Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Lily James as Cinderella
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Cinderella is a straight live-action adaptation of the original Disney cartoon, just without the music. While it has impressive production design, a strong cast, and a fun “Frozen” short, it doesn’t break new ground like Maleficent did.
This movie is based on the animated 1950 film Cinderella from Disney.
Ella was always a special child. Beautiful, optimistic, and unusually connected with nature, she was loved by her parents. But after her mother and then her father tragically died, she found herself in the care of her new stepmother, Lady Tremaine.
While Ella stayed kind and brave in the face of adversity, Tremaine turned cruel and fearful as life dealt her one hardship after another. Tremaine and her daughters took over Ella’s family home and turned her into their personal servant. They even nicknamed her Cinderella to further put her in her place. Yet through it all, she followed her mother’s dying wish – that she always be brave and kind.
As Cinderella is finally pushed to her limits, a chance encounter with a mysterious young man sets her life on a new course that nobody could possibly expect.
Cinderella is rated PG for mild thematic elements.
I went into Cinderella expecting something more like Maleficent where they would take the original animated film and expand on it significantly. That wasn’t the case here. This is a straight-up adaptation of the original cartoon, just without the singing. Once my expectations were sufficiently adjusted, I was able to take it in for what it was. While I thought Cinderella was a bit anti-climactic because it’s a story we’ve been hearing for 65 years, I realized that it was new for most of the children under 10 in the theater. Seeing their reaction to the story was more entertaining than the film itself, so that made it fairly enjoyable.
For me, one of the more notable things about Cinderella is the production design. The sets, costumes, and visual effects are quite impressive. Rather than going with the typical Cinderella castle we’ve come to know and love, they go with something more akin to the Palace of Versailles on steroids. Cinderella’s family home looks like something with one foot in the fairy tale world and the other in the real world. The dresses of the step-sisters look like the ’80s threw up on them while Cinderella’s magical ball gown understandably turns heads. The end result is a film that is just fun to watch as you explore more corners of the world.
As I watched Lily James play Cinderella, I realized what a difficult character she is to portray. She’s supposed to be kind and brave in every scene, so that limits how she can react to the terrible events around her. She can’t rage against Lady Tremaine when she mistreats her. She can’t be sarcastic in reacting to Drizella and Anastasia’s stupidity. She’s not terribly passionate towards or flustered by the Prince. All in all, she’s a rather flat character. Yet James still manages to make her sympathetic and a strong role model for the little girls watching the film. She shows that you can either make the best of the bad things in life or you can let them drag you down. So in the end, she’s a character we end up liking despite the fact that she doesn’t really swing one way or the other on the emotional scale.
The supporting cast in the film is quite strong despite the very familiar plot. Cate Blanchett as Lady Tremaine is delightfully evil. They try to give her a little humanity by showing that she has really been through a lot of trauma in her own life. She’s lost two husbands. She has no means of making money to support herself or her daughters. She feels unloved by Cinderella’s father. Yet she reacts in a totally different way to it all than Cinderella. That makes her a bit more interesting than the rather two dimensional villain she could be. Richard Madden is also good as Prince Charming. You understand why he could quickly fall for Cinderella as he’s drawn to her kindness. She is completely different than the otherwise shallow women he has encountered in the royal courts. That makes it a little more believable that he could fall for her after only two brief encounters. Madden sells it well. Helena Bonham Carter is her usual oddball self as the Fairy Godmother. It’s also unusual to see Hayley Atwell as Cinderella’s Mother after seeing her so recently on TV as Agent Carter. It really shows her range as an actress.
Attached to Cinderella is the new short “Frozen Fever.” Anna, Elsa, Olaf, and Kristoff return to the big screen with a new song. I could literally hear little girls’ heads exploding as it hit the screen. I also think some of them were there only for this “Frozen” short and probably would have walked out of the theater when it was over. Nevertheless, it’s still fun. In the story, Elsa plans a surprise birthday party for her sister but simultaneously and ironically suffers from her first cold. But every time she sneezes, something unexpected happens (and Disney has a new Frozen toy to sell). This one is a definite crowd pleaser.
What Didn’t Work:
As already mentioned, this is a straight adaptation of the original Disney Cinderella cartoon. It has the same plot, the same human-like mice, the same colored ball gown, etc. It’s all the same, and that makes it a tad dull since you know exactly what’s going to happen. Maleficient, at least, flipped our expectations of the characters around and told the story from a completely different perspective. That made it way, way more interesting. The only thing they didn’t copy was the music, and I couldn’t help but think that might have made “Cinderella” better. If they threw in some new songs along with the classics, that would have at least given it a little something new for those so familiar with the story.
And while some audiences have 3D fatigue, I think this would have been a film that would lend itself well to the 3D experience. The magic from the Fairy Godmother, the sweeping views of the palaces, and more would have been quite impressive. Cinderella needed a little something more and that could have helped. I found it a bit odd it wasn’t used.
The Bottom Line:
Young girls and adult Disney fans should really enjoy Cinderella, but if simply watching the original cartoon doesn’t sound appealing to you, then this live-action version won’t be of interest to you either.