Director Kenneth Branagh clearly wants people to grasp that this adaptation of “Cinderella” is a straight retelling of the classic fairy tale.
There are no major twists or unexpected endings awaiting moviegoers. Disney learned its lesson after its last attempt to create a live-action remake of a Walt-era classic, “Maleficent,” resulted in a mediocre spin on a well-known film. “Cinderella” treats the fairy tale story seriously. The result is a visually stunning remake that develops a sense of originality and fun, despite a few story and character flaws.
Ella (Lily James) lives a happy life with her mother and father in medieval England. Tragically, her mother dies of illness, and her father soon marries Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett), a widow who shrewdly hides her cruel nature. After she and her atrocious stepdaughters move in,Ella’s father also dies from illness. Ella is left in a state of constant abuse by her new relatives and is mockingly rechristened “Cinderella.” After learning of a ball, Cinderella is determined to outwit her stepmother, win over a prince named Kit (Richard Madden) and reclaim the life she once had.
The film’s visuals are astoundingly beautiful. The special effects bring this world to life, even though the film relies heavily on computer-generated imagery. Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage shines gold and is a elegantly carved wonder, and Prince Charming’s columned castle could not exist without help of CGI wizardry. Special effects make the crystal-like glass on Cinderella’s famous slippers gleam brightly in every shot.
James is charming as Cinderella and definitely sells the famous princess’ image of being kind and courageous. One flaw is that she is sometimes too carefree and optimistic. When her stepmother locks her in a tower, Cinderella’s feeling of hopelessness is strangely short-lived before she reverts to her usual, light-hearted self. It’s disappointing that James fails to give more agency to her character.
Cinderella has often received criticisms for being a heroine who relies on luck rather than her own actions. James makes her version of the princess likeable, but she doesn’t do much to change that perception.
The supporting cast make all these familiar characters seem original. Cate Blanchett is chilling as the villainess stepmother. Rather than being over-the-top, she portrays a cold, calculating sort of the menace. Helena Bonham Carter, who portrays Cinderella’s fairy godmother, is certainly memorable. Although her appearance is brief, she takes every opportunity to make the character original. Instead of the elderly, mother figure from the original, Bonham Carter’s spin on the role makes the character frantic, yet warm-hearted. There are a few problems with the film. The first act, which centers on Cinderella adjusting to her new life under her stepmother, is really slow. The action doesn’t pick up until right before the ball begins.
Another issue is the constant narration from an omnipresent observer. This aspect was also featured in “Maleficent,” and it’s grating and unnecessary. Disney is obviously afraid to edge away from this annoying trope in fantasy films.
“Cinderella” is proof that good can come out of Disney’s determination to remake their animated classics as live-action spectacles. Some aspects of the story and Cinderella’s characters are failures, but the film, overall, proves that a fantasy movie with computer-generated mice and fairy godmothers can still be taken seriously.