Words By: Jack Dawson
I suppose I can say this with absolute certainty, out of all of Disney’s recent Live-Action remakes, including Maleficent and Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella is easily the best. In fact I could argue that it improves upon the original animated feature in almost every respect, even if it does have occasional moments of confused storytelling and muddled delivery.
It seems almost pointless to recount the story of Cinderella, if you’ve heard even a vague outline of the original fairy tale, then you know what happens. Cinderella is a young woman trapped in the service of her selfish and Ugly (in character more than appearance) Stepsisters. But opportunity knocks when the Prince invites everyone in the Kingdom to a ball, and thanks to the help of her innate kindness and a Fairy Godmother, Cinderella shall go to the ball.
So why is this film better than the original Disney film?
Well for starters the main characters are actually more interesting than cardboard. Richard Madden is particularly good as the Prince (who actually gets a name in this version), and has great chemistry with both Cinderella and his father the King (played by Derek Jacobi). Cinderella also has a good reason to remain at the house where she is constantly abused, and we actually get to meet her Father and see what their relationship was like.
Instead of focusing on the ‘Hilarious’ antics of the House Mice, we get actual character development.
Though the one area where this approach falls flat is arguably the Stepmother. While Cate Blanchett does a decent job trying to develop her own spin on the character, it’s just nothing much compared to the original and formidable Lady Tremaine. Whereas the original animated version effortlessly asserted her authority through sharp words and the deadliest Death glare you’ve ever seen, Cate Blanchett’s Stepmother relies more on hamminess and coquettish giggling.
I’m hesitant to say that it works nearly as well.
And as much as Cinderella gets a lot of character to work with, Lily James doesn’t quite nail it either. Some lines fall flat and she comes across as more passive aggressive than Kind and Brave (which the narration frequently assures us she is). But they’re by no means terrible, and both Actresses shine in certain scenes.
And as for those aforementioned virtues of Kindness and Courage, that represents another of the film’s greatest faults. The Moral.
Now the Moral of being Kind and Courageous is by no means a bad one, it’s certainly a lot better than the original message of ‘plod along and you’ll make everyone you ever disliked jealous after marrying a man you met once’. But the way that the moral is hammered in with all the complexity and tact of a jackhammer is woeful, though it’s considerably better than the film’s secondary moral which clings to the screenplay like an infected Appendix.
We are told in the opening narration that Cinderella is special because ‘She saw the world not just as it was, but what it could be’.
Aside from being the single most wishy-washy useless moral that has ever squatted over a Disney Film, it never comes into play during the film. Kindness does, frequently, though bravery less so, and I will give the first moral the credit of actually being important to the story. But all that the secondary moral gets in the way of development is a brief mention in the ending narration.
But neither of these misfires sinks the film for me, which is just as well.
It’s worth noting that the visual design is one of Disney’s strongest in their live action efforts, every shot is meticulously managed to look like a storybook picture. After the rather lacklustre and dull design of Alice in Wonderland, it’s nice to see films like Maleficent and Cinderella embrace their fairy tale roots and bring them to life in a plausible manner. And it’s a much more unified film than Maleficent in intent and in tone, and stands on its own as a worthy entry in the Disney Canon.
But Cinderella’s greatest strength was one that frequently reminded me of 50 Shades of Grey.
Which is the last thing one wants to think about when watching a Disney Film.
50 Shades of Grey features, in my opinion, the culmination of every single unhealthy and problematic relationship cribbed from Romance stories of all mediums. There is no meaningful communication, no chemistry, but resplendent cruelty and bitterness on both sides, along with a sense of humour more at home amongst Psychopaths than anyone else. Consent is a casualty of the romance rather than an established institution, actual human warmth is completely absent, and extravagant displays of wealth are mistaken for acts of affection.
Not so in Cinderella.
I’m not going to claim that it’s the greatest romance of all time (Gomez and Morticia Adams get that honour), or that it doesn’t have its own flaws. But there is actual conversation between the two characters, they talk about what is important to them and what they like about each other. And while there is some deceit, it is quickly rectified and both characters resolve to be more honest with one another. And when they talk about each other to other people, there is a genuine warmth to their descriptions and compliments.
I guess after the many toxic fictional relationships I’ve had to suffer through all these years, it’s nice to see a film where the romance isn’t the worse component.
Cinderella isn’t one of the greatest films of this year, but it’s a solid effort and a refreshing palate cleanser after some less than fantastic efforts in romance films. I’m just about sold on these Live-Action remakes, the upcoming remake of Beauty and the Beast.
But they’d have to start with some pretty solid casting…
Oh yeah. This is gonna be interesting.