There is only one word that can be used to describe Disney’s live action adaptation of arguably one of their most treasured and popular princesses to date, and that word is magical.
I’m not going to lie. I was not all that excited for this movie. In fact, I was much more anticipating paying for the ticket just so I could check out the new Frozen short that brought back a sense of nostalgia to the older days of Disney and Pixar where they would show a short mini-feature film before the main feature. It was a cute add-on to Frozen that should not be missed, and had the audience in the theatre tapping their feet along to the feature song. I will say one thing I adored was the parallel between the source film and the clever uses of them in the mini-feature, clever and well executed.
I’m afraid this outing was my first experience with the Cinderella franchise. I was born in the mid-nineties, and during that time, Disney was pumping out such classics as The Lion King (1994), Tarzan (1999) and Hercules (1997). These movies (and the stigma of a young boy watching princess movies) overshadowed the princess movies in my young male eyes, and it has only been recently that I reached out to actually watch them.
That being said, I went into this movie fairly blind. I knew the gist of the story. In a hundred words or less, a young woman is trapped and abused by her stepmother and sisters. Meanwhile, the kingdom is holding a royal ball in which young woman wishes to attend. Stepmother forbids young woman to attend. Fairy Godmother appears, and bibbidi-bobbidi-boo’s the young woman into a looker. Young woman attends ball where the Prince spots her. The clock strikes midnight and she transforms back into her old state, leaving a slipper behind. Prince seeks woman with slipper. Slipper fits. Roll credits.
What I was not expecting was an emotional and otherwise heartfelt opening half. Without revealing too much (though I feel as though I may be the only person in the world who had never heard this story), young Ella’s life is golden until her mother passes away, followed by her father marrying her to-be stepmother, brilliantly portrayed by Kate Blanchett. This then sets forward the plot synopsis offered above, but with the tradition Disney charm I expected.
This movie was gorgeous; I’d even go as far to say stunning. The landscapes were beautiful, although obvious use of CGI often surfaced. In this case however, I believe it worked. I did not go to Cinderella expecting to see reality, I went expecting to be awestruck with magic and sparkles, and I was. The costuming is fantastic, not over-the-top, and yet flashy enough to be noticed. The direction is outstanding, however I knew I would not be disappointed going into a film directed by Kenneth Branagh. The true masterpiece found in this film however is the casting.
Kate Blanchett stole every scene that she was present in while portraying Ella’s stepmother. Disney is doing a fabulous job of casting their baddies as of late, as Jolie’s Maleficent comes to mind. Blanchett played a composed and psychological evil, giving this film a much darker tone than expected. Richard Madden’s portrayal of Prince Kit was also well received, leaving the audience’s eyes pierced with that charming smile and meek playfulness. The CGI mice were also up their on my list, as every time they were on screen, I had to put down the popcorn to smile. Finally, Helena Boham Carter plays a ditsy, charming rendition of the Fairy Godmother. Though her role was short, I was still expecting to see Johnny Depp burst out from behind a bush.
This of course leads up to the newcomer taking the title role, Lily James as Cinderella. I had heard of James before he attachment to this film, but only because she is currently seeing retired timelord Doctor Who’s Matt Smith. James brought Ella to life with her gentle views on living life, her dedication to her deceased parents, and her ability to make every one of her lines and movements sound exactly how you would think a Disney princess would sound. Not only was she able to play the part, but also she was also able to have the look. She enticed me with ever scene and was able to give even a Cinderella newbie a clear view of how the character looks and acts. When she cries, so do you. When she smiles, so do you. James took the character and gave her many dimensions, something I was worried may not happen. No doubt, this budding actress will be seen again, and I hope for many years and films to come.
In all, this was a pleasant outing to the movies. Appropriate for all ages (and all genders), Cinderella sparks that magical charm that Disney has always offered, and does it rather masterfully. With emotion, comedy and clever callbacks to older Disney classics, this is not a film you will want to skip. The visual will have you wide-eyed for the entire feature, and the actors will keep you well versed and entertained for the surprising 112-minute runtime. Scratch off another win for Disney, and scratch off another brilliant classic brought back to life for new, and future generations to enjoy.