Is it really possible to feel this indifferent towards something? That is but one of a myriad of questions I was asking myself shortly after watching Disney's latest animation-to-live-action effort and while it is much more successful than its recent forebears (Maleficent/Alice in Wonderland) it too suffers from the "why bother" school of thought. Regardless of whether it was necessary or not, this extremely faithful live action adaptation of Disney's classic animated film will no doubt inspire once again countless young girls to endeavor to become princess' themselves. Read the full review after the break.
Review Vital Stats:
Projector Type: Digital 2D
Film Rating: PG
Film Runtime: 1 hr 45 min
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Pictures
Release Date: March 13, 2015
Loves: Most fairy tales
Likes: Classic Disney fairy tales
Neutral: Modern updates to classic fairy tales
Hates: Nothing really
What about Frozen Fever?: It was kinda weird and kinda not all that great.
Does Cinderella really need a synopsis? Does anyone really not know what it is about? Perhaps if the new film from director Kenneth Brannagh (Thor/Much Ado About Nothing) diverged from the original animated Disney fairy tale then there might be a need to go into details. But no, that is not what anyone involved with this live action recreation were striving for. Cinderella is still an orphaned girl who must contend with her wicked stepmother Lady Tremaine and her two comically aloof stepsisters who have invaded her life via her now deceased father and taken everything from her.
Everything but her ability to have courage and be kind, the last words her dying mother said to her while she was still a little girl. Her commitment to those ideals are of course put the test as her stepmother and stepsisters abuse her kindness by making her their personal servant. Everything changes for her though after a chance meeting with a mysterious strapping young man in the woods (who happens to be the Prince believe it or not!). The two instantly fall in love and as we all know, their destinies will become intertwined on the fateful evening of the royal ball where the Prince will pick his bride to be and Cinderella, with the help of her fairy godmother, intends to be his only choice.
There isn't anything inherently wrong or out of place with this version of Cinderella. The production design is simply gorgeous and will have any fans of Victorian era garb delighted with all the visual splendor on display. From the dingy attic that Cinderella inhabits to the royal ball room of the palace, there isn't one instance where you will question the attention to detail (and expense) it took to bring it all to life.
The same goes for the elaborate costumes. Cinderella's iconic dress and glass slippers look as magical as one would expect but even the background characters such as the stepmother and royal family make an impression in what will surely bring an Oscar nomination for costume design next year. But all the pretty aesthetics and masterfully woven period appropriate clothing can't make a film worth watching, especially one spinning such a familiar story that never deviates from its well worn path.
I cannot think of another film in recent memory that benefited from casting all the right people in all the right roles more than Cinderella. Most films can safely rely on casting a couple of stars in lead roles and let the story, action or special effects take center stage. That isn't really possible here because we all know this story from top to bottom and since Disney decided to do a direct adaptation the burden of its success or failure falls on the shoulders of its cast. Despite not having any headliners like Angelina Jolie or Johnny Depp to bring audiences in, Disney wisely chose to let the story be the selling point and then allow the actors to gracefully win us over once we are seated.
Aside from a role on the absurdly popular Downton Abbey, Lily James is a virtual unknown and casting her in the role of Cinderella was a risky proposition, especially considering that Emma Watson (who was also up for the role) could have easily brought in audiences on name recognition alone. But that risk has paid off in spades as James exudes an almost angelic presence that instantly establishes her as that kind of untainted purity instilled into all of Disney's Princess'. You will not question, not even for instant, that she is indeed the very essence of the Cinderella we all have imprinted into our subconscious.
Cate Blanchett, the only name on the marquee likely to raise an eyebrow, is in an almost thankless role as the evil stepmother. The character as written is rather shallow and one dimensional, but Blanchett brings a hidden sadness to the role. It thankfully never reaches the point of making this live action version a complete departure from the villainous figure we associate with the animated film (no revisionist history or tragic figure establishing here thank goodness). Likewise for the her daughters, Holiday Granger as Anastasia and Sophie McShera as Drizella, both of whom are basically window dressing buffoons but do their part like troopers and provide the necessary obstacles for Cinderella to overcome.
The only piece of casting that was somewhat questionable was Helena Bonham Carter as the fairy godmother. Long standing Tim Burton alumni (and wife, but now divorced), it is an unusual role for an actor who has made a career out of playing dark and troubled characters. Just about the only trait that seemed familiar here is her whimsical nature which did align nicely with what we hold true as the light footed and ever so enigmatic fairy godmother, the only source of magic and special effects in the entire film. Despite relating her to characters of a more nefarious type, Carter is able to overcome her stereotypical casting and provide a fun and entertaining performance.
The male side of the coin is also brimming with fantastic casting choices. Starting with the Prince, James Madden is the quintessential Prince Charming. Although it may be difficult for Game of Thrones fans to separate the actor from his role on there as Rob Stark (I secretly kept wishing he would marry the one he was supposed to this time in hopes of skipping a red wedding this time around), he easily slips into the role and brightens the screen every single time he smiles.
The supporting work cannot be discounted either, as there are a surprising number of great actors that pop up in smaller, somewhat insignificant roles that help Cinderella coast along so effortlessly. The always excellent Stellan Skarsgard shows up in yet another great role as a villain, Hayley Atwell and Ben Chaplin create a fantastic foundation as Cinderella's parents which helps make Cinderella's loss so much more tragic. Derek Jacobi, Nonso Anozie and even the guys transformed from a goose and lizards into Cinderella's carriage helpers do so much in such a little amount of time that you will be hard pressed thinking of anyone else being able to fill these minor, albeit important, roles.
But alas, the fun does eventually end and as the film soldiers along towards the inevitable finale where the Prince guides Cinderella's foot into the glass slipper, it's difficult to not feel indifferent to everything that just happened. It all looked good, had a fantastic cast who owned their roles and even stirred up a few unexpected emotional moments, but it all still feels a bit unnecessary in the end. Would the world be a better place if this version of Cinderella wasn't made? Not really, but on that same note it isn't a worse place for having it either.
Kenneth Brannagh's Cinderella casts an enchanting spell, one that helps the audience forget during its generous runtime that nothing they are seeing is either new or different. With the help of a formidable cast, fantastic production design and a good heart, much like Cinderella herself, the film shows courage and kindness towards its source material and while some may clamor for something more daring or different, sometimes its best not to mess with a classic.