The Bock’s Office: ‘Cinderella’ a lovely rendering of an already-told fairy tale
March 19, 2015
The newest adaptation of "Cinderella" has the unfortunate situation of two confining glass slippers, each made from different but demanding audience expectations. Whichever of these shoes fits best, the other probably won't be happy.
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"Cinderella," rated PG
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
Running time: 112 minutes
Starring: Lily James, Richard Madden, Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter
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Once upon a time, a country girl named Ella (Lily James) had a wonderful life with her loving parents (Hayley Atwell, Ben Chaplin), but her happiness took a turn upon the death of her mother. With her grieving father remarried to the ostentatious Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett), Ella does her best to be accommodating to her new stepmother and stepsisters (Holliday Grainger, Sophie McShera), in spite of their lack of reciprocation.
When her father also passes away, the hopeful maiden is little by little shunted to the side by her surrogate family until she is nothing more than a servant in her own house.
Ella's optimism receives a boost when she meets a dashing young man named Kit (Richard Madden) and also learns that a grand ball is being thrown by the ruler of the kingdom (Derek Jacobi), meaning perhaps she can escape her miserable life if only just for one night, though not if Lady Tremaine has anything to say about it.
Still, the beautiful girl may be able to attend the soiree with a little magical help.
James is perfectly lovely, as you'd expect from someone who's been raised to be unflinchingly kind, even if it means getting covered with ash from sleeping by the fireplace and getting a nasty nickname for your trouble. If anything, she may be a tad too altruistic in trying to please a trio of snobs.
Blanchett is wickedly good as the haughty maternal figure in Ella's life, less the emotionless crone we saw in animated form, now a shameless flirt and social climber with a wardrobe to rival a mob boss's mistress — including a leopard print robe that appears centuries ahead of its time — ready to do anything it takes to get ahead in life.
Grainger and McShera make Anastasia and Drisella a pair of ninnies whose biggest obstacle in life isn't the lack of finery they whine about but their completely horrendous personalities.
Getting a true name, which he never did in the 1950 cartoon, Madden is acceptably charming as the prince who wants to follow his heart despite dear old dad and the meddling Grand Duke (Stellan Skarsgård) breathing down his neck to marry someone of his station.
And then there's Helena Bonham Carter, donning platinum locks as the scatterbrained Fairy Godmother, who sets everything in motion with a wave of her wand, but you already knew that part by now.
As much as you may have enjoyed the Walt Disney feature from decades before, it's a little bit of a waste to essentially do the same movie all over again, with the changes minimal.
One confusing development is the implication that Ella may have some of her misfortune coming to her, as Lady Tremaine eavesdrops on a conversation between her stepdaughter and soon-to-be-deceased husband, both of whom make it clear the new lady of the house will never live up to the memories of her predecessor.
Don't you love it when your fairy tale villains have real feelings? Yeah, me neither.
The direction by Kenneth Branagh and screenplay by Chris Weitz are gilded, fanciful and joyous at their best, taking inspiration both from the Disney version and the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, though notably without any big songs. Or talking mice for that matter, though Ella's rodent companions are still there.
However, we must come to that part of analysis that examines how a modern feminist audience will respond to this girliest of stories, and while the 6- to 10-year-olds will have no complaints, detractors who insist the classic Disney era has turned generations of women into vapid princesses aren't far off in their complaints.
It wouldn't have taken much to make this newest iteration of the heroine a bit more in control of her own destiny, occasionally showing the courage her dying mother asks of her, but not often enough, even compared to her likenesses in "Ever After" or "A Cinderella Story."
The accompanying short, "Frozen Fever," reminds audiences that Anna and Elsa are likely the Disney females parents will want their girls to exemplify, but at the same time, it's hard not to be taken in by the non-cynical approach to the kind of family entertainment that Walt himself wanted to put into the world.
"Cinderella" isn't a step backward, but it isn't exactly going forward, more adequately described as twirling in place. Disney didn't have to reinvent the wheel of the pumpkin carriage, as it were, to make it universally approved, but you know it didn't take the Fairy Godmother's magic to modernize certain plot points.
Still, we hear those glass shoes are surprisingly comfortable for the right feet.