Branagh’s “Cinderella” a visual wonder
We have come so far in terms of Disney’s treatments to their library of live-action fairy tale films. Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” was at the start with eye-appealing visuals but lacked the heart with a story that was far removed from the Lewis Carroll story and marketed as an adaptation than rather a sequel. While I don’t have a dead hate, I do feel it has problems and will leave it at that. Then the train got rolling with “Oz, The Great and Powerful” and Maleficent” as ideas for “re-imagining” came underway and this is the heart of the controversy. We don’t want to see tales anew unless there’s a reason for it. I will admit I had more tolerance because most of today’s movies feed off the “mono-myth” and thus when you think about it, not a lot of film’s today have an original story. With “Oz,” there were some nice visuals and a decent story, but a cast that felt hit and miss in their roles. “Maleficent” was a bigger headache for some viewers by taking one of the most well-known villains and turning her story into a “Wicked” parable. Again, I had no problems as long it provided a source of entertainment or at the very least had something of value. Maybe I am going soft on these but I will admit my pleasant surprise after seeing the latest Disney take on “Cinderella” to which I feel future directors should take a cue from on making a successful transition.
Lily James plays the glass slipper wearing working girl who hopes of having a life far more elegant than it already is. With her parents dead from an illness, she has to deal with the orders of her wicked stepmother and cruel stepsisters who are more ugly in personality than looks. Many could consider this feminist considering Cinderella has a one-note motive but this was part of the original fairy tale to begin with. You could make her a male and give him the same motives without much of a difference. She hopes for something better aside from her raggedy treatment of living in the attic with her animal friends and sleeping by the cinder scattered fires.
Her only obstacle is Cate Blanchett as her stepmother who is hungry for power and money to the point she will lash her own misery on another. The fact she manipulates Cinderella into a working maiden knowing she is nothing more but a leech seeking her own pleasures without the task of hard work and labor. Blanchett’s take is fun to watch and you can tell she soaks every frame enjoying her “bullying” manner of seeing her two kids get more credit than a step-daughter who has more ability and ambition. All she seeks is to get things her way and be wealthy much like the classic tale. However, I do wish there was more of sinister chill that is lacking compared to the 1950 animated Disney film for scenes when she tears at Cinderella’s dress. In the animated version, she turns her stepsisters on her when realizing the items used were taken from her sibling’s drawers where else in this take a set of put downs and some tearing leads to the girl’s break down. The last third manages to salvage the villain when she tries to make matters more difficult but again something is lacking in her when the stakes are raised.
Richard Madden brings a form of the Prince that was missing in most of the adaptions by giving an actual character. With so much on his shoulders, “Kit” (as he is nicknamed) just wants to rule without a in closed view and be open minded. When he meets Cinderella, its not much of a love at first sight but more of an understanding between two similar people from two different social classes. There’s more of an active personality here than the 1950 animated version which comes into play near the end as he seeks to find the one girl he met before in the woods and the ball knowing there is a spark or something to that accord.
Kenneth Branagh is known for directing a lot of Shakespeare and his style is throughout with wide shots that have us marvel at set pieces like the ballroom and parts of Cinderella’s house. He takes a simple tale and bloats into a period piece that almost complements the wide view of the animated film seeing back then its 1:33:1 aspect ratio was limited but yet felt like a grand portrait. Kenneth mixes between giving us a tale from its time while knowing this is a family film at heart and yet it makes me wonder he was able to combine both styles. It makes me question what this would have been more like if there were no fantasy elements and was a straight up retelling from its era.
However, “Cinderella” is not a bad movie yet its nowhere near perfect either. The special effects and make-up work range from delightful to cartoony as CGI mice have wide eyes and as animals transform to human beings it has an obvious approach despite using prosthetic elements at times. Moments like the pumpkin transformation have some creative value while lizards and geese turning into people look a bit goofy. And while it does manage to use elements form the original story and focus on the human characters, there are times when it borrows too much from the original 1950 Disney film with again the group of mice and certain designs from the clothing the stepsisters wear to some of Cinderella’s ball gown. While these moments are small, they detract from the fresh direction its taking itself into at times obviously skewing away from being a film made in the 1950s and tries to be timeless in its direction.
Fresh elements like Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother work because the quirky personality is a different take while also knowing when to add humor to the scene. Its a small moment but at least does a different approach. “Cinderella” works best in this angle because its not relying on the source of another film like “The Wizard of Oz” or “Sleeping Beauty” for its material seeing its has a range of things like the Charles Perrault take and moments from the Brothers Grimm fable. But when there’s an moment that feels like it was lifted from the 1950 cartoon, it either feels different from being set in the “period piece” tone its going for or feels like a small copy. But on the whole, there’s plenty of eye-candy visuals and elements that helps make this take stand on its own.
Also, on a side note, those who see this movie will be treated to a short, “Frozen Fever” which I’m going to say right off the bat is a disappointing waste. I hate to give fans of Frozen bad news but this one didn’t work for me. The whole tone plays off like somewhere close to a deleted scene from the first film to an extended music video as Elsa tries to surprise her sister Anna with a birthday party but goes overboard while catching a cold from the exhaustive work. As she belts her notes, she makes mini-snowmen appear that try to wreck havoc with Elsa’s plans. There’s some elements that could work but the whole experience again feels like a pointless music video/extra musical number that could have survived better as a DVD/Blu-Ray bonus feature. Why not do something with Olaf loosing his carrot nose and chasing after it or something with the butler Marshmellow who looks after Elsa’s castle? It seems like there are opportunities for a better short but are nothing works. Maybe I’m too hard but I felt nothing of value here. Those who are trying to wash themselves clean of the “Frozen” hype might want to either arrive late or just rent “Cinderella” when it comes out. For its such a pity to have a 4 minute song scene with little to offer be attached to a far more piece of entertainment. And your reading this from someone who enjoyed “Frozen.”
Posted on March 14, 2015, in In Theaters (Sort of) and tagged Brothers Grimm, Cate Blanchett, Cinderella, fairy tale, Fantasy, Frozen, Frozen Fever, Helena Bonham Carter, Kenneth Branagh, Lily James, period piece, short film, Walt Disney. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.