invite the entire kingdom to a special ball. In a new plot line, Kit encounters his own personal struggles, as his father, the king (Derek Jacobi), wishes for Kit to marry another princess in order to strengthen their very small kingdom. While Kit does not share the same sentiment, the dire truth of his father’s deathly health makes him give in to his family’s demands.
Long story short, Lady Tremaine forbids Cinderella from attending the ball, yet Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) uses her magic to enable Cinderella to arrive at the ball in style. She dances the night away with her prince before abruptly leaving, as the clock nears midnight, when the magic spell will expire. True to canon, Cinderella leaves one of her glass slippers behind, and now the newly christened king, Kit, orders all of his men to find this mysterious woman. A comical search ensues, ultimately leading to a happily ever after ending.
Admittedly, I was skeptical about remaking a story told so many times in the past. In fact, Disney even featured an alternate version of Cinderella in their hit musical Into the Woods (check out an interview with former Cinderella Anna Kendrick here: http://motionpictureclubs.com/2014/11/into-the-woods-college-conference-call-with-anna-kendrick-and-chris-pine/). However, Kenneth Brannagh has achieved an impressive feat. The sets, costumes, and cinematography are impressively beautiful. Somehow, the film feels fresh and uniquely magical, even though fans around the globe know this story by heart. The film even pays respect to the mice from the animated film, incorporating them into the entire movie, allowing the cubby rat Gus to ultimately “save the day.” At no point did I fell the movie drag or rely on cheap stock characters.
The real standout of this film is undoubtedly Cate Blanchett. Embodying such a cruel, yet possibly realistic stepmother is no easy feat. Yet, Blanchett succumbs to the depths of petty indifference to create a memorable antagonist. The script even warrants a snippet of sympathy for this misguided widow. In the early scenes, Tremaine constantly feels overshadowed by Cinderella’s dead mother, as Tremaine realizes that Cinderella’s father will never truly love Tremaine. A combination of this horrible truth and the family’s slide into poverty due to no source of income, Tremaine becomes cruel and savagely exerts her control over Cinderella. The constant feeling of hopelessness against this terror makes Cinderella’s happy ending all the more satisfying.
A minor gripe of the film involves the forced message of “have courage, and be kind.” While at first this seems like a nice theme to incorporate within the framework of the film, the story obsesses over this phrase hurting Cinderella’s character progression the most. Almost every scene of this film utilizes this phrase or a variation of it, to brainwash the audience with this “powerful” idea. Admittedly, this idea explains Cinderella’s ability to tolerate the cruel Lady Tremaine and her dingbat daughters. In a moment of desperation, Cinderella almost abandons these values, yet ultimately finds “the light” once again, realizing that her problems pale in comparison to bigger problems
Overall, Cinderella is an impressive accomplishment for a live action animated film. The film succeeds in paying respect to a time-honored tale, while keeping the story fresh for a new audience. The Motion Picture Club gives Cinderella an 8/10.