Cinderella weaves its magic and brings a fairy tale to life
Disney has taken another classic cartoon and brought it to life, and the live-action version is just as magical.
Unless you’ve lived under a rock or have lived a very sheltered life, you probably know that Walt Disney became the king of animated films when he first released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. A hit, the film led to more classic fairy tales and children’s stories being brought to life through the wonders of animation.
In 1950, Walt Disney Productions brought Cinderella to the big screen and the film has charmed audiences ever since. Now Disney has gotten into the business of remaking its classic animated films, past and present, as live action extravaganzas. Last year’s Maleficent, based on Sleeping Beauty‘s grand villainess, was a monster success and more remakes — Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book — are in the works (and let’s not forget Disney did remake 101 Dalmations several years ago). For now, we have Disney’s Cinderella brought to magical life.
You probably know the story: young orphan is treated badly by her stepmother and stepsisters, basically treated like the help instead of family, she meets a prince in the forest, he is smitten and holds a ball to which everyone is invited, she arrives with the help of her Fairy Godmother, clock strikes midnight, she must run, loses a shoe and he takes the shoe (a glass slipper) throughout the kingdom to find its owner. And, of course, they live happily ever after. Spoiler alert?
The 1950 version followed that plot and the 2015 version is extremely and thankfully faithful to its source material. There’s been no attempt to modernize the story, although you’d be hard-pressed to pinpoint an exact time period (but there are no cars) which helps make the film and the story timeless.
Lily James, better known as Lady Rose MacClare on Downton Abbey, is simply wonderful as Ella (the Cinder part is attached to her after she is forced to work in the kitchen). She radiates innocence and purity and love and happiness, she’s pretty but not beautiful, she gives Ella a nice down-to-earth charm that should be a good role model for young girls. Even in her darkest moments of being emotionally bullied by her step-family, she remains true to herself and never wallows in her own self pity. Once she’s transformed and knows the prince wants to marry her, she still retains that charm that had been instilled in her from childhood. James makes Cinderella someone to really root for.
On the other hand, you have the deliciously evil Stepmother played with aplomb by Cate Blanchett. The character certainly could have given Blanchett reason enough for some juicy scenery chewing, but she manages to keep Stepmother just this side of a caricature. And as with Maleficent, the script gives us a little bit of an insight into why she’s so mean so as to humanize her, but you’re still happy that she and her daughters get what’s coming to them in the end.
Richard Madden, Game of Thrones‘ Robb Stark, is a prince any girl would want to marry and any boy might aspire to be. Even with his regal bearings, he’s just as down-to-earth as Ella and refuses to be married off to another kingdom’s royalty just because his father and the royal court says that’s the way it’s done. He goes to the end of his land to find the mysterious girl from the ball, and you can’t help but fall in love with them as they fall in love.
Helena Bonham Carter shows up for one scene as the comic relief Fairy Godmother (she also sings “Bibbity Bobbity Boo” over the end credits), Derek Jacobi is the King and Stellan Skarsgård is the Grand Duke. Director Kenneth Brannagh firmly grounds the film in its own special world, opting to use mostly physical sets over the routine CGI creations which really helps the fairy tale fantasy feel more realistic. The scene where the clock strikes midnight and Cinderella must flee the ball before everything returns to their normal states, from lizard footmen to the goose carriage drive, is a breathtakingly shot and edited chase scene that will keep you on the edge of your seat even though you know how it ends. And kudos to the CGI department who really give life to a bunch of digital mice. If you didn’t know better, you’d swear they were real, trained performers.
Cinderella is certainly geared towards a female audience, young and old alike, but the action, special effects and palace intrigue should be appealing to everyone. The film is enjoyably pleasant (and also features some gorgeous costumes) and you won’t feel like you just wasted two hours of your life after you exit the theater.
As a bonus, audiences are treated to the new animated short Frozen Fever featuring the cast of the original film. The story follows Elsa as she tries to plan a birthday party for Anna, but a cold could prevent her from getting Anna to her party. It’s wonderfully animated and tells a cute story with one big laugh, but it’s ultimately not quite as memorable as Frozen. Luckily, Disney announced there will be a Frozen 2, so this should hold fans over until then.