Back in 2010, Disney and Tim Burton released Alice in Wonderland, a live action/CGI-heavy feature film shot in Disney Digital 3D, and it was a massive success. Alice in Wonderland was not a remake of the classic 1951 Disney animated feature nor was it a sequel despite the story taking place years after Alice’s time spent in Wonderland. Instead, it was just Burton’s best take on the Alice stories and although it isn’t a great film, it can still stand as an independent adaptation.
Disney knew there was a market in re-imagining their classic animated features into live action stories and that brings us to 2014 and Maleficent. Maleficent promised to be a “reinvention, not just a retelling of the same story” of 1959’s Sleeping Beauty and Maleficent, the classic fictional Disney villain created specifically for the film. The movie ended up changing Maleficent into a victim of circumstance, removing her villain status and leaving her as a weak character who made some bad mistakes along the way, but ultimately atones them.
Maleficent left me with a bleak outlook towards future Disney adaptations of their animated classics, but Cinderella showed a lot of promise from the start with Kenneth Branagh signed on as director and Cate Blanchett and Richard Madden attached as Lady Tremaine and Prince Charming. However, the announcement of the live action Beauty and the Beast starring Emma Watson sparked a thought that Disney might be out of original ideas for live action features and can only rely on re-imagining their animated canon. This notion has gained more weight with the announcement of a new Dumbo feature with Tim Burton directing, but Cinderella provides a bit of hope for future Disney adaptations.
Cinderella tells the story of Ella (Lily James), a bright-eyed girl who maintains positivity after losing her mother as a child and gaining an awful stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and stepsisters before losing her father as well. Cinderella changes minor details along the way, but for the most part it follows the same story as the Disney animated feature. The biggest changes include the backstory of Ella as a child, Cinderella and Prince Charming meeting for the first time in a forest instead of the ball, the Fairy Godmother character and the final discovery of Cinderella being the mystery girl. None of these changes affect the overall story, making Cinderella a strong film from beginning to finish.
(WARNING: Some spoilers throughout.)
Fans of the animated Cinderella will find themselves extremely pleased by this new adaptation. The animated feature is adapted from Charles Perrault’s version of the story, Cendrillon. This adaptation also uses Perrault’s version as the source material, which is why it resembles the animated feature so closely, but still retains small differences that harken back to the French story like lizards as Cinderella’s footmen. Bringing in Kenneth Branagh to direct was one of the best decisions Disney could’ve made, because he took the story and turned it into a great film with perfect pacing making Cinderella the complete opposite of Maleficent…a good movie.
Cinderella has a phenomenal cast to say the least. Lily James shows great range as the title character and should make her a leading lady in the future with a little luck. Cate Blanchett steals every scene she is in as Lady Tremaine. Her facial expressions and reactions provide some of the most humorous moments in the film. Richard Madden, also known as Robb Stark of Game of Thrones, doesn’t reinvent himself as an actor in the role of Prince Charming, but he adds life and actual charm to the character and girls will surely walk away from the movie swooning (does anyone still use this expression?). The stepsisters, played by Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera, provide a lot of the laughs and were perfectly cast.
Unless something spectacular is released in the next nine months, Cinderella is guaranteed to win an Academy Award for Best Costume Design. The visual elements throughout the film are absolutely stunning whether we are talking about the set design of Cinderella’s house or the costumes worn by all the characters. Even the CGI-created animals fit the tone of the film and don’t prove to be an awful distraction. The real “wow” moment of the film is the gown transformation scene. Cinderella’s ball gown has been shown off in the marketing for some time now, but there will still be a gasp or two in the audience when it is seen in context for the first time. Not enough praise can be given to the entire visual design of the film.
If you’re hoping and expecting Cinderella to be a musical like the animated feature then prepare to be disappointed. For those who enjoy a good score, prepare to be impressed with Patrick Doyle’s work. I doubt it will win any awards down the road, but the music blends perfectly with the visual elements on the screen. There are some nods to the classic Cinderella songs throughout the movie and the end credits feature “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” as sung by Lily James and “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” as sung by Helena Bonham Carter. Disney fans will also appreciate hearing “Lavender Blue” being sung. “Lavender Blue” is an old English folk song/nursery rhyme and it was sung by Burl Ives in Disney’s So Dear to My Heart, receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song.
Cate Blanchett, Holliday Grainger, Sophie McShera and the CGI animals provided a lot of the humor in Cinderella and it worked well. However, there were two specific times that gags were used improperly and cheapened the film. Skip ahead to the next section if you don’t want any spoilers. In the Fairy Godmother scene, the pumpkin is transformed into the carriage while inside of a greenhouse leaving the Fairy Godmother and Cinderella squished between the pumpkin and the glass trying to get out. Kids will laugh at faces pressed against the panes and adults will most likely cringe a little.
The other instance involves one of Cinderella’s footmen. In the animated feature, Cinderella’s coachman is Major the horse and her footman is Bruno the dog. This adaptation uses lizards as the footmen like Perrault’s story and someone couldn’t resist having one of the lizards eat a fly off the carriage with an awful CGI tongue. Like the coach sequence, it is a split second that will get some giggles out of kids and leave a lot of film aficionados dead on the inside.
The Fairy Godmother
The only real misstep in casting was Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother. The Fairy Godmother was changed into a character that watches over Cinderella, disguised as an old beggar and magically transforms into a younger, quirky Fairy Godmother than the one we know from the animated feature. That being said, Helena Bonham Carter plays this interpretation well enough, but I have to imagine such an important character could’ve been even better if played by someone like Helen Mirren. The only other bizarre casting was Nonso Anozie as the Captain. Anozie is a great actor to say the least, but he was basically the only diverse character in the movie and it stuck out like a sore thumb.
One of the greatest things Disney has done recently is running animated shorts before features just like Pixar. Shorts like Get a Horse! and Feast proved that Disney could be successful again in the animated short medium. Unfortunately, Frozen Fever doesn’t continue Disney’s streak of producing great shorts. Frozen Fever is set on Anna’s birthday and Elsa wants to make it the best day she’s ever had. Elsa develops a cold while setting up Anna’s birthday party with Kristoff, Sven and Olaf, but she can’t stop to rest and get well for the big day. Anna can clearly tell Elsa is sick and tries to get her to put the day on hold so she can get better, but Elsa won’t back down and continues on a sneezing rampage. The only problem is that little”Snowgies” are created after each sneeze and start to wreck havoc on the party.
Here is the issue – Frozen was a great film when it came out and it still is to this day even though many people are now sick of the blockbuster. Frozen Fever does tell a new story here with a completely forgettable song and adorable new snowmen Snowgies, but it fell short of being warranted. There are a lot of laughs in Frozen Fever and, once again, the Snowgies are extremely adorable, but the entire short feels like a commercial for the new dresses Anna and Elsa wear that will soon be available in stores for parents to buy for their kids. There is nothing wrong with Disney trying to make a dollar off of their properties, but they don’t need to be this transparent about it. Frozen Fever is not a bad short at all – it is just an attempt to continue the Frozen craze and sell more dresses to little princesses.
I have to admit from the start that Cinderella is one of my favorite Disney animated features. I have been open about how worried I was for this new adaptation after the train wreck that was Maleficent, but I walked away completely impressed. After groaning about Frozen Fever for thirty seconds, Cinderella quickly brought a smile to my face that didn’t leave throughout the entire movie. Cinderella didn’t break new ground, but the acting, directing and visual elements all came together to make a really enjoyable film that will be praised by both adults and children.
However, it is still important to ask if this film needed to be made at all. Disney has been known for their adaptations, whether animated or live action, for as long as the studio has been making full-length features. When I went into Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent, I judged both of those films on their own merits initially. Afterwards, I asked myself if I would rather watch the animated features that came before, the live action adaptation or watch them both in conjunction with each other. I went into Cinderella with the same plan of action and although it doesn’t beat its animated counterpart for me, some will still walk away from this version seeing it as an equal or the better.
Still, did Cinderella need to get made? Probably not. The animated feature set a high standard for any Cinderella adaptation from the moment it was released. This new Disney version is easily the best version I’ve seen since the animated classic, but it still isn’t better. Other studios are going to try and make a new version of Cinderella at some point in time and I wouldn’t be surprised if Disney takes another crack at it 60 years from now. Some might be good, most will probably be bad and a few will have the privilege of being awful.
At the end of the day, Cinderella was a great film with a good meaning and a lot of heart and I can’t wait to watch it again. I cannot recommend it enough.
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