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CINDERELLA (review)

Review by Caitlyn Thompson
Produced by Simon Kinberg, 
David Barron, Allison Shearmur
Screenplay by Chris Weitz
Based on Disney’s Cinderella Cendrillon by Charles Perrault
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Starring Lily James, Richard Madden, Cate Blanchett,
Stellan Skarsgård, Holliday Grainger, Derek Jacobi, 
Helena Bonham Carter, Hayley Atwell, Ben Chaplin

Cinderella.

It’s the animated movie in live action form.

That’s it.

There is no originality or twist on the classic tale.

And though the costumes and camera work create a majestic atmosphere – Kenneth Branagh doesn’t fail to illustrate the beauty of the fantastical world – any opportunity for character depth or story reinvention is absent.

It’s difficult for me to focus on what this movie is because I’m so distracted by what it’s not.

First, an overview.

Helena Bonham Carter, who plays the marvelous and witty fairy godmother, narrates the well-known story of a kind girl, with kind parents, who end up dying, leaving her with an envious and cruel stepmother.

Lily James (Downton Abbey) is lovely as Ella, with her soft mannerisms and quiet voice, always repeating her mother’s motto, “Be kind and have courage.”

It gets tiring after a while, but this movie is geared towards children, so I can forgive the banality.

Her counterpart, Prince Kit, played by Richard Madden (Games of Thrones), is witty and charming with a gorgeous smile. Their chemistry and timing is cute but ultimately flat.

Cate Blanchett shines as the stepmother, her emotions conveyed in each grin and subtly widening eyes. She is, as ever, fierce and powerful onscreen. But I thought this film would give more information regarding her history. There is one line that alludes to an interesting past. Then it’s gone. No more explanation. And it’s really disappointing.

I understand that this story is geared towards children and is supposed to be fantastical, but I much prefer Ever After with Drew Barrymore – who isn’t great, but she has more personality than James’ Ella.

In Ever After, Cinderella even has an original name, Danielle, and while she’s kind, she’s openly frustrated and beaten down. Also, she and the prince have a relationship that spans more than several hours. There is mistrust and anger. Complications arise and “Cinderella” is forced into fairly threatening settings (being sold as a slave, for lack of a better word, to a creepy old dude). That’s interesting, that’s something different. The story is more complex, the stepsisters aren’t equally mean, and again, a relationship has time to develop before a marriage proposal is suggested.

Cinderella has none of that complexity. It’s rather doofy. And maybe I was too hopeful and am comparing too harshly, but it seems other live-action recreations of fairy-tales are delivering more interesting and mature perspectives on the familiar shallow stories.

Now, I love the growing trend of fairy-tales becoming live-action productions. But again, unlike Cinderella, I find they succeed in offering something new. Alice in Wonderland is more grotesque and Alice is portrayed as a warrior. It’s not as innocent as the original movie—it’s up for debate whether the psychedelic aspects of the animated version are truly innocent of course.

Then consider Maleficent, while it wasn’t a tremendous movie, it still provides a back-story, previously unknown. The villain becomes sympathetic.

And while (not yet) a film, Wicked presents that same story – what we thought we knew about villains isn’t true. Attention is drawn away from the beautiful, ever-kind princesses who always get their happy endings, and shifts towards the interesting lives of the evil characters, humanizing them and informing audiences of the (may I be so bold) blandness of the traditional damsels.

Now think of Enchanted, a satirical rendition of all Disney stories. The characters are over-exaggerated and ridiculous in their ideas about instantaneous love and commitment. But the love-jaded Patrick Dempsey awakens Amy Adams to the unrealistic nature of her idealistic fantasy of love. It’s a goofy film, featuring goofy songs, and a hilariously goofy effervescent Amy Adams, but it provides some insight about the importance of building relationships. And I think that’s an important message to impart on audiences, especially young audiences.

Again, as I expressed earlier, I could only really focus on what this movie is not. It’s fine to take the kiddos to see it.

It’s funny and light and beautifully done, but there really isn’t much else there. 

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