Past the Popcorn: Disney Once Again Goes Live-action with Cinderella

by Jeff Walls

The latest trend in Disney movies is live-action remakes of their animated fairy tale classics.  Last year, Sleeping Beauty was remade as Maleficent and next year Beauty and the Beast gets the live-action treatment.  This year’s remake is Cinderella, the fairy tale that was originally animated by Disney in 1950. Whereas Maleficent was a major departure from the animated original, Cinderella remains extremely faithful to the original—maybe a little too faithful.

The movie first introduces us to the young girl who would become the title character when she is just a baby.  Her parents are loving and kind, traits that the young Ella would come to epitomize.  After her mother succumbs to illness, Ella’s father remarries the recently widowed Lady Tremaine, who moves into the house along with her two spoiled daughters.  Ella tries to welcome them with kindness, but they see her as more of a servant than a daughter or a sister.  After her father dies while on the road, Ella is moved into the attic and treated as a lowly servant.  After seeing her dirty face covered with soot, her stepsisters label her Cinderella.

cinderella-insetAcross town at the palace, the ailing king has decided it is time for his son to marry and start a family.  A lavish ball is thrown and the prince insists that the invitation be sent to all of the women in the land, not just royalty.  Cinderella dreams of attending, but she is forced to stay home by her wicked stepmother.  Fortunately, Cinderella’s kindness is rewarded in the form of her Fairy Godmother, who uses magic to get Ella ready for the ball.  The catch, however, is that the magic will wear off at midnight.

There is no irony in Cinderella. Nor is there any 21st Century cynicism. There is no gray area when it comes to the characters, either.  They are either all good or all evil.  This is a straightforward fairy tale with no attempts made to modernize the values or twist the story.  In short, it is the kind of movie that they just do not make any more.  Although that is somewhat refreshing, there also needs to be a reason for the remake to exist and I struggled to find that reason in Cinderella.

For the most part, the movie follows the exact same script as the animated version.  One major exception is the movie’s opening, which spends about fifteen minutes telling the portion of the story that the animated film efficiently told in about thirty seconds.  This extended opening is needed to fill the running time as the movie also cuts all of the animated movie’s musical numbers and the majority of the critter shenanigans.  The mice are there, but their comic-relief role is greatly reduced.

Especially when coming on the heels of Maleficent, one would maybe think that a reason for a remake of Cinderella would be to allow a popular actress the opportunity to go all out and truly chew the scenery.  The movie has the actress—two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett—and she is good as the wicked stepmother, but her performance is relatively reserved and there are no major scenes that allow her to go all out.  While I had many problems with how they handled the title character in Maleficent, at least Angelina Jolie really got an opportunity to ham it up and dominate the scenery.

The movie does look good, especially in the central royal ball sequence.  As Cinderella, actress Lily James is absolutely gorgeous in that magically blue ball gown.  Her and her Prince Charming, played by Richard Madden, also have good romantic chemistry, especially on that dance floor.  The escape from the ball had the potential to be a thrilling sequence, but it lacks any real excitement and is marred by special effects that seem like they would be more at home on the small screen than in a big-budget Hollywood movie.  The same problem mars the earlier Fairy Godmother scene, but at least Helena Bonham Carter gets to say bippidy boppidy boo.

This version of Cinderella turns out to be little more than a shot-by-shot live-action remake of the animated version, only without the catchy songs and wise-cracking mice.  I did like this movie better than Maleficent, though.  At least the stepmother is still wicked.

Cinderella opens today at the AMC Southcenter 16 and AMC Kent Station 14. Won’t it be nice when Des Moines has its own theater again? Eat local before you go!

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