Depending on your love for the original animated Disney classics, the studios recent trend of remaking them into live-action films may appear misguided or a cash grab more than anything else. Certainly Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” and last year’s “Maleficent” certainly help the case for the latter. However, if Disney is able to give the same level of respect and class to its source material as Kenneth Branagh’s remake of “Cinderella,” then these could soon become solid additions to the studios filmography.
This isn’t a shiny reboot where Cinderella learns to wield a sword or told from the point of view of the evil stepmother, this is the “Cinderella” that we grew up with, just in the flesh and sans singing. The film goes for the magic of the original animated classic and will endear itself to a whole new generation of young girls, while the familiarity shouldn’t breed discontent with older audiences either, who will be able to enjoy the nods and winks to Disney’s original. However, it does lack anything that will make it stand out from the pack.
You all know the story of Cinderella, and any change that does appear in the film is a minute detail. This makes it clear that the parties involved had a great deal of respect for the material and how they were presenting it. That is clear from the beautiful costumes by Oscar-winner Sandy Powell, who could be a strong contender for another nomination this year, to the acting by vets like Helena Bonham Carter (in a brief but fun role as the Fairy Godmother), Derek Jacobi and Stellan Skarsgaard.
The problem with treating “Cinderella” with such reverence is that Branagh and company seem to be handling everything with white gloves; afraid to alter anything too much. While their diligence helps the film to be enjoyable and have some of that same magic as the original, it also prevents it from ascending to anything new and exciting.
The one exception to that may be Cate Blanchett, who ends up stealing the film. Blanchett is wonderfully wicked as the evil stepmother. From her irritating cackle to her piercing glare she revels in the characters’ cynical viewpoint, but as we learn not for no reason. There is a depth to the stepmother that we get here that at least explains some of her mindset and it juxtaposes perfectly with that of Cinderella and the Oscar-winning actress was able to capitalize on that.
The stepmother reacts to the cruelties of life with harshness and determination to not let it happen again, whereas Cinderella takes to heart the dying words of her mother, to be courageous and kind. By the end of the film Blanchett makes you feel pity for the stepmother rather than hatred.
As for the titular princess and her prince, Lily James and Richard Madden bring those iconic roles to life. James has a temperament and sweetness that lends perfectly to the character, though like the film she fails to go too deep underneath Cinderella’s surface. Meanwhile, Madden is able to give Prince Charming personality, something that was nonexistent in the 1950 version, but to say that he’s a overly deep character either would be pushing it.
The biggest area with which you can find fault with in the film is in the created prologue. The beginning tells of Cinderella’s time before her evil stepmother and stepsisters came and treated her so poorly, and how wonderful it was. She had a mother and father who loved her and who passed along their positive outlook. While it helps build things up so Cinderella’s fall is greater, it is significantly too long. It isn’t until Blanchett’s stepmother appears on screen does the story pick up, and even that takes a little coaxing to get into the heart of the story
As soon as that happens, however, things surprisingly unfold really fast. After nearly twenty minutes of easing the audience in – boom – Cinderella goes from privileged and loved daughter to miserable servant in a blink of an eye. The rest of the film’s proceedings are also kind of rushed, most noticeably the scene with the fairy godmother. They manage to cover everything as needed and effectively, but it’s all kind of wham-bam, thank you ma’am. You definitely won’t feel like it drags out, you just might feel a little whiplashed by the pace at first.
“Cinderella” is a film with no cynicism, no alterior motives, it is perfectly comfortable in the mold of a classic fairytale with no need, or apparent desire, to reinvent itself, simply to present itself to a new generation so they can share in its magic. Is it better than its predecessor, not really, but it definitely is the best of the live-action remakes Disney has made thus far.