“Cinderella” Review: This Slipper is a Lie!
A young girl is left at the mercy of her wicked stepmother and stepsisters after her father dies. She is treated less as a relative and more as a servant. One day, a ball is announced in the kingdom and…you know what, you already know this story.
Disney, as a brand, has always been associated with magic. For many years, they have been able to create immersive, whimsical cinematic experiences that have, despite their status as a multi-billion dollar company, delighted young fans while simultaneously transporting older fans back to their youth. That magic was potent enough that it carried the company through a few filmic mishaps here and there. However, we have learned something new about Disney magic this week: it is finite.
Disney’s re-imagining of their animated classics as live action spectacles is a disappointing trend, to say the least. It wasn’t so troubling with Maleficent, which, despite its issues, at least offered a new context on a beloved mainstay villainess. However, in Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, so much of the plot is literally cut and paste from the animated version; right down to the helpful mice. It makes the whole movie seem less a piece of art and more an exhausting exercise in double dipping. It’s as if the studio found a way to translate their damned Disney vault into a theatrical release model.
The only additions made in the live action adaptation, and then seemingly only to pad out the run time, was a glimpse into Ella’s childhood—her mother dying, her father remarrying, and then dying himself—and Prince Charming is given a bit more to do than merely be a prince who is charming. Yet all the former does is beg the question as to what was mentally dysfunctional about Ella’s father that he couldn’t see for miles that Lady Tremaine was a horrible human being who was every ounce the wrong candidate to be his daughter’s new mother. Meanwhile, all the later does is distract from Cinderella…you know, the girl who is supposed to be the central character!
The reason the stepmother’s wickedness is so overtly visible, and should have warned away Ella’s father, is that Cate Blanchett, stellar thespian though she is, plays the character with a scene-chewing single-dimensionality that proves inferior to the stepmother in the animated version. It’s disappointing to note that Blanchett plays the role with less depth than a cartoon, but that’s where we are. Toward the end of the film, the screenwriters struggle desperately to give her nuance, but it falls flat because, like all those ill-suited maidens of the kingdom, they attempt to shoehorn it in where it does not fit.
The further problem with adapting an ostensibly beat-for-beat live-action remake of the animated Cinderella is that time has long since passed by that story. When you get right down to it, Cinderella is a woefully passive, completely ineffectual heroine. She suffers under the yolk of a terrible woman to whom she isn’t even related, and when things are at their worst, her only recourse is to cry until a fairy godmother appears to solve her problems. At least, she solves those problems temporarily until Prince Charming swoops in and fixes everything else. In a misguided attempt to capture the original spirit, Lily James plays Cinderella with an elevated lack of backbone; at one point even refusing to lift a finger to signal the prince’s regiment when she sees them arrive at her house from the attic window.
In 1950, perhaps this conceptualization of women was acceptable to audiences, but to rehash it almost identically in 2015 feels outdated to the point of being insulting. So many newer, more progressive versions of the story have surfaced since, including the excellent Ella Enchanted. In fact, Disney itself has acknowledged the antiquated nature of this story by, over the years, crafting more independent, multifaceted “princesses:” Mulan, Rapunzel from Tangled, Frozen‘s Elsa. Heck, did Disney not just release a filmic version of Into The Woods featuring a Cinderella character with a decidedly modern twist? After so many steps forward, why the giant step back?
So, setting aside the obvious cynical financial motives, what is the reason for this live action retread? How does it justify its existence? One could argue that perhaps the idea was to create a new magic delivery system for those unfortunate few who feel animation is not an accessible method by which to tell the story of Cinderella. It’s absurd, but it could be the reason. That would be all well and good if it weren’t for the fact that, once again, there is no magic present here. Disney has run out. Every moment where that magic is supposed to appear is replaced by tiresome CGI. The reliance on digital spectacle is so out of control that even the glass slippers are computer-generated. Are you serious? Your costume shop, with the limitless fiscal resources of Disney in its corner, couldn’t even find and/or make a pair of glass shoes?
The one bright spot in the film is Helena Bonham Carter as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother. She plays the role with a brash confidence that hilariously clashes with her bumbling inexperience in the realm of spell-casting. This is an element that likely none of us had considered about Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother: if her sole occupation is watching over a woman whom she only assists once after several years, her “bippity-boppity-boo” may have a few kinks.
Do yourself, and every Disney fan in the family, a favor and skip this one. If we wanted to see a complete repeat of the story with which we were already so familiar, we never would have bothered dislodging our jammed VHS copy of 1950’s Cinderella from the VCR.
How It Stacks Up
Cinderella vs. Into the Woods
Again, what is most irritating about Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella is that it so closely retraces the exact steps of the 1950 animated version; shallow gender archetypes and all. In the big-screen version of the musical Into The Woods that Disney released just last Christmas, Anna Kendrick plays a Cinderella who repeatedly finds herself unsure whether her Prince Charming is really a suitable companion and makes the decision to run away from him. Talk about a woman who isn’t bound by the confines of the happy ending.
Advantage: Into the Woods
Cinderella vs. Ever After: A Cinderella Story
Here again, we have a movie that seeks to add nothing new to the classic Cinderella story versus Ever After, which combines fantasy and a historical element to provide an entirely new context to the Cinderella story. The similarity these two films share is that they both have a heightened level of grandeur and pageantry in their production design. Still, Disney’s latest Cinderella falters in this department by relying far too much on computer-generated effects; a problem by which Ever After is not plagued.
Advantage: Ever After