Disney’s Cinderella (2015): Review

posterby Aaron Einhorn
We’re big Disney fans in this household. Just a few weeks back, the entire family traveled to Walt Disney World to spend a week in the resorts and parks, and to take part in the Princess Half Marathon weekend. Christina ran the Enchanted 10K, the girls ran the Kid’s Mickey Mile, and I took park in the Princess Half Marathon itself. After the race, I took my race bib around Disney property and had each and every Princess sign it. I may be a dude who is more in to superheroes and science fiction than fairy tales and tea parties, and the Disney Villains may be those I flock to, but we still love the Princesses.

That doesn’t change the fact that the first few Princesses who compose the Disney Princess line are a bit… well… dull. Snow White is a fairly meek girl (remember, she’s only fourteen!) whose only real defining trait is being nice, Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) barely even shows up in her own movie, and Cinderella… well… the fantasy of being taken away from a horrible, dull, impoverished situation into becoming the Princess is appealing, but what actually defines Cinderlla’s character, other than an ability to talk to mice and birds?

Disney took great strides with the later Princesses, of course, but the first three remain just a little flat. So, it was with immensely high hopes that I sat down to see Cinderlla, the live-action reimagining of the 1950 classic animated film. Did it bring me over into the ranks of Cinderlla fans? Read on.

Synopsis

The story of Cinderella follows the fortunes of young Ella whose merchant father remarries following the death of her mother. Eager to support her loving father, Ella welcomes her new stepmother and her daughters Anastasia and Drisella into the family home. But when Ella’s father unexpectedly passes away, she finds herself at the mercy of a jealous and cruel new family. Finally relegated nothing more than a servant girl covered in ashes, and spitefully renamed Cinderlla, Ella could easily begin to lose hope. Yet, despite the cruelty inflicted upon her, Ella is determined to honor her mother’s dying words and to “have courage and be kind.”

She will not give in to despair nor despise those who mistreat her. And then there is the dashing stranger she meets in the woods. Unaware that he is really a prince, not merely an apprentice at the Palace, Ella finally feels she has met a kindred soul. It appears her fortunes may be about to change when the Palace sends out an open invitation for all maidens to attend a ball, raising Ella’s hopes of once again encountering the charming Kit. Alas, her stepmother forbids her to attend and callously rips apart her dress. But, as in all good fairy tales, help is at hand, and a kindly beggar woman (Helena Bonham-Carter) steps forward and – armed with a pumpkin and a few mice – changes Cinderella’s life forever.

Directed by Kenneth Branagh, Cinderella stars Lily James, Hayley Atwell, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter and Richard Madden.
(from Disney)

kinopoisk.ruThe Feature

The 2015 Cinderella follows the story of the classic 1950 version nearly identically. There are certain elements that have been changed – notably, the film is not a musical, and while she does get assistance from her mice friends, there are no talking animals in the film.

Where the films differ most focus on giving expanded backstory to each of the main characters. We get to see a lot more about Cinderella’s life before her mother died, and we get to see a growing connection between Ella and her father. The mantra of “have courage and be kind” is repeated and we see how it shapes Ella. We’re given a reason (however thin) for why Ella never fights back, or simply chooses to leave the house and strike out on her own. Similarly, we get to see a bit more between the Prince (Kit) and his father, and we see a charming relationship between Father and Son and between King and heir, and where those two relationships have to come into conflict.

Lady Tremaine is given a bit more backstory and explanation for her motives and for why she never cares for Ella.

Best of all, however, we get scenes of Ella and the Prince where they do more than just dance. They get to talk to one another, and share secrets and thoughts and ideas. It’s still a thin scene, and doesn’t leave them with much more time to build a lasting romance than Anna and Hans have in Frozen, but at least it’s more than just “They danced, and therefore they’re in love.”

Lily James gives us a very convincing Ella/Cinderella, and Richard Madden has cleaned up exceptionally from Game of Thrones to make a very dashing Disney Prince. Cate Blanchett plays Lady Tremaine with gusto, seeming very much like a younger Angelica Huston, and Helena Bonham-Carter’s Fairy Godmother is perhaps a bit more scatterbrained than the animated version, but is a heart-warming presence.

kinopoisk.ruThe Visuals

Kenneth Branagh has a fantastic eye for the cinema, and with a Disney-backed budget, we would expect nothing less than fantastic from the director who gave us Thor, Hamlet and Henry V. I chose those three films specifically to point out how high the bar was set.

Branagh surpasses it. Cinderella is absolutely breathtaking. From the little details of watching butterflies magically transform into jeweled accents, to the sweeping vistas of the kingdom, to exploring the little details that make Ella’s house a warm and loving home, Branagh uses the camera to overwhelm us visually, using both sweeping wide shots and intimate close-ups. The line between CGI and practical make-up and effects is hard to draw, and everything is given the attention to make the visual world of Cinderella a fully immersive experience.

fairygodmotherThe Music

Like their other recent live-action reimagining (Maleficent), Disney chose not to make Cinderella a musical. Instead, we get a beautiful score from Patrick Doyle, along with two after-the-credits reprises from the animated feature.

Doyle’s score is more than up to the task of guiding us through the emotional arc of the film, without ever once drawing attention to itself. I leave it to the viewer to decide if this is a good thing or if it merely makes his music serviceable, although I personally lean towards the view that the music should only become the focus of a scene when it is, in fact, the focus of the scene.

During the post credits, Lily James sings “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” and it is very pretty, while Helena Bonham-Carter provides a humorous take on “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo” that left a smile on the faces of my entire family.

The Good

Breathtaking visuals, a strong score, and excellent acting gives us a film that manages to retain almost all of the charm of the animated film while giving additional depth to the characters and the story. Cinderella herself is notable for being given significantly more agency and drive in this film, as opposed to the mostly passive version we see in the animated classic.

The Bad

The explanation for Lady Tremaine’s wickedness doesn’t really mesh with her actions when she first moves in with Ella and her father, even before his untimely death. Although Cate Blanchett does her best with the role, it never really manages to elevate her above the cartoon version of the character.

The Ugly

Even with additional depth to the characters, the central conflict of this film remains a fairly dull one to base a story around. The romance is better, and we know the characters better, but it never made me care that much more about the story. Additionally, that deeper look at the characters comes with additional run-time, and even with the modest run-time of 112 minutes, Cinderella still felt like it ran too long.

ladytremaineFinal Thoughts

As a life-long fan of Disney, I wanted to love Cinderella, and have it redeem the 1950 animated classic which, let’s be honest, is extremely problematic from the point of view of a Dad raising two daughters and wanting them to have strong role models.

Did Cinderella succeed? Not quite. It is, in almost every way I can think of, a better film than the animated one, and I certainly enjoyed myself at the screening. But Cinderella’s tale remains one seeped in problems, and I cannot see her rising to the heights established by more recent Princesses such as Belle, Ariel and Jasmine, much less the much more proactive and heroic ones like Rapunzel, Tiana, Anna and Merida, or even the less successful and lesser known ones like Giselle and Meg. (And you get no points for saying that Anna technically isn’t a part of Disney’s Princess line yet, or that Giselle and Meg never made it into that line at all.)

It is a beautiful film, and one I’m sure we’ll watch again. But Cinderella’s tale is simply not one that will ever move me, and I can’t see myself being excited about revisiting this when it comes out on Blu-Ray.

Bonus: Frozen Fever

frozenfeverThere is, of course, the segment of the audience who is coming not for the feature, but just to see Frozen Fever, because of the… well… Frozen fever that has struck Disney fans. (No, we’re not immune. I love Frozen, and during our recent visit, we did the Meet and Greet with Anna and Elsa and attended “For the First Time In Forever: A Frozen Sing-A-Long” at Hollywood Studios.)

As a short, one should not expect Frozen Fever to have the same depth as the original feature. It doesn’t, nor should it.

What it is, however, is a heartwarming short tale about Elsa (along with Olaf, Sven and Kristoff) trying to plan a perfect birthday for Anna (after thirteen years of Elsa being completely absent from Anna’s life during birthdays). But, despite being the Queen of Snow and Ice, Elsa is not immune to the type of cold that comes from a virus rather than chilled temperatures, and her magical abilities interact with her cold to make the day go rather less smoothly than planned.

It’s very cute, and all of the original voices (except for Hans) reprise their roles. The original song for the short “Making Today a Perfect Day” is charming and pleasant, and if it won’t push “Let It Go” out of your child’s playlist, it will at least add some variety to a soundtrack that most parents have heard repeatedly.

(Disclaimer: I was provided free tickets for the preview screening, however I received no other compensation. All opinions are mine and mine alone.)