Disney has made a career of taking fairy tales from around the world and turning them into giant buckets of money. Well, get ready Disney fans because they are about to do it once more with the release of their live-action film, Cinderella. Directed by Kenneth Branagh and based on the 1950 animated masterpiece, Disney’s Cinderella. Which, of course, is based on the many versions of the story that have been told since 1634. Each version of the story changes for every new generation it touches, and like so many other versions of this classic story, this new adaptation will go down as being just as beautiful as its animated predecessor.
Before we get to Cinderella, Disney has done something very sneaky. As you get ready to watch one of their most popular and oldest princesses, the audience is given a short animated feature showing off Disney’s newest and most popular princesses. We get to check in with the two sisters from Arendelle, Elsa and Anna, from 2013’s Frozen. Entitled Frozen Fever, we see a little adventure with all the fun characters kids love from the movie. Disney’s getting all the synergy it can out of this flick by putting even more princesses in it. Well, the joke’s on us, because Frozen Fever was enjoyable. What could have been a horrible short showcasing even more Frozen, was actually a nice way to start the fairy tale hole you’re about to go down. So…. Well played Disney.
Ok, back to Cinderella: Though the film is not a direct remake of 1950 animated adaptation, the story largely follows the same plot of that film with several new twists and few homages to the classic most people are familiar with. In this new version we get backstories to most of the main characters there was never time for in the latter movies. We learn motives and what certain characters strive for. Basically the filmmakers have taken mostly two-dimensional animated characters and made them into fully formed, breathing, three-dimensional characters with depth. They become alive before your eyes on the screen. Add in the bright vibrant colors, amazing special effects, and a story we all know and love, and you’re treated to a pleasing new classic.
We see how “Ella” was raised, and taught right from wrong. Seeing her grow into womanhood. Unlike other adaptations we learn who she becomes from watching her interact with her loving parents, and the kindness she is surrounded by. Ella is wonderfully played by Lilly James. She brings a delightful vibe to the role. She personifies the heart, beauty, and bravado that one needs to be a Disney princess. In each scene she steals your heart.
Prince Charming, marvelously played by Richard Madden, does his fair share of heart stealing as well . For the first time the Prince is a real character. And one you like. As it is in most of the fairy tales the prince isn’t really needed or important until the end of the story. If you’re using the animated film as a base, he wasn’t even given a name. Just, Charming. But here the prince, “Kit,” becomes a prince you want to be with. I hate to be the one to say it, but Madden’s portrayal is nothing but sheer charming. He’s funny, strong, and confidant. Some of the best moments in the film are with Prince and his father, The King, played by Derek Jacobi. What Ella does for girls, showing a strong, independent woman, Kit does the same for boys. Each is represented in a positive light.
But, with light there must always be dark. Enter the evil stepmother, Lady Tremaine, deliciously played by Cate Blanchett. From the moment she slithers on screen, you feel a cold chill run up and down your spine. She’s mean to the core of her soul. Blanchett’s performance is over the top in all the right ways. For the first time, we learn why the stepmother is so mean. We get a look into who and what makes her so mad at the world. From her lines, her look, and even how Blanchett moves, she loves playing this role. She is worth the price admission alone.
One of the other talented standouts would be the role of the Fairy Godmother, strangely played by Helena Bonham Carter. Here we finally see Carter toss away her black and white Tim Burton ways, and embrace the whites and pinks of being a fairy. And she does it awesomely. Where, in another movie, they would have had Blanchett and Carter switch roles, here we get to see both embrace different sides of the same coin. Carter is perfect as she bops from place to place, acting like a crazy lady using magic to make Ella’s dreams come true. It’s a fun scene and one that stays the most true to the animated classic.
The movie is set in wonderful world full of color and beauty. Each scene is bright, shiny, and a joy to behold. Credit to cinematographer, Haris Zamarloukos, who manages to make the movie look real, even though it is set in a fairy tale land. Nothing seems too CGI or out of place. Even though your mind knows it’s not real, it’s never catches you off guard. The digital backgrounds, CGI characters, and special effects work so seamlessly together you swear you are looking out a window on a bright sunny day.
A lot of time and effort was put into making sure the special effects worked for this movie, and it paid off. There are certain mental images we have from the story, and the Disney version, that could have been tricky for filmmakers. But, here they look great. When Ella’s animal friends are turned into human hybrids to get her to the ball, it looks great and believable for the world you’re in. As does the pumpkin turning into the carriage, and the mice into horses. But, one thing that had to look perfect, and you can imagine how much time was spent on making sure it did, was the tattered dress being turned into the stunning dress Ella wears to the ball. The effects spared no expense. Because it works. Little girls around the world are going to want their dress to glow and transform like Ella’s does. The effect is beautiful and very empowering for the character. The wardrobe department should take a bow and be proud of what they accomplished.
As Disney begins taking their animated catalog and turning them into live-action, special effects, extravaganzas, this is a great first outing. It’s beautiful, funny, and full of heart. A movie that the whole family can enjoy. Showing the love that mothers and fathers impart upon their children. If Disney is good at anything, it’s making a great, feel-good, family movie. And here, once again, they have hit it out of the park.