Starring Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Sophie McShera, Holliday Grainger, Derek Jacobi, Helena Bonham Carter, Ben Chaplin, Hayley Atwell, Nonso Anozie, Stellan Skarsgard, Rob Brydon, Jana Perez, Alex Macqueen, Tom Edden, Gareth Mason, Paul Hunter and Eloise Webb.
Screenplay by Chris Weitz.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh.
Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. 105 minutes. Rated PG.
The Walt Disney Company, and several of their rivals, have decided to raid the vaults, yet again, to create live action variations of their classic animated films.
However, most of the time when classic animated fairytales are revisited in live modern action films – including Maleficent, Mirror Mirror, Snow White & the Huntsman, Jack the Giant Slayer, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice or Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters – the story is treated with a knowing contemporary attitude and a post-modern remove. Look how quaint the world used to be, the movies seem to be suggesting.
Often the stories will be changed to make them more viable to modern audiences. What if the evil queen was just misunderstood? What if Prince Charming was a boorish oaf? What if we shoehorn Nicolas Cage and a dragon into the story? What if Hansel & Gretel had a Gatling gun?
Cinderella dispenses of that kind of preciousness. Instead, screenwriter Chris Weitz and director Kenneth Branagh have done something quietly subversive. They told the fairytale straight, dispensing of any winking irony or radical plot rethinks or shifts in point of view.
The results, quite simply, are magical. Cinderella is by far the best of the modern reboots of fairytale classics.
Cinderella is beautifully filmed, wonderfully atmospheric and a sweetly old-fashioned tale. The story has been told so often and is so sacred to generations that Weitz and Branagh wisely trust their source material. They occasionally supplement it slightly for story coherence, but mostly it’s a pretty clear-cut presentation of a classic tale.
The story – as if anyone really needs to be told – is that of a sweet, beautiful girl named Ella. After her beloved mother dies young, her father (Ben Chaplin) brings home a vile second wife, Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) and her spoiled daughters (Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger). Ella’s evil stepmother and stepsisters treat her like garbage, and when her father also dies they banish her to the attic and treat her as a servant, cruelly calling her Cinderella (because while cleaning she got ashes on her face).
One day in the woods, Ella meets a handsome huntsman, not realizing that he is a prince. The prince is so smitten with the young woman that he throws a huge party for all the kingdom, in hopes that he will again find the young maiden. The stepmother refuses to let Ella go to the Royal Ball. Then Cinderella meets her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter), who creates her a gown, glass slippers, a coach out of a pumpkin, horses from her friends the mice, a groomsman from a lizard. However, the magic will only last so long, and the Fairy Godmother warns her she must leave when the clock strikes midnight.
Ella arrives at the ball and meets the prince, having a magical night. However, she is sure a prince could not marry a poor orphan without a dowry like herself. She flees the ball at midnight, losing a glass slipper on the way out. The prince is so in love that he decrees that they must find the woman who fits the glass slipper.
Okay, it’s a little old-fashioned and hokey, but it is also romantic and gorgeously realized. And if some of the sexual politics are a little outdated – Cinderella can only be whole when she finds her Prince Charming – who really cares? This is a fairytale, not a documentary on female empowerment. It comes with the territory.
As Disney is determined to continue remaking their old classics – and it seems that Cinderella is poised to be a huge hit, so it will not likely stop anytime soon – this should be the model for all future projects. The remake of Cinderella is pretty darned close to being as good as the original animated classic, and that is high praise indeed.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2015 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 13, 2015.