Disney’s latest trend of updating their animated classics with live-action retellings continues with the release of Cinderella. Like Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent before it (no, Snow White and the Huntsman wasn’t Disney), Cinderella takes a beloved classic from your childhood … and ruins it. No, it didn’t neuter the greatest villain of all time and bog her down with a rape-y backstory like Maleficent, or become a convoluted mess like Alice (the whole point of her going into Wonderland was to make her own decisions because she was a strong, independent female. AND THEN SHE IS FORCED TO FOLLOW HER DESTINY THE ENTIRE TIME AND RETURNS TO THE REAL WORLD READY TO LIVE A COMPLACENT LIFE. Great message for young girls, Disney. Real nice), but it commits what is possibly a far greater crime than any before … it does nothing.
Not a single change is made to the story of Cinderella. Nothing is different. I don’t really need to go into a long plot description because unless you grew up in a household where magic is evil or have spent that last 15 years in a bunker with Kimmy Schmidt (which, by the way if you haven’t watched The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix yet, that is how you should spend your next weekend), you know the story of Cinderella. Her mother (Hayley Atwell, TV’s Agent Carter) falls ill and dies while Ella (Lily James, TV’s Downton Abbey) is quite young. Her father (Ben Chaplin, TV’s Mad Dogs) decides to remarry and brings home for Ella two new sisters (Holliday Grainger, TV’s The Borgias and Sophie McShera, also TV’s Downton Abbey … were there no movie stars available?) and a stepmother (finally an actual star: Oscar Winner Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine). The new women in Ella’s life are not particularly nice to her, but remembering the dying words of her mother to be kind and brave, she takes it in stride. Her father dies suddenly while away on business (this film averages one dead parent every half-hour) and poor Ella is left alone with these wicked women who treat her more as a servant than a member of the family. Thankfully the now nicknamed Cinderella has a gaggle of computer generated mice and a goose to be her friends.
A chance encounter with her kingdom’s prince (Richard Madden, TV’s Game of Thrones) and his captain (Nonso Anozie, Game of Thrones) causes Cinderella to get all googly eyed and the prince himself to throw a ball to meet the girl of his dreams and wed before his ill father (spoiler alert: dead parent No. 3) kicks the bucket. Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters are thirsty and attend the ball with the hopes of landing themselves the prince, but leave poor Cinderella behind. Before Cinderella’s tears can even dry, out pops her fairy godmother (a very blonde Helena Bonham Carter, the aforementioned Alice in Wonderland) who transforms her rags into a beautiful gown, mice into horses, a pumpkin into a stagecoach, and some dingy old shoes into a stunning pair of glass slippers—one of which will ultimately be left behind on some steps at the stroke of midnight. It’s all very by the book … literally.
Where Alice and Maleficent frustrated me with their changes from the stories that we all know and love, Cinderella frustrated me with changing nothing at all. I know I’m sounding like a contradiction, but there really is a happy medium that can be achieved when you honor the characters but change the story or present it in a unique way. At least the other two had stunning visuals and a little action. Cinderella has two vibrant transformation sequences that by no means save an otherwise drab film.
The acting is all fairly standard with the glaring exception of Cate Blanchett. You’d think no one told her that she was starring in a Disney film as she serves straight up drag queen, parading onscreen wearing the finest window dressings in all the land. Her wardrobe is a thing of pure decadence (as are the film’s costumes in general) and looks incredible onscreen, only adding to the condescension Cate brings to every word and look made by the most wicked of stepmothers. Lily James does a decent job as the titular Ella, but there were definitely times when I was yearning for Into the Woods’ Anna Kendrick or hell, even Brandy to shake things up as I tried not to reach for my phone for the 800th time.
The worst crime of the live-action Cinderella is forcing me to question whether Disney’s animated masterpiece has always been boring and I never noticed before, or if this film is just bland. I haven’t dug up my clamshell VHS copy to investigate, but I hope it’s the latter. Clocking in at two hours (if you include the cute short Frozen Fever which you get before the film) Cinderella is a commitment that you might not want to make unless you’re a die hard Disney princess aficionado or have small children. Then again, if the two kids in my theater running up and down the aisles were any indication, it may bore them, too. With less than ten minutes left in the film, when Cinderella encounters her prince again, a random woman in the theater shouted, “Get it girl so I can go home!”
That pretty much sums it up.
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