Cinderella - Review

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Cinderella - Review

Disney has spent decades operating under the philosophy of bringing the magic to life in everything they do. Now it appears they are taking this more literally than ever by commissioning live action remakes of many classic animated films in their repertoire. Maybe they feel times have changed? Maybe they feel an animated world just doesn’t capture our imagination anymore? It's likely they’re just trying to squeeze more money out of their existing estate, but maybe they’re trying to inspire a whole generation. A generation that will be taught that real life can also be magic and is that really such a bad thing? Either way, it’s definitely happening; Mulan has been confirmed, Beauty and the Beast has been principally cast, and now Cinderella becomes the first to grace our screens. Is it a fairy tale success or a stale pumpkin like Maleficent? In fact, it’s neither really. Cinderella’s 2015 incarnation breaks no new ground, but still makes enjoyable viewing.

Come on, you know the story! Alright then, the orphaned Ella (Lilly James – Fast Girls, Downtown Abbey) is cruelly kept as a servant/wench by her vile Step-mother (Blank Cheque/Cate Blanchett – Elizabeth, Blue Jasmine) and her two wicked “ugly on the inside” step sisters. Until a visit from her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter – Harry Potter, every Tim Burton film ever) gives her the chance to attend the big swanky party and win the heart of the Prince (Richard Madden – Game of Thrones).

Now Disney has clearly played it safe here but to good effect. Although there is some embellishment and expansion, Cinderella does follow the story of its 55-year-old animated predecessor quiet closely. With the story all too known, it allows a greater focus on character emotion and otherwise overlooked details. Although it opens with a heavy cheese course as the growing Ella looses both her parents, once the familiar starting point is reached it’s much more of a head start. We both understand why our heroine suffers such toil and abuse in that by keeping her household alive and functioning, she maintains the connection to her deceased parents and memories of happier times. The transition of her place from daughter to servant is also delivered very well as witness the power and effect being christened Cinderella (in acknowledgement of full servant status) has upon her. Even with core values of “have courage and be kind” it’s essentially humanizing to see them defeated even if only for a moment. Director Kenneth Branagh (Thor) manages to incorporate a number of traditional story features in ways more appropriate to new the format. Cinders still talks to many animals as her friends with the implication that they understand. It also stays strong against Disney’s normally iron-fisted demand for musical numbers. Though someone may hum the odd tune, at no point does anyone feel the contractual obligations to sing about their feelings and motives. Instead Branagh leads the music and scoring very effectively thanks to some great work with his regular audio collaborator, Patrick Doyle (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Brave). Visually, Cinderella is frequently stunning with its set locations, both real and computer generated. Much effort has been taken to make the kingdom itself feel a real habited place, not just the space between Cinderella’s house and The Royal Place. Unsurprisingly many of the costumes are also quite mesmerizing. When Cinderella and the Prince of the North have their first dance, it’s genuinely the most picturesque fairy tale moment Disney has produced in living memory.

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The biggest criticism almost feels unfair in context, but it must be said that Cinderella is incredibly predictable. Even all the aforementioned attributes are those you expect such a Disney adaptation get right. Of course we expect to receive the classic story and even if Rains of Castamere won’t play at their wedding (... just picture it for a moment) we’d still expect it to at least try and surprise with its delivery. There’s of course some meta-humour from playing with a known story but when the best line is “I can’t drive, I’m a goose”, you can’t help feel that screenwriter Chris Weitz (American Pie, The Golden Compass) should have done better with the possibilities before him. Some of the subplot expansions also don’t fit as well: like the Arch Duke’s arranged marriage conspiracy. Although some others contribute very nicely, most notably by making the central themes of courage and kindness equally applicable to Madden’s prince in his own insecurities of royal succession and forced marriage --A scene showing the prince in a reduced to a child-like state of loss and despair over his father’s death is actually the film’s most progressive moment.

Although its story and script may not always light up the screen its mostly British cast most definitely does. The crown stealer is Blanchett as she revels in the misery she inflicts and commands every scene she graces. Though she gets mere minutes on screen Bonham Carter is quite literally magic on godmother duties with a wonderfully subtle sweetness and enthusiasm to her actions. Both James and Madden acquit themselves fine yet at times feel blander by the bigger colorful presences around them. Sophie McShera (Downtown Abbey) and Holliday Grainger (The Borgias, The Riot Club) tread a fine line between funny and annoying on step sister duties at times but overall swing the right way. Nonso Anozie (Game of Thrones), Stellan Skarsgård (Thor) and Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter) all make for good additions. Finally, we must give a worthy mention to comedian Rob Brydon, for his scene stealing cameo as the Royal Painter.

So overall, this film is no less than you’d expect from its remake premise but only a little more. It does bode well for the future trend of these films but hopefully now they have a benchmark, Disney will have the courage (and be kind enough) to play the next a little less safe next time and allow for more invention and creativity in its story. For now though, Cinderella is everything your young daughter will want in a film and enough to keep you entertained when along for the ride. It’s unlikely to find Disney fairy tales a new audience.... but it’s not like they really need one. If the shoe fits, try it on.

Recommended for fans of Disney fairy tales, those that like a more traditional fantasy story and anyone that just wants to see Rob stark get a happily ever after.

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