Cinderella Plays it Safe, is Still Enchanting
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Aline Brosh McKenna, Chris Weitz
Based on: Disney’s Cinderella, Cendrillon by Charles Perrault
Starring: Lily James, Richard Madden, Cate Blanchett, Stellan Skarsgård, Holliday Grainger, Derek Jacobi, Helena Bonham Carter
Release dates: March 13, 2015
Running time: 112 minutes
Rated PG for mild thematic elements
Cinderella, essentially a live action remake of the 1950s animated film, does not stray very far from its source material, and takes few risks. In spite of this, the film does apply a significant polish to the source material, and expands the narrative where it was woefully lacking. In this way, the film is sure to be delightful for fans of the original animated film, and newcomers to the story. The audience, which in my case wall filled with very young girls, was simply enchanted with this film. Being the father of a 9-year-old girl, I am all too familiar with Cinderella in all her iterations. I was almost dreading this film, because honestly, I never cared for the story or the original animated film. This version of Cinderella I actually quite enjoyed. I found the overall direction of the film by Kenneth Branagh to be elegant and playful when needed. Each character was well defined, and distinct. The production design, art design, and costume design were all magnificent. All in all the film was visually beautiful. Was this a stand-alone film with an original story, or even a significant re-imagining of the original it would have been a very strong film in its own right. As it is this is a magnanimous children’s film with strong characters (male and female), even uplifting messages about kindness and forgiveness.
Cinderella is the story of young Ella (Eloise Webb) who lives very happily with her mother (Hayley Atwell) and her merchant father (Ben Chaplin). When her mother suddenly takes ill and dies leaving Ella with a last wish that she always “have courage and be kind.” Years later Ella’s father meets the Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett), the widow of fellow merchant, and he decides to remarry. Eager to support father’s chance to find love again Ella (Lily James), now a young woman, welcomes her new stepmother, and stepsisters Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drizella (Sophie McShera) with courage and kindness. Her kindness however, was met with jealousy and cruelty. When Ella’s father unexpectedly dies while away from home, Ella finds herself at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Finally relegated to nothing more than a servant girl covered in ashes, and spitefully renamed Cinderella since she slept by the kitchen fires to keep warm, Ella could easily begin to lose hope. When things seem darkest, Ella takes solace in the woods where she meets a charming “apprentice” named Kit (Richard Madden) that works in the palace; she refuses to give her name. Shortly after The King (Derek Jacobi) announces a ball will be held so the prince may find a bride, at the prince’s request, all maddens from the kingdom will be invited, noble and common alike. Ella is ecstatic, believing she will be allowed attend and see Kit, with no desire to meet the prince. When her stepmother tears her mother’s dress and leaves her behind Ella meets her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) who rewards her unwavering kindness with a magical dress, glass slippers, and a coach to take her to the ball.
There is genuinely little for me to criticize about this film. It is extremely well made and performed. Lily James is delightful and fills a larger than life role admirably; she is extremely easy to empathize with and to like. Cate Blanchett is skin-crawlingly cruel, and yet manages to play a damaged character you can almost sympathize with her. Holliday Grainger, and Sophie McShera are despicable as Anastasia and Drizella, they do well playing up their roles which serve as more comic relief and as pawns to their mother. My big surprise was with Richard Madden who breathed life into the character of Prince Charming. In this version, he has dialogue, a name, a defined personality, and shortcomings. The relationship developed between the prince and The King was actually quite touching and lent a depth to Prince Charming we needed as an audience. The one element I honestly did not care for were the inclusion of Cinderella’s friends, the mice. I felt like they did not really fit in with the rest of the film, and were pandering inclusions as a nostalgic throwback to the animated film. I do not think their inclusion added anything of significant value to the film, but they were a hit with the kids.
I walked away from the film admiring the construction and skill that went into creating it. Kenneth Branagh has once again displayed an extraordinary ability to tell stories, in an admirable way. It was not really new, but it was updated. It is a story most of us know by heart, there is not much new here as far as the basic story is concerned. For children this can be a very magical film, even for the young-at-heart this will be a touching film.