Disney’s 1950 animated version of the Cinderella fairy tale enabled the fantasies of lovelorn little girls wishing for a fairy godmother to whisk them away into the arms of a handsome prince.
The new, live-action film of the rags-to-romance story of how a young woman overcomes the cruelty of her wicked stepmother doesn’t stray too far from its predecessor. If you’re looking for a tried-and-true telling filled with elaborate settings and beautiful ball gowns, this glass slipper is the right fit. However, if you’re looking for a fresh, modern take on your average fairy tale, don’t bother trying on this one.
To be fair, the filmmakers weren’t going for broke: “The thing for us was not to try too hard to re-imagine things, but to go by the lights of the story as we saw it — a world of hidden wonder and beauty, with the amazing force of kindness and faith at the heart of it,” screenwriter Chris Weitz (About a Boy), says in the press notes.
Based on author Charles Perrault’s Cendrillon, or the History of the Little Glass Slipper, the 2015 film plods along in the beginning to reminisce on Ella’s charmed upbringing, which is uprooted with the passing of her beloved mother (Hayley Atwell, Agent Carter). On her death bed, Ella’s mother provides the wisdom that becomes the thematic base for the film: “I want to tell you the secret that will see you through all the trials that life can offer: Have courage and be kind.”
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When Ella’s father (Ben Chaplin) remarries then unexpectedly dies, the grieving girl tries to heed her late mother’s advice by obeying her new stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and appeasing her new stepsisters, Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drisella (Sophie McShera). Ella is forced to be their servant and is renamed Cinderella. While Blanchett is certainly dastardly as the wicked stepmother, her fashionable frocks dare to upstage her.
About those gowns: Academy Award-winning costume designer Sandy Powell’s (Shakespeare in Love, The Aviator) creations will undoubtedly inspire prom dresses and weddings this year. Her over-the-top looks for the wicked stepsisters appropriately set the moods of those characters.
Lily James, best known as Lady Rose on Downton Abbey, plays an enchanting Cinderella and exudes the virtues of courage and compassion. The chemistry between Prince Kit (the dashing Richard Madden, last seen as Robb Stark on HBO’s Game of Thrones) and Cinderella is sweet and believable.
In fact, the relationship between Kit and the King (Derek Jacobi) is quite touching. It’s during moments like these that one hopes there would have been a little bit more magic in this retelling.
Even during the planned magical moments with the Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter), there’s something missing. A little Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo, perhaps.
Director Kenneth Branagh (Hamlet, Thor) should be commended for assembling such an impressive team of award-winning actors and production crew. The luscious choreography and the grandeur of the palace are quite impressive.
But telling the same old yarn, no matter how pretty it looks, doesn’t leave much for the imagination.
Maricar Estrella, 817-390-7720
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Lily James, Helena Bonham Carter, Richard Madden
Rated: PG (mild thematic elements)
Running time: 112 min.