After the success of Maleficent (2014) it’s little surprise that Disney is remaking some of their classic animated stories as live action movies. In a few years we will also have Beauty And The Beast and Tim Burton’s Dumbo (complete with a Danny Elfman soundtrack) and one day hopefully a version of Snow White where Peter Dinklage plays all the dwarfs.
To be honest though any studio can do these films as the stories are public domain (although Disney does like to bring in elements they have exclusive rights to due to them first appearing in their animated versions).
However what the other studios don’t have is the Disney magic.
Young Ella’s (Lily James) father remarries a wicked stepmother (Cate Blanchett), who then moves into Ella’s family home, bringing her cruel and spoilt daughters. When her father unexpectedly dies Ella is faced with a life of servitude at their hands.
One day Ella takes a trip to the woods and meets a charming young man who unbeknownst to her is a prince (Richard Madden). Smitten by her innocence and kindness he holds a ball that is open to all the young ladies of the land, with the prince hoping he will be reunited with Ella, however she is forbidden to attend by her stepmother.
At hopes end Cinders encounters her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham-Carter) and I’m not sure if I should keep writing this synopsis as pretty much everyone knows this story!
Now I’m not a huge fan of fairy tales or Disney, although they do teach good moral messages to kids and in this film it’s the importance of kindness, courage and being seen as who you are.
I mainly wanted to review this film as I am a fan of its director, Kenneth Branagh. Check out any of his Shakespearean films or Thor (2011). Now it would be harsh and false to say that I had low expectations of this movie but I was very impressed and thoroughly enjoyed everything about it!
I liked the moral message of the film and the hope that good things happen to nice people. Cinderella is taken advantage of by her new family who, like many, mistake her kindness for weakness. Her new nickname (no spoilers to how she got it) has the power to hold her to a life of cruelty but she embraces it in the end and as such it loses its power of humiliation.
The real world isn’t like this but to be honest we would have a lot less problems if everyone was a bit nicer.
Which brings me to the wicked stepmother, fantastically played by Cate Blanchett, who channels the elegance of Hollywood’s leading ladies of the 1940’s, but equally channels their bitchiness.
Helena Bonham Carter is the opposite and is brief but excellent as the Fairy Godmother, creating a mixture of oddly otherworldliness and a bit of Joanna Lumley (teeth included).
I can’t really fault Richard Madden’s Prince Charming as he is the stereotypical prince who is following his heart and is a lot less broody than in Game of Thrones. No surprise as this story is at the other end of the fantasy spectrum.
Lily James is well cast not only as the beautiful princess to be, but channels her character’s struggles to just live a happy life. We feel Cinderella’s loneliness, alienation, loss and eventual joy as the film progresses, as her kindness is her biggest strength that overcomes her adversities. Paired with Madden they both share believable chemistry and won’t have you rolling your eyes as their relationship could have come across as cheap, camp or cheesy.
There are a few nice cameos and this does seem to be a who’s who of TV, especially from historical and fantasy dramas. The roles are all well-acted and a far cry from pantomime.
As expected we have a selection of photo realistic animal friends who all have their own character. When the Fairy Godmother uses her magic to make some of them human it produces some of the films funniest moments.
And this is a funny film. There is a lot of humour throughout and it helps balance its light-hearted tone. The overall pace is great and it doesn’t sag or feel rushed. The dramatic bits are done well with well-timed pauses for reflection. There isn’t much action but a thrilling scene involving a certain pumpkin carriage had the audience applauding by the end, reminiscent of some spectacular moments from Steven Spielberg or Peter Jackson films.
Cinematography wise most shots look like a painting and we are treated to a wealth of colours. I’m quite glad that this film wasn’t in 3D as a lot of the films look would have been lost due to the dark glasses. The set design is fantastic and as expected the costumes and hair are great. Unfortunately this is released just after the Oscars so I doubt it will receive any nominations next spring.
The soundtrack is pitch-perfect for this fairy-tale. Thankfully for me they didn’t break out into song, although the phrase ‘Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo’ is well used.
It’s human nature to be uncomfortable with the new, which is why most of the films in your local multiplex are either sequels or parts of franchises. People like seeing what they have seen before but dressed slightly differently. The difficulty filmmakers have is to disguise this and make it unique.
Thankfully this is a film that successfully sets itself apart from all other fantasy films I have seen. This film is hard to fault for what it is, and it is an excellent benchmark for others to follow.
Overall Verdict: A funny, charming and well-crafted film. Full of hope and proves that the Disney magic is definitely alive and well.
Reviewer: George Elcombe