“Cinderelly, Cinderelly.” I entered the movie theater with this song in my mind, not sure of whether I’d be impressed by the live-action remake of a Disney classic. I’m a huge fan of the Disney and fairytale remakes that have been flowing out of Hollywood for the past five or so years. I was blown away after watching “Maleficent” and “Into the Woods,” and although I knew these were written and directed by different people than “Cinderella,” I had high expectations for the film.
The family-friendly movie deviates slightly from the animated version of “Cinderella,” but not so much as to include the grotesque toe-cutting scene of the Grimm Brothers’ version.
Ella (Lily James) finds herself orphaned after her loving parents die on separate occasions and is forced to live under the rule of her progressively cruel stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and stepsisters Drisella (Sophie McShera) and Anastasia (Holliday Grainger). The terrible trio dubs her Cinderella because of the ashes that collect on her face and clothes after they demote her from proper family member to scullery maid. Unlike traditional versions of the story in which Cinderella and the Prince (Richard Madden) do not interact until the evening of the ball, the two meet fairly early on in the movie.
As the film began to play out, I was immediately worried the characters would remain as flat as the 1950s versions of themselves. I was partially correct.
Cinderella’s mantra throughout the film is, “Have courage and be kind,” and she remains as predictable as this phrase might suggest she would. Cinderella’s character feels too perfect, which makes her seem weak and naïve. She lives under horrible circumstances, but her frustration doesn’t seem to be conveyed well beyond her crying a little.
Perhaps I’m just spoiled by the Hollywood trend of reinventing classic stories and characters. Nonetheless, I’m torn between explaining Cinderella’s permissive actions as an indication of her sweet nature or the result of poor character development.
Alternatively, the film’s writer, Chris Weitz, did an unexpectedly good job of making other characters more dynamic.
The Prince, who has a name in the film (Kit), must decide whether to follow through with a politically advantageous marriage or to pursue Cinderella despite her inability to advance the kingdom.
My favorite character in the film was the stepmother. Although she is traditionally a despicable person, I almost pitied her. She was wounded from the successive loss of husbands, and maybe even subtly felt rejected by Cinderella’s father, who so obviously continued to love his first wife until the moment of his untimely death. Cinderella served as a constant reminder of all that had been lost in her life.
Overall, the film was enjoyable. The costumes and set designs were impeccable, nailing the fairytale atmosphere. The film brims with color and pattern, which I’m sure will please kids and adults alike. Although the mice and other supporting characters did not sing and were not as fantastical as in the animated version of “Cinderella,” their presence was endearing and more properly suited to a live-action film.
The film honors a longtime Disney favorite, adding few new characters and plot developments, but all in all, it remains a fresh salute to a centuries-old story.