For quite some time now, Disney has been approaching some of their biggest hits at a different angle and creating live-action adaptations to make things fresh and new. We’ve seen it with ‘Alice In Wonderland,’ ‘Maleficent,’ and the ABC series ‘Once Upon A Time’ and we’ll see it again in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘Dumbo.’ However when it comes to ‘Cinderella,’ director Kenneth Branagh, writer Chris Weitz, and their whole team pretty much stick with the tried and true path to success with that story. The House of Mouse’s latest offering in the live-action fairytale department doesn’t really deviate from the classic tale and doesn’t bring anything that new to the table. But with that being said, it’s not exactly a bad thing.
Just like the vintage 1950 animated film based on the long-existing folk tale, ‘Cinderella’ follows all the beats that you remember. From stepmother Lady Tremaine to a handsome prince to the Fairy Godmother and the glass slipper, it’s all there. The only difference is that we get to spend more time fleshing out Ella’s parents and the prince so that they’re elevated to full-fledged characters rather than plot devices.
But before we fully dive into that story, I have to address the short that accompanied this film, ‘Frozen Fever’. After the events of the smash hit ‘Frozen’, we catch up with the kingdom of Arendelle on Princess Anna’s birthday, an occasion that Queen Elsa wants to make perfect to make up for all those years not building a snowman. Although, Elsa’s cold gets in the way of the festivities no matter how much she tries to ignore her symptoms. To be blunt: This short was adorable! It hit every note that made ‘Frozen’ as good as it was. This was probably thanks to bringing the entire creative team and voice cast back to work on it, which was totally the right move. I particularly enjoyed seeing the sisters finally ride their bike through the empty halls and the little snow babies created from Elsa’s sneezes. Seeing this short was worth going to the theater and it definitely put me in a good mood going into ‘Cinderella’.
Now that I was already smiling ear to ear, I was feeling good about the feature coming next. But then Disney pulled one of their signature moves and pulled at the heartstrings by taking us all the way back to a time when Lily James’ Ella had both her mother and father. Sure, the audience was going to feel bad and empathize with her regardless, but showing her mother (who was wonderfully played by Hayley Atwell) deteriorate in health and watching as she got the news about her father’s passing was heart-breaking. Vintage Disney move right there, except this took up more space than it usually does in these kinds of films.
In addition to showing us more of Cinderella’s life prior to the evil stepmother and stepsisters, we also got to see her meeting the prince first in the woods during a hunt rather than at the ball. Adding this aspect to the story made it more believable, even for a fairytale. It also gave us the opportunity to see more of what Prince Kit (played by former King of the North Robb Stark AKA Richard Madden) was about, which seems a lot like what Jasmine from ‘Aladdin’ was about since they both wanted to marry for love above all things. It was definitely a nice touch to get the other side of this great romance, which actually involved his relationship with his father and the eventual loss that sees Kit become the new king.
Speaking of Cinderella’s stepmother, Cate Blanchett did a phenomenal job as Lady Tremaine. Every time she spoke, I wanted to dropkick her in the face, which means that she was doing her job extremely well. The monologue in Cinderella’s room after Tremaine finds the other glass slipper was flawlessly sinister. At that point, even the character knew how much of a bitch she was being, but that certainly didn’t stop her from following through with her plans. Cheers to whoever cast Blanchett in the role because the actress knocked it out of the park.
But as good as the cast was, the best things about ‘Cinderella’ were the costumes and the cinematography. Branagh somehow managed to make every shot look like an Annie Leibovitz portrait and that was largely thanks to the vibrant colors and the extravagant clothing throughout the movie. The movie was so visually stunning and that sets it apart from any previous adaptation that we’ve seen in the past.
Though this new version of ‘Cinderella’ has some pretty good parts, it’s hard to think of it as anything other than good. Imagine that you take your favorite picture in your house that you’ve had for years and put it in a brand new, super ornate frame. That’s basically what you’re getting here. You know exactly what you’re getting when you walk in despite a few new flourishes here and there. But like I said in the beginning of this review, there’s nothing wrong with that sometimes. From a moviegoer’s point of view, it’s certainly entertaining. It doesn’t hurt for kids to be reminded to have courage and be kind either. But as far as innovation or excellent storytelling or character depth goes, it’s nothing that we haven’t seen before. If you’re in the mood for an old-fashioned Disney fairytale (minus the musical numbers), you’re going to get it, but don’t expect much more.