Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writer: Chris Weitz
Cast: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Stellan Skarsgård, Sophie McShera, Holliday Grainger, Nonso Anozie, Derek Jacobi, Ben Chaplin, Hayley Atwell.
How many Cinderella stories have been told in movie format over the years? The 1950 Disney animated movie is one of the most famous, along with many other incarnations including Ever After, Ella Enchanted, and A Cinderella Story. How does this new film, also produced by Disney, set itself apart? Well, it doesn’t, simply put. In fact it does absolutely nothing new with the story, unlike, say, Into the Woods, which at least attempted to play with the archetypal story and do something new with it. This new Cinderella is not innovative, in fact it is almost identical to the animated film, with the exception that all the songs are taken out, the animals are not clothed and do not speak, we get a few scenes with Cinderella’s parents, and there’s an initial meet-cute between Cinderella and Prince Charming. Otherwise? Same old-same old.
The pacing is a bit clunky throughout the movie. Kenneth Branagh knows his way around a Shakespearean adaptation, but when it comes to fairy tales he was clearly lost. The original animated version had beautiful scenes that worked well and progressed rather nicely. The movie was also really charming and fantastical. This new live action version loses the spark of the original, and some of its innocence and magic, mistakenly thinking that special effects and CGI are the way to go. The problem is that computer generated images don’t replace magic, in fact they can put a damper on it, especially if poorly done. I don’t ever complain about CGI being present in films especially because it is almost impossible to watch a movie these days that does not utilize them, even if it goes unnoticed. I do complain when they are done poorly, and in many cases this movie (which clearly had a massive budget) could have spent a few more dollars on ensuring that the effects looked somewhat believable. Even the costumes, which are beautiful, look fake and overwrought, when sometimes simplicity is the best answer.
The casting is the best part of the film. The biggest stars are mostly in supporting roles: Stellan Skarsgård as a scheming duke, Derek Jacobi as the king, and Helena Bonham Carter as the fairy godmother (an actress who can always be relied upon to bring a welcome zany whimsical take to any role). Oscar winner Cate Blanchett plays Lady Tremaine and clearly revels at the chance to play someone so bad and deplorable – each action, even the mere movement of her fingers, is filled with such delightfully awful evil, she is a true villain. The rest of the cast is made up of actors usually seen on the small screen. Cinderella is played by Downton Abbey‘s Lily James. Her stepsisters are played by Sophie McShera (also on Downton Abbey) and Holliday Grainger (The Borgias). Prince Charming (Richard Madden) and his captain (Nonso Anozie) will be familiar faces to viewers of Game of Thrones. They all work well together and fulfill their roles appropriately. I especially enjoyed McShera’s portrayal of Drisella, which was a fun departure from Daisy, on the British drama she is best known for.
The film will probably appease a young audience, which ultimately is the target demographic, but it won’t be as memorable as the animated movie which still resonates today, even after 65 years. The magic was mostly missing, and that is a shame, because Cinderella without magic is like the fairy godmother without her bibbidi-bobbidi-boo.