Starring: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter, Holliday Grainger, Sophie McShera
Release date: March 13th, 2015
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Rated PG for mild thematic elements
Welcome to the era of a kinder, more diverse Disney. Thanks to films such as “The Princess and the Frog”, “Tangled”, “Brave”, and more recently “Frozen,” the archetypal Damsel in Distress is rapidly becoming extinct. Today’s Disney princess is a combination of wit, sass, charm, and independence. We are also seeing more people of color in Disney films; before, the cast was typically white. (One notable exception being “Song of the South,” a film Disney just wishes everyone would forget about.)
At the same time, Disney seems to be stuck in a creative rut. Slated for release in 2016 is a live-action remake of “The Jungle Book”, which the studio previously did in 1994. Other reboots of animated classics, “Dumbo” and “Beauty and the Beast” are in development. “Cinderella” covers no new ground, plot-wise. Save for a few minor changes (I won’t spoil them for you), this is the same story you’ve seen before: Cinderella’s idyllic country life is destroyed when her mother suddenly falls ill and dies. Her father, a merchant (Chaplin) marries a widow who has two spoiled daughters, Drisella (McShera) and Anastasia (Grainger). After he dies of an illness while away on a journey, Cinderella’s stepmother sends away the servants, and Cinderella is forced to do all the housework. While she tries her best to “be kind, and have courage” as her dying mother had admonished her, one day she breaks away from the house and rides into the woods. There she has a chance encounter with the Prince, but she does not know who he is. After this meeting, the prince decides to have a ball that includes every eligible girl in the land, in the hope of seeing her again. If you’re an adult over the age of 25, you already know how this ends.
Lily James portrays Cinderella with aplomb; she reminded me of a young, blonde Natalie Portman with her wide-eyed wonder and curiosity. As in the original film, she can communicate with animals, like her beloved mice, but there are no talking animals here: these CGI mice only make unintelligible squeaks. The chemistry between her and Madden’s prince is palpable and spellbinding. Helena Bonham Carter’s turn as the fairy godmother is all too brief; still she manages to steal the show in the little screen time she has (she also serves as the narrator.) The costumes and sets are lush and elaborate; doubtless Cinderella’s blue ball gown will spawn a thousand Made in China lookalikes to the delight of little girls everywhere. The only performance with which I found fault was Blanchett’s: though she was adept at portraying the icy cold bitterness she felt towards Cinderella, I did not find her nearly cruel enough to be convincing.
VERDICT: Kids and Disney fangirls alike will enjoy this film. However, if you’re looking for an adult version of Cinderella with bite, I recommend “Ever After” starring Drew Barrymore.