‘I’ ON CULTURE
The new Disney version of Cinderella is charming, and absolutely perfect if you have a young girl with you while watching it. Forget the Grimm Brothers vs. Perault versions, this film seems taken directly from the Disney cartoon. That was designed to be sweet in the 1950s, and this one is as well, although since it’s live action, the mice don’t sing. And there’s no real “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” song, either. Yet it is charming, and at a time when there are not many good kids’ movies, particularly for girls, this one is a winner.
In case you’ve been sleeping in a cave for the past 50 years, the story is about a young girl, Ella (Lily James) who loses her mother (Hayley Atwell) early on and whose father (Ben Chaplin) than marries a really nasty person… well, nasty to our heroine. The stepmother (Cate Blanchett) really makes Ella’s life miserable once daddy is dead and her stepsisters (Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera) really pick on her, giving her the name “Cinder-ella” because she’s constantly dirty from housework.
Then there is the famous invitation to the royal palace. “Mommie dearest” and the favored daughters make Cinderella help them get ready but disinvite her. Her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) shows up and, with a bit of magic, gets Cinderella set for the ball. Yes, it is silly, and we’d laugh at it if it was new, but it has been part of our fairy tales all our lives.
Anyhow, she goes to the ball, meets and enchants Prince Charming (Richard Madden), and runs off because things turn back to the original state at midnight. But, of course, she leaves a slipper behind, and he searches the kingdom looking for the girl whose foot fits the slipper. I do like the Grimm Brothers version of the story better than what they have here… in that one, one stepsister cuts off her toes and the other cuts off her heel, but that would fit better in film like Saw. At any rate, eventually the slipper goes on Ella’s foot and she winds up with the prince.
Despite my jibes at it, the film actually works and does it quite well. By sticking to the basic plot structure, screenwriter Chris Weitz keeps the young audience focused on the storyline, which does its best to keep in any bit of charm. Director Kenneth Branagh was wise enough to insist on top-notch actors for the character roles.
While several are known for chewing up the scenery, they do it so well that it keeps everything moving nicely. And a special round of applause is due Disney, which uses its considerable resources to bring every bit of the fairy tale to life. The moment the ball gown appears on Cinderella, I could hear sighs and murmurs from all the girls in the audience, not to mention a few mothers and grandmothers.
James is a charming Cinderella. She seems to embody all the traits everyone has come to love in the character. She manages to be ladylike in rags and then in the fancy dress. She fits the bill perfectly for the dreams of the all the little girls who will see the film. Madden was weak as Prince Charming, but then again, it is not exactly a great part. All he has to do is fall in love with the prettiest girl at the party and throw his weight around to have her found later. I liked him better in Game of Thrones.
The real standouts are Blanchett and Bonham Carter. Blanchett is strong enough to not have to be a monster all the time to be truly frightening. Everything she did just made her seem more evil; a perfect wicked stepmother. She was great in a subplot where she and a sleazy courtier (Stellan Skarsgård) plan to control the young prince. And Bonham Carter could play up all her strange charm. A slightly wacky fairy godmother works really well. I also liked Grainger and McShera, who managed to differentiate themselves as the sisters, not always an easy task.
This is a must-see if you can take a young girl with you. If not, well, if you like well-done fairy tales you might still enjoy it. If not, there’s always the dystopian nightmares like Insurgent, which comes out next week.