Disney’s Cinderella is the next film in their line of live-action adaptation’s of classic Disney properties. Last summer’s Maleficent saw a twist on the classic Sleeping Beauty tale, and this summer’s Pan promises to delve in the back stories of Peter Pan and Captain Hook in a similar way. Compared to the “untold tale” approach, Cinderella is traditional, conventional, and nevertheless, magical.
As a story, Cinderella has existed since the mid-17th century, but let’s not kid ourselves that the 1950’s Disney cartoon has informed a lot of popular perceptions about the shape of this narrative and how we think about the characters. Disney trades on recognition, and uses it to deliver the fairy tale version of a comfort food in many ways. We know all the beats of the narrative, but like any good love story that you’ve given yourself over to, you really don’t mind watching everything fall into place again.
Strong performances all around make this film delightful to watch, and for the adult audience out there, I don’t think there’s any shame in planning a movie night just to see Lady Rose MacClare (Lily James, Downton Abbey) and Robb Stark (Game of Thrones) fall for each other. The real star here is Cate Blanchett as the Lady Tremaine, bringing a sinister sort of glamor to the role of evil stepmother as she plots to elevate herself and her daughters from relative poverty left by the death of Cinderella’s father. Cinderella is always an odd tale to introduce children to because it shows authority figures acting cruelly to those under their charge, but I think Blanchett hits just the right tone with her passive aggressive edge and condescension without being overly nasty.
This movie’s Cinderella (or Ella, as she starts out), is the perfect foil for her step-family because she is the embodiment of resilience and goodness in the face of adversity. To be reductive, the Cinderella tale is one where a lot of things are done to the heroine, so it’s easy to focus on the victimization of her character rather than the little agency that she possesses. James’ Cinderella is a powerful force of kindness and grace, and while she is put upon by her stepmother and stepsisters, we see her understand and pity them in a way that reveals her to be the greater person without hitting chords of schadenfreude when they get their ultimate comeuppance. This Cinderella is such a powerful force of positivity while still being a character that ultimately pursues her own desire — even if that desire is that old standby, her one true love. Hey, it’s a fairy tale after all.
Beyond the delightful performances, this movie has gorgeous set dressing and costumes out the wazoo, and you’d expect no less from Disney. There is plenty of convincing-enough CG used to show the extravagance of the palace, but the physical sets such as the ballroom are so festooned with golden filigree that you can’t help but get lost in the fantastic world that has been created by Kenneth Branagh. That’s right; it’s not highlighted on many advertisements, but the director at the helm here is Kenneth Branagh. Known primarily for his work adapting films from the works of Shakespeare, he has flirted more recently with popular properties after directing Thor (2011) and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014). While you won’t be reminded of the Bard in the dialogue, I think there is a little bit of Shakespearean sensibility to the way Branagh sets up character moments to establish the characters, such as the prince and the guard captain (Nonso Anozie) having a discussion while practicing their swordsmanship, or the scene between our two leads in the palace’s secret garden.
Cinderella takes advantage of plenty of modern technology to put gorgeous fairy tale imagery on the screen ranging from the rustic to the royal, but it never puts that in front of showcasing simple but effective character moments that give this film heart. Ultimately, Cinderella simply feels like a Disney film, more so than Maleficent, and anyone who finds themselves the least bit interested will certainly find a lot to enjoy.
Have you seen the film? What did you think? If you enjoyed reading this article, make sure to share with your friends!