The Disney Companies certainly know how to make money. With their own animated films, those of Pixar, Marvel and now Lucas Films – all Disney entities – the companies film division(s) have had a very successful few years. But some of those films have been more focused on box office success than quality production. With the live-action version of Disney’s iconic ‘Cinderella’, the company pays due respect to Walt Disney’s legacy with a sumptuous, faithful retelling of the story. And while the songs from the animated original are left behind, the one-dimensional characters are more than fully fleshed out, resulting in a very satisfying update.
Under the sure direction of Kenneth Branagh ‘Cinderella’ brings together a strong cast, puts them in a series of gorgeous settings, and provides a worthy expansion of the fairy tale that develops the back stories of the characters. We are introduced (albeit briefly) to Cinderella’s parents; come to know the Prince – still charming, but named ‘Kit’; learn the source of Cinderella’s preternatural good spirits; and even come to understand why the evil Stepmother is so evil (and it is not completely her fault). All of these components, paired with an exceptionally strong cast, add up to an outstanding movie experience for all. For young audiences, there are the fun – and funny – exploits of Cinderella’s animal friends, not to mention the magical transformation of mice, lizards, goose and pumpkin into a coach and attendant horses and footmen. For adults, there is a legitimate love story accompanied by the drama of Cinderella’s transformation from beloved daughter to scullery maid to queen; and the machinations of both palace miscreants and the stepmother and her daughters.
As noted, ‘Cinderella’ boasts a very strong cast, led by Cate Blanchette as the Stepmother. Blanchette IS, in fact, quite evil in the way that she treats Cinderella. But the substance of her performance is that we are offered insight into the slights – some intended, some not – which turn her so completely against her stepdaughter. With a character that is typically just a cartoon (no pun intended!), Blanchette creates a fully formed personality with which one can almost feel empathy – almost. Also quite strong is Richard Madden of ‘Game of Thrones’ fame. In the animated version, the Prince is a non-entity. Here, Madden plays a populist, questioning and thoughtful Prince conflicted by his role as King-in-training and determined not to do things the old way ‘just because’. In the end, he really does get to marry his beloved -- and keep his head (get it?).
But the heart and soul of the film is Lily James in the title role. Certainly beautiful and obsessively sunny, James is a feminist (of a type) Cinderella who rides without saddle or bridle; works alongside the staff even before being forced to; lives life on her own terms; and consistently embodies her mother’s dying admonition to ‘have courage and be kind’. Of course, there are times when you wish she wouldn’t be so kind – but THAT is another fairy tale entirely. In any case, Collins is the perfect anchor for this film and the perfect foil for all of her counterparts.
The movie would not be so good were it not for its visual extravagance. From Cinderella’s home to the ballroom of the castle to the landscapes of the kingdom, the settings of the film are perfect. Add to this outstanding, colorful costumes and every scene is a joyous eyeful. And that is the best summary that I can offer about ‘Cinderella’. It blends a strong script with outstanding performances against a beautiful background that both honors and expands upon the original. A bit of hyperbole, perhaps? Go see the film and tell me I am wrong.