Adventure Cinderella

Film Review: Cinderella

March 13, 2015Ben MK

From Downton to Disney...

Too many films have sought to drastically reimagine and redefine our most beloved fairytale characters, from Snow White and the Huntsman to Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters — even Disney's own Maleficent. So, if you think about it, it's refreshing that Disney's new live-action version of Cinderella makes no such attempt. On the contrary, director Kenneth Branagh's retelling of the classic tale is as straightforward as they come: a simple story about a kindhearted young woman, her dashing prince charming and the magical glass slipper that helped them to live happily ever after.


Like most fairytales, the story begins with a little girl. Though she may not know it, young Ella is special: she has an innate connection with the animals that dwell on the grounds of her parents' home at the edge of the kingdom, and she has a fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter, who also does double duty as the film's narrator) to watch over her. But one day, her mother (Hayley Atwell) falls ill; and before she passes, leaving her in the care of her merchant father (Ben Chaplin), she bestows a small but valuable piece of advice upon her daughter.

"Have courage and be kind," she tells her. It's a sentiment that Ella genuinely takes to heart as she grows into a graceful young woman (Downton Abbey's Lily James), even when her father remarries and invites her new stepmother, the cold and calculating Lady Tremaine (a wonderfully classy Cate Blanchett), and her two quarrelsome daughters, Anastasia and Drizella (Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera, providing comic relief), to share their home.

But when her father also dies, Ella is left at the mercy of her cruel new family, and her mantra is put to the test in earnest. Renamed Cinderella and banished to the attic, where she has only her favorite field mice to keep her company, she learns to find solace in being alone. That is, until the fateful day she ventures into the woods, has a fleeting encounter with the charismatic Kit (Game of Thrones' Richard Madden) and finds herself smitten.

Unaware of Kit's royal stature, Ella longs to see him again. But though the feeling is mutual, Kit's ailing father, the King (Derek Jacobi), and the Duke (Stellan Skarsgård) are adamant that his bride be of noble lineage, and that he choose her during the upcoming palace ball. As a compromise, however, they agree to extend the invitation to all maidens from far and wide — royals and commoners alike — thus opening the door for Ella to reunite with her prince charming.

All of this is merely the build-up, of course, to that pivotal moment in which Ella's fairy godmother makes herself known, turning an ordinary pumpkin into a gilded carriage, a goose into its driver, mice into horses, lizards into coachmen and Ella's tattered pink dress into a ravishing blue gown. Then comes the pièce de résistance: a pair of sparkling glass slippers for Ella to make her grand entrance on, one of which will invariably lead Kit back to his love, once she has fled hurriedly from the palace at the stroke of midnight.

Yes, everything is more or less as you remember it. And aside from some minor fleshing out of the characters and their motivations to bring them in line with modern sensibilities, there are no twists, turns or unnecessary embellishments to speak of.

The film is well-served by its lavishly ornate production design, colorful costumes and cartoonish CGI creatures, all of which go a long way in making it feel just as a fairytale that's come to dazzling life should. But it's its fastidious attention — dare we even say, devotion — to the beats of Disney's own 1950 animated classic that sets this Cinderella apart from other modern fairytale retellings.

That's because Branagh and screenwriter Chris Weitz aren't overly concerned with cleverly reworking the story's elements. Instead, their intentions seem to be as pure as Ella herself, and lie with crafting a timeless, live-action companion piece to Disney's nearly-seven-decade-old hand-drawn effort — one that, like its animated predecessor, will continue to capture the imaginations of moviegoers for generations to come. And in this regard, they've succeeded spectacularly.

The Bottom Line Sweet and pure-of-heart, Cinderella's decidedly anti-revisionist take on the classic fable proves to be a refreshing change of pace from the current crop of reimagined fairytale films. Granted, moviegoers in the mood for something slightly edgier may be left wanting by its ultra-simplistic, what-you-see-is-what-you-get approach. Still, there's no denying its timeless appeal. For in the end, this is one Cinderella for whom the magic will last well beyond midnight.  Ben Mk

You May Also Like