Fairy tale live action is Hollywood’s cash cow of now, right up there with comic book movies, apocalypse theories and dystopian trilogies. If Disney’s Cinderella, however, is any indication of happy-ever-after flicks to come, this trend gives me quite a lot of bibbity-bobbity-boo.
Far from the dark, punked up Snow White and the Huntsman and Alice in Wonderland, and different still from Maleficent‘s more child-friendly albeit mildly gothic and at times corny retelling, Cinderella was vibrant, honest, and unashamedly fun. Disney seemed to have decided against a rehash and stubbornly stuck to the core of the 1950’s cartoon movie. Since there are no plot twists to hide under, it required a glittering story telling.
Having Kenneth Branagh at the helm is the battle half won. A charming actor (think Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secret’s sleazy heartthrob Professor Lockhart) and a brilliant director of Shakesperean proportions (think Hamlet and the first Thor), Sir Branagh has perfected the magic of showcasing epic sets while still telling a relatable, sincere story. Free from an itch to rehash Cinderella’s story beyond recognition, Branagh put weight instead on grounding the story, making it as realistic as possible by focusing on the very real emotions, rooting them to real motives.
Cinderella, though kinder by miles than the rest of us, was so because of her golden childhood, because of parents who raised her to believe that goodness and magic can be truth. She only has to (let’s say this together) have courage and be kind. Even the Prince stepped down from his royal pedestal, firstly from the simple yet powerful gesture of saying his name – one that isn’t Charming. Kit, though born with a golden spoon, was young and was as wise as his youth, but self-aware enough to know his shortcomings, and brave enough to be his own man. He was not there to save Cinderella. Cinderella can take care of herself, thank you very much. They needed each other, as it goes with real fairy godmother-less relationships.
To an extent, it is a story of girl power, though admittedly limited. Cinderella does not banish her step family in a fit of Games of Thrones fury (sorry, can’t resist), but unwittingly punishes them with kindness, grounded on her one goal of protecting and loving her house as her parents had loved it. It is, wholly, a story of love. Of parents and family, of broken hearts and shades of grief, of spoiled daughters and brave children. It is the story of love between a boy and a girl who met in the forest, told in Austenian dialogue, in British accents that simply amp the romance.
Lily James fits the slipper – both the worn leather and the glittering glass – with grace and vivacity, matching Richard Madden‘s boyish, sparkling (yes) charm. Together, their chemistry lights up the watercolor screen, making you believe in love at first horse ride, in love at first dance. Cate Blanchett was deliciously sinister as the step mother, and Helena Bonham-Carter was weirdly perfect as the semi-ditzy fairy. Even the Tremaine sisters (Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera) and the sinister Grand Duke (the dashing Stellan Skarsgard) deserve honorable mentions.
Cinderella was a lavish display of picturesque countryside, sprawling castle grounds and many many layers of blue silk. At its heart the film is thoughtful, sweet, and determinedly traditionalist, a tale of light, dark and love and just a sprinkle of magic.
P.S. I think it is brilliant that Cinderella has a March release, weeks away from the Game of Thrones season 5 premiere, with both projects out and about promoting at the same time. Who wouldn’t want to watch Robb Stark have a happy ending, right before coming back to the gloom and gore of Westeros? Another possibility, the desolate feels of the Red Wedding would likewise be revisited via Google search, and we will all drop to our knees in unison again. How they toy with our emotions. Marketing genius, I tell you.
Photo and video credits to owners.