Disney’s Cinderella is in theaters today. I had the chance to screen the movie earlier this week. I am really bad at narrowing down my thoughts on films, so welcome to my 1,000 word review that doesn’t even cover everything I wanted to talk about.
I’m going to go ahead and throw this out there right from the start: I do not care if studios decide to remake their own movies or reuse source material. It’s nothing new. Studios have been revamping and re-releasing the same movies and storylines since the beginning of film. Some of my all-time favorite movies are remakes or revamps: The Shop Around the Corner (also known as In the Good Old Summertime) and The Philadelphia Story (High Society) are just two examples. If Disney wants to refresh the story of Cinderella, more power to them. It doesn’t matter where the source material came from, what matters is if the film is any good.
And this version of Cinderella is just that…it’s good.
Disney’s Cinderella, directed by Kenneth Branagh, is still the story we know from the 1950 animated feature and the fairytale. It’s still the story of a little girl who loses her parents, is treated poorly by a wicked stepmother and stepsisters, and finds her happily ever after with a prince. But it’s so much more, which is why I think it stands alone as an adaptation of the fairy tale and not a remake of its animated counterpart. I won’t go the way of comparing one against the other because I think it’s unfair to either film. These are two different films, told in two different voices, made in two different times.
If anything, I think there’s a more fair comparison to be made between Disney’s Cinderella and Ever After: A Cinderella Story, the 1998 film starring Drew Barrymore as Danielle, the girl raised by a wicked stepmother after her father passes away. Both Ella (played by Downtown Abbey’s Lily James) and Danielle are kind women, yes, but they are also very courageous and strong-willed. Both were quick to voice their displeasure over what is right vs what is good. Both are women young girls can look up to.
Both films feature perfectly wicked stepmothers in Ever After’s Angelica Houston and Cinderella’s Cate Blanchett. In the battle of the stepmothers, however, Blanchett would win by a landslide. She steals the spotlight in every scene in which she appears. She is cold, calculating, and cruel. Unlike any other version of this story, we learn exactly why this stepmother is so very wicked, which, in the end, may leave you feeling a little sorry for the Lady Tremaine.
Where Disney’s Cinderella triumphs, however, is in the visual and scoring. The set design and costuming are incredibly brilliant. Patrick Doyle’s scoring is brilliantly done, with orchestral arrangements that will make you want to waltz in your seat. The arrangements truly add to the historical feel of the film.
If you didn’t know, this is not a musical. There are no big numbers (parents who are finally ending their battle with “Let it Go” will be glad to know this) and the only vocals come from a lullaby Ella sings and remakes of the animated feature songs during the credits. What was lacking, however, was a nod to a more poetic, Shakespearean dialogue, which I expected from a Branagh film, and would have added a bit of added romance or nod to the fairytale period in which the film is set.
There is one caveat here to my praise of the overall visual components of the film: the costumes worn by the wicked stepsisters (played by Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger) are a bit overdone for the characters. Blanchett’s wardrobe is obviously very heavily influenced by 1940’s fashion and her character stands up to the lavish fabrics and gorgeous silhouettes. The girls, however, are wearing more of a 1950’s silhouette with colors and patterns that are far too overwhelming and distracting. Their characters are not able to hold their own against the costumes, and as a result, they seem more ridiculous than wicked.
The modern version of the tale provides us with a more in-depth backstory of Ella, played by Lily James (Downton Abbey). We witness Ella as a happy child, being raised by two loving parents who teach Ella that kindness and courage are all she’ll ever need to face the world. She is taught to believe that kindness is magic and all things are possible. We also witness her heartbreak (twice) as she loses both of her parents. The audience gets to know the King (Derek Jacobi) and The Prince (Richard Madden) more intimately, too, which brings depth to the story which we once lacked. It is important to note there is sadness in this film and if you have a particularly sensitive child, you may want to take that into consideration when deciding if you’ll take them to the film.
Strangely enough, the story of Ella’s Fairy Godmother was the least compelling part of this story. Yes, the Fairy Godmother is important because she transforms Ella for the ball and she’s a reminder of her mother’s lessons of believing in all things, but her character is outshined by the storylines of the other characters. Our interaction with the Fairy Godmother is brief. It is fun and magical and Helena Bonham Carter is both aloof and caring, but it’s short and her character isn’t the most memorable of the bunch, but then again, this is a very impressive cast to contend with.
In the end, Disney’s Cinderella is a refreshing retelling of a classic fairytale. It stands on its own against any other version of the story and will certainly become an instant family favorite. I give it two thumbs up and look forward to taking my daughter to see it later this month. If you see a Cinderella dress in the store, buy it now. I have a feeling they’re going to be very popular this summer.
On a personal note: I did not take my daughter to see the screening with me because I wanted to see how Disney translated the love story into the live-action film first. I am very glad to say it was done in a way I am comfortable with letting my six year old see. Yes, it is a Disney film, but animated love stories speak differently to children than live-action ones do. Ella’s character is not a fleeting, giggling princess who needs her prince to rescue her. She survives on her own and knows her own person. The film is rated PG, but I’d have no problems letting my four or six year old see the film.