Movies: Cinderella

Starring: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter
Directed By: Kenneth Branagh
Written By: Chris Weitz
Walt Disney, 2015
PG; 112 minutes
3 stars (out of 5)


A solid enough take on the fairy tale, if lacking anything fresh.

It's the same old story: Happy young Ella has two loving parents. Her father is an upper middle-class merchant. But then Ella's mother takes ill and dies, and in time the father remarries. Then he, too, dies and Ella is left to the harsh abuse of her stepmother and stepsisters. Ella strives to be kind and courageous—a lingering promise she made to her mother—in the face of overwhelming cruelty.

And why are the stepmother and stepsisters so cruel? Jealousy, one supposes, or simply because they can be and like to exercise power whenever possible. We do see the stepmother eavesdrop as Ella's father tells Ella he loves her and still misses her mother. This certainly must put some spike in stepmama's punch. I guess it's a nod to there being a reason for this woman to behave so badly; in the fairy tale, and even in the animated classic, the ruling presumption is that some people are just bad. Though one might at least be left wondering why Ella's father, by all accounts a kind and loving man, married this woman in the first place.

As for the stepsisters, one assumes they're going by example.

Some of the touches from the 1950s cartoon are on display: fat little Gus the mouse, and the cat Lucifer, and even the stepsisters retain the names Drisella and Anastasia, and the family name remains Tremaine. We're also treated to a fair share of Mickey Mouse designs in the house.

Lily James does a nice enough job, though there were moments she reminded me a bit of Jessica Lange for some reason. Cate Blanchett as the stepmother wields her proficient screen power in the same way as Bette Davis of old, and I was pleasantly surprised to see Sir Derek Jacobi in the role of the king. Richard Madden, too, does a nice job with the little he's given. And Nonso Anozie has quite a presence as a captain in the king's guard; I look forward to seeing him in Pan.

My daughter and all the little girls filling the cinema were suitably impressed with the film; in particular the transformation scenes of pumpkins becoming carriages and, later, returning to pumpkin form. The power of big, beautiful dresses cannot be denied. But afterward my daughter declared, "But all that death and dying! I didn't like it!"

The upshot of the film, if one bothers to think about it much, must be that kindness will be rewarded (eventually) . . . Rather a sense of karma, or "what you put out into the universe comes back to you" or something. And that true royalty is something internal rather than external, not something you're born to but something you project. This gives hope to all the little girls who visit Disneyland and Disney World, for even as Ella in the movie says, "But I'm not a real princess!" she is told to enjoy it [the ball, which may as well be an allegory for the Disney amusement parks] while she can.

Today you may be a Disney princess, but tomorrow it may be back to the attic with you . . . Just keep faith and keep being kind, bear up under terrible odds, and some day it may pay off when a powerful man sees your worth. Or something.

No comments: