Jason Wiese | Culture Editor
Published March 13, 2015; 12:30 p.m.
My initial thought upon hearing that Disney was planning a live action version of their classic 1950 animated adaptation of the Brothers Grimm tale, “Cinderella,” was “How much of Disney’s own content can they run into the ground?” The ultimate boy-meets-girl story has been told, retold and reimagined to ad nauseam, quite often by the Walt Disney Company itself. I could not comprehend neither a reason for a live action reboot nor a way to make this story feel fresh. Looking back, I am utterly pleased to admit that I was wrong.
Director Kenneth Branagh (“Thor”) and screenwriter Chris Weitz (nominated for an Academy Award for writing 2003’s “About a Boy”) refreshingly bring this all too familiar story out of the shadows of cliché and anticipated disappointment. I honestly felt a new sense of faith in Disney for proving that they can still make magic with old tricks. The movie actually has that kind of power, and much of that can be credited to its leading lady.
Lily James, best known for the British period drama “Downton Abbey,” plays Ella, as the character is initially introduced as, with as much heart and purity that one would hope, not to mention that she looks exactly like the original animated depiction of Cinderella. She redefines the role with a sense of humanity that we do not often see in fairy tales. I immediately fell in love with her and much so to the point that I was already in tears from the anticipation of the cruelty she was about to face at the hands of her wicked stepmother (Cate Blanchett). However, that leads into the film’s biggest flaw.
Blanchett, always a pleasure onscreen, plays the role just as one would expect. The character’s common attributes are present: jealousy, rudeness, negligence. However, she does not bring anything new and, as a result, is the least interesting character in the film. Even less interesting than Cinderella’s Prince (“Game of Thrones’” Richard Madden), who is actually given a name other than “Your Highness.” The film tells the story of their romance from both sides, allowing the audience to gain a deeper perspective into his emotional infatuation with Ella giving their relationship a believability that was missing in the animated original. It is such a refreshing twist that when the film reaches its inevitably obvious resolution, it is still genuinely satisfying.
The production values are also very impressive. The setting is designed very authentically to the time setting, yet the bright, colorful costume design ironically blends with the baroque setting very successfully. It is a visually stunning throwback to the surreal, magical wonder that Disney has always done best.
“Cinderella” is the most irresistible family film/date movie of the year so far.