D23 preview screening of Disney's new live-action CINDERELLA (2015) this evening. I'm pleased to report that CINDERELLA is a lovely cinematic experience which I thoroughly enjoyed. As it ended I thought "That made me happy," and what more could one ask for from a Disney fairy tale?
Longtime readers know I'm not the world's biggest fan of remakes, especially when Hollywood keeps going to the same well over and over instead of creating original stories. At the same time, I think there is always room for a new vision of a classic story; just as one of the pleasures of Westerns is seeing how different filmmakers execute familiar Western themes, it's fun to take in a brand-new telling of a fairy tale such as CINDERELLA.
animated version, as well as the overlong '70s musical THE SLIPPER AND THE ROSE (1976). In the past I've also enjoyed the TV versions with Julie Andrews (1957) and Lesley Ann Warren (1965) on multiple occasions. Disney's new live-action version takes its place as a lovingly rendered, straightforward telling of the famous tale.
Unlike MALEFICENT (2014), an inside-out villain's eye telling of SLEEPING BEAUTY -- which I haven't yet seen -- CINDERELLA does not break new story ground. And that's just fine. The filmmakers treated the material with respect, aiming for an excellent telling of the story, as opposed to a whole new take on it. It was actually rather refreshing to discover such a polished version of the story I expected and wanted to see.
Young Ella (Eloise Webb) lives happily with her father (Ben Chaplin) and mother (Hayley Atwell of AGENT CARTER, seen at left). The death of Ella's beloved mother means that by the time Ella is a young lady (now played by Lily James of DOWNTON ABBEY), eventually her lonely father marries Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett).
Lady Tremaine moves in with her obnoxious daughters (Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera, the latter another DOWNTON ABBEY alum). When Ella's father dies, her stepmother makes her life very difficult -- and she acquires the nickname Cinderella -- but she meets a handsome prince (Richard Madden) and manages to see him again at the royal ball thanks to her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham-Carter). And we all know what happens when the clock strikes midnight...
The film benefits most from outstanding casting. Derek Jacobi was inspired casting as the King, and no one will be surprised that Bonham-Carter made a perfect zany Fairy Godmother and that Blanchett was wonderfully convincing as the icy, cruel stepmother.
James and Madden, the lead couple, are appealing and had very good chemistry, providing a couple one wanted to see together at last. They felt like well-developed real people, not simply placeholder characters going through the expected motions. The climactic sequence trying on the glass slipper was especially well done by the two actors. I might admit to having had a bit of a tear in my eye.
I was rather fascinated that Disney decided to populate its fairy tale kingdom with "colorblind" casting. One of the most enjoyable supporting actors, for instance, is Nonso Anozie as the Captain who plays a key role in locating Cinderella. I was initially a bit surprised by the diversity in this fairy tale kingdom but I think it worked quite well.
The only drawback for me was that the film is almost entirely a "CGI" world, and I just don't care for the CGI "look," where one is aware at all times of the green screen fakery. That said, many aspects of the film are beautiful, especially the sumptuous costumes and the set decoration.
CINDERELLA runs 112 minutes but is well paced and doesn't overstay its welcome. It's a far more successful live-action version than the overstuffed THE SLIPPER AND THE ROSE, which had some hummable tunes but never knew when to quit, running a very bloated 146 minutes. Based on the CINDERELLA trailer, some scenes were left on the cutting-room floor; I'd really like to see them and hope they'll be on the DVD.
CINDERELLA was directed by Kenneth Branagh from a script by Chris Weitz. Branagh also did a very nice job on last year's JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (2014). The cinematography was by Haris Zambarloukos.
Stay tuned through the end credits for a lovely tribute to Disney's classic animated CINDERELLA, as Lily James sings "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes" and Helena Bonham-Carter sings "Bibbidy-Bobbidy-Boo."
Parental Advisory: CINDERELLA is rated PG for "mild thematic elements." Seriously? Yes, some parents die. If CINDERELLA isn't a G-rated movie, I don't know what is. Unfortunately Hollywood seems to see a G rating as a curse and doesn't want one even if it's earned it!
This is one I'll be adding to my Disney shelf to enjoy again in the future. Recommended.
"Have courage. Be kind." Good words to live by.
The CINDERELLA trailer is at IMDb here, and a clip is here. There is also an official website.
FROZEN FEVER (2015), a brief sequel to FROZEN (2013). FROZEN FEVER was, alas, a disappointment. Although it had a couple of cute moments, I can't understand why anyone who worked on it thought the story was a good idea.
The short, which runs seven minutes, basically takes Disney's recent habit of slipping a crass moment or two into a movie -- yes, there was such a moment in CINDERELLA as well -- and builds a whole short around an unpleasant idea, the results of Queen Elsa's sneezing.
The TANGLED EVER AFTER (2012) short was brilliant, and it's a shame the FROZEN short wasn't equally as good. Perhaps they'll go back to the drawing board and attempt something more worthy of the original in the future.