Friday, March 20, 2015

Cinderella Review

Last year Disney released a live action retelling of their animated classic Sleeping Beauty in the film Maleficent. It was okay; it would have been much worse without Angelina Jolie. This year, another live action remake of different animated Disney classic was released. After Maleficent's hype and subsequent mediocrity, I wasn't too keen on seeing the new Cinderella (2015). I was pleasantly surprised to find an engaging movie that has stuck to its (Disney) source better than the other fairy tale movies that have been released in the past several years.
Young Ella (Lily James) was raised in a happy and loving home by her parents (Ben Chaplin & Hayley Atwell). Her merchant father remarries following the tragic death of her mother. Keen to support her loving father, Ella welcomes her new stepmother Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) and her daughters Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drizella (Sophie McShera) into the family home. But when Ella's father suddenly and unexpectedly passes away, she finds herself at the mercy of a jealous and cruel new family. Finally relegated to nothing more than a servant girl covered in ashes, and spitefully renamed "Cinderella" since she is made to work in the cinders, Ella could easily begin to lose hope. Yet, despite the cruelty inflicted upon her, Ella is determined to honor her mother's dying words to "have courage and be kind." She will not give in to despair nor despise those who abuse her. One day Cinderella meets a dashing stranger in the woods (Richard Madden). Unaware that he is really a prince, not merely an employee at the palace, Ella finally feels she has met a kindred soul. It appears as if her fortunes may be about to change when the palace sends out an open invitation for all maidens to attend a ball, raising Ella's hopes of once again encountering the charming "Kit." Alas, her stepmother forbids her to attend and callously rips apart her dress. But as in all good fairy tales, help is at hand as a kindly beggar woman (Helena Bonham Carter) steps forward and, armed with a pumpkin and a few mice, changes Cinderella's life forever.
It's interesting that Disney chose to stick to the sweet innocence of their classic animated feature when remaking this live action adaptation. We've had movies like Red Riding Hood, Snow White and the Huntsman, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, and Jack the Giant Slayer which are all dark reimaginings of Grimm's fairy tales. But Cinderella stuck to its guns and remained a cute, romantic, and charming adaptation of the Disney animated classic. Had this come out ten years ago, I don't think it would have been as well received. Many of these dark fairy tales explore themes such as feminism, the blurred lines between hero and villain, and the strength of women. Those are great, and this Cinderella does focus on feminine strength, but not the sort in the previously mentioned movies. I think that to contrast these dark interpretations, Cinderella provides some pleasant themes of kindness for which we redeveloped a craving after all the mature and dark movies of the past decade. Some of them were good, but Cinderella is kind of a breath of fresh air we didn't realize we wanted.
This Cinderella has been criticized for making a weak girly character of its tragic heroine, lacking agency and independence. I disagree! Cinderella does have horrible things happen to her; had I been in her shoes I would have retaliated. But despite her circumstances, she chooses to return Lady Tremaine's cruelty with kindness and patience. She had the power to leave her abusive stepmother at any time, but chose to care for the home of her parents to honor their memory in spite of how demeaning and emotionally painful her stepfamily was. Also, in the scene where Prince "Kit" and Cinderella meet in the woods, at no point did I feel like he was in control. Cinderella was in control of the conversation and the outcome and allowing herself to be herself, regardless of what was thought of her. Furthermore, Cinderella had no interest in meeting the prince at the ball; her whole motive for attending was to simply have another chance meet the young man she'd met in the woods, not knowing he actually was the prince. She was not interested in high society, glitz and glamor, nor was she seeking to anything of self-interest. Cinderella was simply seeking a kindred spirit. This character is not defined by the men in her life, nor is she seeking to live up to men's expectations. Having said that, I think this Cinderella is more pro-feminism than Maleficent was; female strength needn't be physical nor should it be defined as power over men. It can very much be strength of character and sticking to ones principles. I love the warrior princess characters we've had in the past couple of years such as Merida in Brave, she and others are fantastic and worth emulating. I'm simply delighted to see a female protagonist be the type of woman who has the courage to be kind in a world full of cruelty. That's the kind of strength of character I think we should encourage and instill within our daughters.
I think this Cinderella is a better role model than its animated predecessor. I never liked the animated Cinderella movie that much because kind as the character is, she basically sits around wishing things were better and wants to go to the ball because girls like that kind of thing and the prince is handsome. This doesn't lend itself to depth of character, and even as a kid I thought she was uninteresting. I don't really like characters who rely on others to fix things for them, regardless of gender. This Cinderella, though, sticks to her principles with kindness and patience. She has moments of sorrow, but recommits herself to being a good person. It's not until she has reached her lowest low that her will finally breaks and begins to accept the world as a cruel place, no matter how hard she tries to make it good. At this point her Fairy Godmother intervenes, not to solve all her problems, but to give her the boost she needs to overcome her trials and find a sense of happiness again. The deus ex machina plot device that the fairy godmother normally provides is still present, but this Cinderella seems much more deserving of it. She's worked hard to be a force for good in her world rather than simply wishing things would get better.
I often mention good costuming to illustrate a time period. But the costumes and dresses in Cinderella were stunning and gorgeous beyond compare! Lady Tremaine's dresses are always the height of fashion, and Blanchett displays them as well as any fashion model would. The gown that Cinderella is granted for the ball is striking and resplendent; often put against orange colors, blue dress looks picturesque in every shot and almost seems to gracefully move of its own accord while Cinderella dances.
The only real issue I had with Cinderella was the CGI animal friends. Cute animal sidekicks and friends work well in animated Disney features, but in live action movies they tend to become awkward very quickly. I saw them in the trailer and was worried they would act as the primary comic relief, and be silly as they so often do in animated features. While they do appear regularly in the movie, it's only for short bouts and they act mostly like normal mice. I think it would have been just a little bit better had they trained some mice to run around looking cute rather than having slightly cartoonish digital mice run around looking cute.
Cinderella is a fantastic remake of Disney's classic animated feature. It's refreshingly traditional in this revisionist era of movie remakes. Kenneth Branagh shows us that Disney hasn't lost any of its old fashioned magic. This version has more depth and complexity than the original, but holds true to the classic tale even with some unexpected twists. They've done something right; this story has been retold many times over.  This fresh take on the story caused me to gasp a few times. This Cinderella is a stronger and more interesting character than her animated predecessor, and of a class that I would like to see more of. I even got caught up in the romance which is normally so clich├ęd that I check out of that particular subplot.  Cinderella is a good movie! The camera work was breathtaking in some scenes, especially the fireworks display at the ball.  After mulling it over in my mind, I've decided that I want a copy of it on Blu-Ray when it becomes available. You can wait until then if you want, but I think this is worth the price of a movie ticket.

With Cinderella being as well done as it was, I think I'm looking forward to Disney's upcoming live action Beauty and the Beast movie. That's one of my favorite animated Disney movies, and they'd better not screw it up! What are your feelings about this Cinderella movie and the upcoming Beauty and the Beast one? Comment below and let me know!

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