Nutshell: a sweet film that takes in all that you loved about the animated Disney classic and tweaks it just a bit for the 21st Century. Does it lag a bit here and there? Sure. But there’s a sweet chemistry between the leads, and fantastic yin/yang performances by Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter. Kids’ll eat this up, but one question — what happened to Cinder’s animal pals? Grade: B+
I ain’t ashamed: I used to listen to the Disney Princess Oeuvre over and over (oeuvre and oeuvre?) again when I was a kid. A’yup; I’m so old-school Gen X that we didn’t have VHS when I was wee. We had record storybooks. Which was just fine by me; I could put the needle down on the songs however many times I liked. Can anyone listen to “Bippity Boppity Boo” or “The Work Song/Cinderelly” too many times? No. No, you can’t.
But today’s Cinderella (2015, which I’ll shorten to Cinderella in the interests of my fingers) isn’t a musical. It’s a lovely send-up of that 1950 film, and I for one am glad they waited so long. There’s no other way they could have nailed the FX before now. Well, they could have tried. And failed. Miserably. But Cinderella the film is a beauty to behold, from the lovely homes and gardens to the lizard footmen, Fairy Godmother to fancy footwear. Disney obviously pulled out all the art and design stops, and that attention to detail shows. Strangely enough, it’s not all the glitz that really dropped my jaw, it was Cinder’s dress for the ball; as she dances, it moves as if it’s animation come to life. I’m dying to get my hands on how that gorgeous piece of costuming came into existence. Okay fine, I want to twirl in it, just once.
Lily James, best known for her portrayal of Lady Rose “Jazz Baby” MacClare in Downton Abbey, does the character proud, with just the right mix of courage and sadness. “Have courage, be kind”, her mother asks of her. And James puts that on the screen. She’s paired well with
Robb Stark Richard Madden, and they have a cute “hey I just met you…” chemistry that’s sweetly romantic but not the overkill that Frozen* rightly made fun of.
Cate Blanchett, as Cinder’s step-monster, is definitely up there with the usual e-VIL of the Disney villain. But Blanchett is allowed to sneak in bits of longing and heartbreak that didn’t exactly warm me to her cold-hearted character, but explained a bit of her hatred and bile. As not-s0-ugly stepsisters (here they’re really Fashion Challenged Obnoxious Stepsisters), James’ Downton Abbey castmate Sophie “Daisy” McShera digs in as ditzy Drisella and The Borgia’s Holliday “Lucrezia” Grainger plays abominable Anastasia. I adored the sisters’ bright childlike costuming, as well as Blanchett’s 40s-meets-fairytale look. Early year releases tend to be forgotten, but I really hope this film nabs an Academy nod for the detailed, glorious work here. (And don’t even get me started on Bonham Carter’s frothy fairytale number. Perfect — and with wee little wings!)
The story is as you’d expect, but with a nice bonus of getting to spend time with Cinder when she was simply Ella. Her bond with her parents (Ben Chaplin and Agent Carter‘s Hayley Atwell), and the love between them all is a bittersweet introduction that keeps things fresh. So do scenes with the Prince and his father, where the whole pick-a-princess theme of the ball is discussed. Director Kenneth Branagh does tend to linger a bit at times, though that could be my loving some bits of this film so much more than others that those Other parts get in the way of my love. More mice! More quips between the Prince and his right-hand man (played by Dracula‘s Nonso “Renfield” Anozi)!
Okay, the animals. That’s what everyone loves about the Cinderella tale, right? The singing, dancing, joking helpers that get Cinder through her darkest times. Oh, there here. Not so much with the birds, and the making quick work of her chores, but there are mice, and they are adorable. My favorite is obviously Gus-Gus, the cheese-junkie. But they’re all adorable, and the FX is like Ivory Soap; 99 & 44/100ths pure (awesomeness). I just wish there was one brief cut-away during the finale to show that Cinder’s mice pals — and maybe the rest of her carriage entourage — are happily ensconced in the castle, or at least happy in the old homestead. I just need to know.
So, to wrap; beautiful eye-candy, actors that are fun to watch, adorable FX mice and a glorious happy ending. Feels like two hours, but clocks in at just under. A small quibble, given all the pretty you can look at, but a quibble nonetheless.
*BTW, speaking of Frozen? The Disney animated short Frozen Fever comes along for the ride when you head to the multiplex to see Cinderella and everyone else at the ball. Wrote a little something about that short film. Like to read it? Here it go.