Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Script by Chris Weitz
Starring Lily James, Richard Madden, Derek Jacobi, Cate Blanchett, Stellan Skarsgard, Helena Bonham Carter
2015, Rated PG, 112 mins.
Stories tend to (not necessarily need) to be updated for a new generation. Previous iterations of a long-told story just don't hold the same appeal to a good amount of the marketplace now, hence why we have Tim Burton's (terrible) ALICE IN WONDERFUL and upcoming (why, Lord, why?) DUMBO. It's why PETER PAN can't ever seem to have enough updates and reimaginings, and long cherished fairytale and Disney stories are getting big budget, CGI-fest new releases, cos kids young to young adult just can't be bothered with checking out some 40 year + titles.
So if you're going to make a new movie based on a old property, there's got to be a point to it. In the case of CINDERELLA, a story told as often as Peter Parker's origin, it does a fine job of adding some additional layers of character and story beats, but overall, the ends don't justify the means. After all, when all is said and done, it really is just some glamorized retelling hellbent on rackin' up the budget on needless SPFX. But before we get to the film, a brief moment to talk about what preceded the flick.
A year and some months ago (can't believe it's been that long), FROZEN blew everyone's mind to become a cultural phenomenon, catapulting the title up to the fifth highest grossing movie of all time. Originally, I was a FROZEN naysayer, until I saw the film and instantly bit my words, so the announcement of this FROZEN FEVER short had me more giddy than the actual film I paid money to see. Ultimately, it was a wobbly production with quite a few flaws but ultimately saved by an innate love to see Anna and Elsa again in a non-ONCE UPON A TIME capacity. The skit itself is amusing -- now that the sisters are bonded better than ever, Elsa wants to get Anna the best birthday party possible, going all out while a simple hangout would do. Neat concept.
The animation is solid work, nearly on par with the original movie itself. What's not so up to par are two things: (1) the song isn't all that good, frankly. And a call-back to FROZEN's most famous song feels shoehorned in instead of organic, and (2) despite being credited to the contrary, the voice talent barely sounds like Kristen Bell or Idina Menzel. There's a few instances it's full on Bell sounding, but Elsa never felt right. Still, great to see the characters again, and if the Disney chairman is to be believed, work is already underway on a potential FROZEN sequel, so, we'll see them again before too long . .. maybe by the time George R. R. Martin finishes the GAME OF THRONES series.
As a film, CINDERELLA is solid. Veteran director Kenneth Branagh has a keen eye, and the visuals never fail to impress. Nice, bright colors adorn every shot; hell, even the dirty attic looks pretty, and I've never seen Cinderella's glass slippers look shinier. On the surface level, there is nothing all that shoddy about CINDERELLA.
Even the script is pretty tight. It moves at a brisk pace, the ending rearing its obvious markers in what feels like no time. Perhaps that's too its detriment, however. Perhaps there should have been a bit more breathing room, more time dedicated to character and allowing them ample time to just be. Cinderella's stepsisters particularly never overcome the long done portrayal of snotty, self-absorbed, materialistic gits - it would be interesting if they instead elected to take a fresh, slightly original take with them. Perhaps make them relatable and submissive to their mother's controlling, advantageous planning. As for the stepmother, on one hand, effort is put forth to make her a true antagonist right alongside William Turner, Jr., Stellan Skarsgard (which is much appreciated), but on the other hand, Cate Blanchett's talent seems almost wasted.
Lily James is absolutely adorable as the humble, father loving daughter Ella who just gets the short staff on every occasion (and I can't emphasize enough how marvelous it was to see AGENT CARTER as James' mum!). Perfectly solid. If there is a complaint - and what would a movie blogger be without a complaint? - it's to do with the most culturally recognized scene of the entire story: the Prince's ball. Ella (who is given the lovely rebranding of "cinder" by her stepsisters) is a girl who is entirely out of her depth going to this ball. This is mostly a performance choice that I'm scrutinizing here. Instead of being awkward, unsure of herself, or at least portraying a person who is attempting to act like someone who belongs, there's this out-of-character performance as James makes Ella seem no different than a princess being brought up in the monarchy. Basically, I feel there should be some sort of awkwardness or uneasiness with this whole thing -- Ella happily embracing all the wild-googely-eyed men and women staring at her, her effortless dancing skills with the prince, etc. Instead, she simply owns it all effortlessly. My mom said, "it's magic!" Me? Not sold.
Speaking of the handsome prince, poor Robb Stark cleaned up quite well. Richard Madden is a fantastically charming and individual-minded prince, easily making even me swell for the bloody guy.
Ultimately, CINDERELLA is a competent, very fine movie. It is not the new definitive telling of the tale, nor is it a wholeheartedly fresh or original take at the character. The original animated Walt Disney film would do just fine. But since this film exists, it's an actual thing now, it's a perfect acceptable, heartwarming tale of . . . what, exactly? Accepting oneself as one is? The movie is more concerned with hitting the necessary plot points its through-line isn't all that strong until the penultimate scene.
Fans of Disney movies will love it, the ladies will be charmed by it, and critics will likely still grumble grumble over why this film exists in the first place. Still, if there has to be a modern day retelling of a gazillion-times told story, Branagh's CINDERELLA would be thrown into the 'win' column . . .