Thursday, March 12, 2015

Review: 'Cinderella', Starring Lily James, Cate Blanchett, and Richard Madden

Tale as old as time.... Oh, wait! That's a different Disney fairy tale. Well, the words still apply to the new live-action version of the studio's beloved Cinderella. We've seen several versions of it spanning decades. From the Grimm brothers' story to Roger and Hammerstein's musical adaptation, the story of a young woman who hopes for a different life but is mistreated by her evil stepmother and stepsisters seems to never get old. Especially when Disney's involved. Looking to turn all their animated stories into live-action ones, Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella is at least enjoyable, beautiful to look at, if a bit too safe.

Rehashing the summary of the Cinderella story would be like trying to tell you about what happens to the three little pigs. Basically, it's pretty much exactly as the animated version of the Disney classic, with only a few minor changes. For example, the mice are no longer anthropomorphic, we get to spend some time with Cinerella's (Lily James) father (Ben Chaplin) and mother (Hayley Atwell), who makes her daughter promise to always "have courage and be kind", and the prince (Richard Madden) has a bit more of a personality. So it's definitely a step up in that respect.

The film is beautiful. Bright and colorful as though taking an audience through a fantastic dream of love and breathless hoping and longing. The costumes alone are something to be mesmerized by. They're all so well put together, and even when Cinderella's meant to be working all around the house and grounds, there's still something lovely about the way she's put together. The production value in general is gorgeous and so detailed, down to the staging and choreography of the dances. It really sucks you into the story no matter how reluctant some may be to go.

Cate Blanchett's evil stepmother is delightfully wicked, her eyes piercing into Cinderella as though the young woman did something to personally offend her. One of the only downsides being the fact that screenwriter Chris Weitz doesn't quite justify her actions, even though he attempts to. And so the reasons behind her cruelty to Cinderella don't hold any real merit and she's relegated once again to being simply two-dimensional. Even Cinderella, who "has courage and is kind" doesn't go beyond what we already know of the character. There are moments when her character falls flat and moments when I'd really have liked to see a little more gumption, but she unfortunately stays within the realm of doe-eyed and, ultimately stays too safe as a character.

The film itself doesn't venture into new territory like Maleficent or even Snow White and the Huntsman do. They try to twist the story a little bit so it isn't the same exact one we're seeing. I suppose Disney really knows a good thing when they see it and so Cinderella doesn't try and fix what isn't broken, as the saying goes, but this does make the film a bit anticlimactic during its finale. Still, it might have been more intriguing to see a bit more dimensions to certain characters and not try and have an almost exact replica of what has come before.

Regardless of the film's lack of overall ingenuity and sometimes over-the-top cheesiness, there are still many things to enjoy about Cinderella. The story is familiar, warm, and eternally optimistic and hopeful. One of the highlights is Helena Bonham Carter as Cinderella's fairy godmother, who spices things up a bit with her appearance. The look and feel of the film is mostly true to its animated counterpart. It is more dream and fantasy-like, and is given a major upgrade with its fantastic sets and costumes. Though there could have been more, the beloved story of Cinderella is still an enjoyable watch and very family friendly.

Release Date: March 13, 2015 | Director: Kenneth Branagh | Screenwriter: Chris Weitz | Cast: Lily James, Richard Madden, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Stellan Skarsgard, Nonsie Anozie, Sophie McShera, Holliday Grainger, Derek Jacobi, Ben Chaplin, Hayley Atwell, Jana Perez | Genre: Fantasy, Romance | MPAA Rating: PG for mild thematic elements

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