Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Cinderella (2015)

I was fortunate to attend a free 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.

Within the last couple of years I've seen Disney's classic 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.

CINDERELLA was preceded by Disney's new short 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.


Blogger Net - "It's a Wonderful Movie" said...

Oh, Laura ... Wow! Thank you ever so much for giving us this absolutely wonderful review of Cinderella.

Oh, how I wish I could have been in your shoes that day to see it! (Ha! Ha! just a little Cinderella humor!)

I am anticipating this one as much as I did Enchanted, and I am happy to hear it is a decent, clean film, appropriate for all ages, and I am so glad to hear they keep to the original story. That should please many beloved fans of Cinderella! Myself, included!

I so enjoyed your review and truly look forward to seeing it now! It may be too early to ask or know, but do you have any idea when it might be released on DVD?

Thank you, again! Net

6:59 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

I had been almost fearful of this "Cinderella" given the propensity to turn our fairy tales even darker than need me or tell them with a jaded dose of snark. You make it sound like a true winner which I look forward to seeing. Kenneth Branagh? There's a director who knows his stuff!

7:16 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

CGI makes too many movies a downer for me these days. I don't like it, and for reasons along the lines you suggested, though there is an in-depth argument to be articulated about this and I'm sure the subject will come in for more and more discussion as digital displaces film.

As you'd guess, I don't plan to see this. There are a lot of versions of "Cinderella" and I personally like best those that are variations but honor the source material in basically telling that story. So, as you'd guess "Bells Are Ringing" is my favorite by a long way; the same year (1960) also saw the release of the wonderful "Cinderfella" with Jerry Lewis playing a male version under direction of Frank Tashlin.

Laura have you seen "The Glass Slipper" directed by Charles Walters? This is another imaginative version, respectful but with ideas of its own, and I'd be interested to know what you think about it. A lovely version.

On the other hand, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical (originally for television) is surely their lamest work--why this is endlessly revived while the wonderful "Me and Juliet" languishes (not to mention "Allegro" and "Pipe Dream") is a mystery to me.

I always enjoyed the Disney animated version, which I first saw as a kid, when it was brand-new. Who would not like a movie with a song as beautiful as "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes"?

8:48 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Caftan Woman, I believe you'll like this. Branagh did a good job. :)

Blake, I'm so glad you mentioned THE GLASS SLIPPER, which I overlooked mentioning in my post. It's an old favorite and one I've meant to revisit, sooner rather than later, and write about here.

A looser variation I love is Deanna Durbin's FIRST LOVE (1939) which I'm also due to revisit! I also enjoy BELLS ARE RINGING though I'd never thought of it before as a CINDERELLA story.

We part company on the R&H musical, which I love, especially the lilting "Ten Minutes Ago" and "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?" I have happy memories of both TV versions over the years.

I've read the scripts of ME AND JULIET and ALLEGRO but never had a chance to see them, which is a shame.

It was such a nice surprise to hear "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes" over the end credits of the new film!

CGI has a weird fake look which isn't nearly as pleasing to the eye as a good matte painting LOL. I'm so thankful, by way of example, that MARY POPPINS was done with Ellenshaw's matte paintings before the computer age!

Thanks for all your comments, Blake! Hope to see you later in the week. :)

Best wishes,

9:00 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Matte paintings are beautiful. It's a whole different thing. And aesthetics is one of the issues here, and in this case is not separable from technology.

Ever hear the soundtracks of ME AND JULIET or ALLEGRO? If not, you might want to--I could try to help with this sometime, maybe makes tapes off of Linda's records.

BELLS ARE RINGING follows CINDERELLA at every turn and it's in no way disguised that it is based on it--the heroine is even named "Ella"--and it's all done in a pleasingly inventive way, a classic story that becomes emblematic of its own time too.

An old neighborhood theatre in Westlake Park (now gone) that used to show revivals once creatively showed a double bill of the Disney CINDERELLA and BELLS and I guess that's when it became clear to me, though now seems like it could not be more obvious.

9:18 AM  
Blogger mel said...

"The Glass Slipper" (1955) with Leslie Caron happens to be my favorite version of the Cinderella story.

10:05 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Blake and Mel, I've had THE GLASS SLIPPER sitting next to my TV for a while now. You've both got me hoping I can make time for it in the near future! :)

Blake, thanks for offering to help! Fortunately I've been able to hear some of the songs over the years on various LPs or YouTube -- I especially like "No Other Love" (the tune from VICTORY AT SEA).

I'm not sure it had occurred to me before that the heroine of BELLS ARE RINGING is named Ella. LOL! It's been about as long since I saw that one as THE GLASS SLIPPER and I have added that to my list of movies to revisit. Love hearing about BELLS ARE RINGING being double-billed with CINDERELLA.

Another movie I love which very loosely borrows some themes from CINDERELLA is MIDNIGHT (1939).

Best wishes,

9:07 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

Yes, MIDNIGHT is another great example of a Cinderella variation done in very sophisticated hands. One of the gems of Hollywood romantic comedy. It's well up in my own 10 best 1939 films.

1:09 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Net, your comment was somehow held up, that's the second time it's happened in the last week! Delighted I could share the review. I hope you'll let us know what you think.

I don't know when the DVD will be out but I'll be monitoring that and will be posting the information here when it's available, most likely in the "Disney News" roundup I post every few weeks.

Best wishes,

2:01 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Thank you for the review Laura. In the trailer, I didn't see the mice characters (Gus, Jacques, and the others) - my favorite characters from the animated version.This concerns me a bit, but I suppose this time it's meant to be a more "realistic" version of the story without the talking mice.

6:05 PM  

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