Cinderellaby Alex Stroup, staff writer
The original opening with this review started with a line about how we now have our live-action Cinderella, live-action Maleficent, live-action Alice in Wonderland. A live action Beauty and the Beast is already announced. So I'm now just looking forward to the eventual live-action Dumbo and Fantasia 2000.
Then earlier this week, Disney announced that TIm Burton will be directing a live-action Dumbo. Good job getting out in front of the sarcasm Disney!
Anyway, Cinderella. Kenneth Branagh and screenwriter Chris Weitz bring us the latest in Disney's revisionist fairy tales. Revisionism here meaning bringing the stories up to date for modern sensibilities, recognizing that the old fairy tales are often based on world views uncomfortable after another half century of social change.
In a surprise move, Branagh and Weitz bring a twist to the revisionist fairy tale. They don't revise it at all. There's padding where we learn more about the various characters (after all, the 74-minute running time of the 1950 original just won't cut it), but every beat is still there and presented just as sincerely.
Young Ella (Lily Jame) has been orphaned and left in the care (read: chattelship) of her mean-spirited stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and tormented by her vacuous stepsisters (Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger). There are rodent friends and a fairy godmother. A Prince Charming (Richard Madden) and a ball and a midnight timeline. A kingdom-wide search for a specific foot and a happily ever after.
It's all there. Sure, you learn how Ella becomes Cinderella and what happens to her parents. Some additional information about the prince and his relationship with dad. There is, however, absolutely no move towards changing the story or showing us how the classic version was a whitewash and the stepmother has a deeply traumatic past explaining her brutality.
The question is, will this work for you? For me, there was hardly a frame through the entire 112 minutes (feeling half an hour longer) where I wasn't bored. Well, that's not quite true. It took about 10 minute to realize that everybody was serious and that the tone wasn't going to change. That Lily James really was going to be affectless throughout the entire movie, barely showing a change of mood from the happiness times to the depth of her abusive enslavement.
Then every 20 minutes or so, the movie would try a joke or a pratfall—and they were more painful the the earnest stuff. A scene involving a portrait painter literally and figuratively fell flat; the entire fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) scene is played entirely silly but remained chuckle-free.
That isn't to say I liked nothing about the movie. There is a scene where Cinderella and the Prince dance at the ball. The dress she's wearing in that scene is very pretty. That's the thing I liked about Cinderella; and pretty much that's it. The thing that appalled me (more in live action form than in a cartoon for some reason) was the apparent message that you should just accept whatever bad things are done to you because it is important to be nice, and if you suffer long enough, deus ex machina will eventually come and take you away from your problems.
Time for fair disclosure though. Cinderella was screened for critics at a promotional preview where free tickets are distributed to the public. As the lights came up to end the interminable experience of watching it, I eagerly waited for the shocked silence that would show the audience agreed with me. So the applause was disconcerting.
But easily dismissed. They got to see it for free, they're an easy sell. On the way out though, all I hear in the chatter is how good it was. Concerned, it was off to violate a general rule and look at Rotten Tomatoes before the review was written. Surely critics would be on my side. Nope; as of writing, 93% fresh.
I appear to be very much on the outside looking in. So, I hated it. You probably don't agree. We're at an impasse. Bring on the talking, flying elephant.
Disney's Cinderella official US trailer.
- Cinderella is a Walt Disney Pictures release
- Wide theatrical release on Friday, March 13, 2015
- Directed by Kenneth Branagh
- Screenplay by Christ Weitz
- Starring Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Sophie McShera, Holliday Grainger, Derek Jacobi, Stellan Skarsgård
- Running time: 112 minutes
- Rated PG for mild thematic elements
- Alex's rating: 3 out of 10