1 hours 53 minutes
I was talking to my mother the other day about this week’s “Cinderella,” the latest in Walt Disney’s attempt to remonetize every single old animated film they have by releasing live-action versions. Next up will be “The Jungle Book,” directed by Jon Favreau, then comes “Beauty and the Beast,” and by the time my kids are out of high school they’ll have worked their way around to “Oliver and Co.” and “The Great Mouse Detective.” As a retired kindergarten teacher, my mother is always up for a kid’s movie, even when the grandchildren are miles away. I was just about to give her the low down when she told me she’d been hearing lots of negative buzz on the movie.
“Really?” I asked. “Because, I thought it was pretty good.”
“I heard it’s too predictable,” came her reply.
That may be the most preposterous, yet completely true, criticism I’ve ever heard. Yes, indeed, I can confirm that “Cinderella” is very predictable. Because I’m a human who has been alive on this planet at any point during the last four hundred years, the story of “Cinderella” is pretty well ingrained. One of my favorite things about the movie, in fact, was that director Kenneth Branagh plays it very straight. There are no battles, no monsters, no brewing political unrest. Cinderella is not an action hero – she’s a girl who got a raw deal, and then, because she’s good to everyone, gets what she truly deserves in the end. That’s it. It’s refreshing.
Assuming you’re not a human who’s been alive on this planet at any point during the last four hundred years, I’ll give you the basics of the plot. Ella is a happy girl with two loving parents living in a small, but prosperous kingdom. She loves everyone and everything, and is loved in return. When her mother comes down with a mysterious fatal disease – a condition shockingly common among Disney mothers, Ella’s father, a merchant, is heartbroken. After a few years, he decides to marry the recently widowed wife of one of his trading partners, taking in the lady and her two daughters. Naturally, this new step-mother isn’t all she’s cracked up to be, and eventually Ella’s father goes back out on the road to make a living to support his new wife’s lifestyle. Tragedy strikes again, however, and the poor man takes ill and dies, leaving the four women in dire financial straits. Ella is made to cook and clean for her step-mother and her two spoiled step-sisters. Worn out from her days of slave labor, Ella falls asleep in front of the hearth fire, the ash smudges on her face earning her the hilarious moniker “Cinder-Ella.” Eventually, Ella crosses paths with the prince, she goes to the ball with the help of her fairy godmother, she loses a glass slipper, and the rest is history. In gleaming armor, Ella leads a dwarf army against her step-mother’s wicked minions of the dark forest in an epic battle to decide the… no, sorry. That’s another movie. She just lives happily ever after.
Kenneth Branagh is always good for production values, and “Cinderella” is no exception. Costumes, sets, makeup – all are excellent as this seventeenth century kingdom comes alive in brilliant color and detail. The acting in the film is excellent, as well, the showiest performance belonging to Cate Blanchett as the wicked step-mother. Blanchett is a superb actress and here brings a little humanity to her otherwise villainous role. Helena Bonham Carter, in a small role as the Fairy Godmother, is perfect for the part playing it classy with a touch of daffy. As proof to how strong a contender the small screen has become in recent years, three of the leads come from television. Ella and one of the step-sisters are both from “Downton Abbey” and Prince Charming starred for a while on “Game of Thrones,” before he was summarily dispatched. All are good, but the chemistry between Ella and the prince is just perfect.
One of the biggest problems with this story lies in our modern, post-feminist viewing of it. Needing a rich man to swoop in and solve all your problems is no longer in vogue the way it once was, and Branagh and co. deal with that issue sensitively, I thought. Rather than make Ella a helpless victim, here she is cast as a young woman with ties to her land and home, and the family history it holds. This is why she stays, and when the Prince falls for her the final time, it is as a confident, no-frills country girl who demands to be accepted on her own terms. This is a modernized version of the story, certainly, but subtly modernized. The central message of the story is still, “be kind, be brave, and good things will happen to you.” That’s a message that resonates with me, and if my kids are any example, “Cinderella” should do very well at the box office, predictable or not. Grade: A
“Cinderella” is rated PG for mild peril.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.