Cinderella continues the recent trend of Disney productions that have gotten a live-action treatment, yet unlike 2010’s Alice in Wonderland or last year’s Maleficent, Cinderella is a straightforward retelling of its animated predecessor, never veering far from its source material.
Cinderella’s (Lily James) early childhood with her doting mother (Hayley Atwell) and father (Ben Chaplin) is nothing short of picturesque, so of course is cannot last. Just as the original story commands, Cinderella’s mother dies, leaving her father a widower. Years later he marries the contemptuous Lady Tremaine, giving Cinderella a stepmother along with two bratty, dim-witted step sisters, Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drisella (Sophie McShera).
Cinderella is a bright, caring soul, even after the passing of her mother and the abrupt death of her father she is still full of life, living each day abiding by her mother’s philosophy, “have courage and be kind”. Lily James is effortlessly graceful as the film’s titular character, though she oozes so much sweetness that at times can almost become overbearing.
The film closely follows the events of the animated classic, the only major change seeing Cinderella meet her Prince (Richard Madden) in the forest after a particularly nasty confrontation with her stepmother instead of at the ball. The change works, giving their affection for one another more believability than if they were to simply fall in love when Cinderella is decked out in a fabulous gown and glass slippers at a ball.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh, the film is a visual treat with beautiful, extravagant sets and stunning costumes – Cinderella’s ball gown alone should be enough to qualify costume designer Sandy Powell for her fourth Oscar. The most iconic scene from the original Disney film is easily the Cinderella’s transformation courtesy of her Fairy Godmother, and the live-action adaptation of the scene doesn’t disappoint. In a surprising and welcome change of pace, Helena Bonham Carter has a chance to play one of the ‘good guys’ as Cinderella’s bubbly Fairy Godmother. The ball at the King’s palace is even more stunning and so intricately choreographed that it is another of Cinderella’s visual standouts.
The film’s positive message of extending kindness to others and showing courage in the face of pain and heartbreak is far from subtle, and the film threatens to lapse a little too far into sentimentality. Thankfully these moments are undercut by Cinderella’s wicked stepmother. Cate Blanchett clearly delights in portraying such a devilish, cruel character and she is a master of the haughty, villainous cackle.
Cinderella doesn’t attempt to alter the formula of the classic fairy tale and its heroes and villains remain very black and white; Cinderella is kind and pure, her Prince handsome and sweet, her Stepmother a monster. The heroes possess no hidden sinister traits and the villains harbour no redeeming qualities. The lack of grey areas is a little disappointing, especially considering what audiences have been exposed to in other in adaptations (i.e. Maleficent), but Cinderella delivers exactly what it promised in the trailer.
For viewers who favour triumph for the good guys, a comeuppance for the bad guys and above all, a happy ending, they are sure to be delighted with what Cinderella has to offer.
Review by Tegan Lyon