Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
(Before I fully get into this review I would like to note that, compared with my family, I'm scoring this movie really low. Everyone who has seen this new retelling of Disney's Cinderella, parents included, have scored it a 5 of 5 stars.)
"Tale as old as Time" is the opening line for Beauty and the Beast sung wonderfully by Angela Lansbury, and yet when I hear this phrase I don't think of that gallant tale of seeing beauty deep within, but of Cinderella. Maybe it's because Cinderella seems ageless. This story has been apart of my life since I was a kid, and all through history there can be found constant Cinderella retellings of a commoner maiden marrying her prince.
In this most recent retelling of Cinderella, directed by Kenneth Branagh, we find an updated live-action version of the 1950 Disney classic animation, complete with cat and mice chases, glass slippers, and a pumpkin carriage. What we also find are scenes laced with enchantment and magic, bright, beautiful colors, gorgeous sets, amazing costumes, and a delightful musical score by Patrick Doyle (a composer I've loved since his work on A Little Princess).
I love the opening scenes, and that, in this version, we get to meet Ella's Mother (Hayley Atwell). It's from her Mother that Ella (Lily James) learns to "Have courage and be kind," these simple yet beautiful words mold Ella into the person she becomes, a bright young women who shines with goodness, kindness, and heart. I'm glad for the opening moments showing their happy family. This shows the contrast of Ella's home life, one with her parents and the other with her Step Mother (Cate Blanchett) and Sisters. It's from her new family that she receives her nickname "Cinderella," a name that threatens to snuff the light right out of Ella.
My brother Steven was telling me that some of the scenes with the Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) was improvised. I can't find a source for this information, but I loved her in this role. Honestly the cast was really strong all around. I loved Lily James as Cinderella. Cate Blanchett was wonderful as the Step Mother, devilishly wonderful with an amazing fashion sense and snarky laugh. Richard Madden is charming as Kit/The Prince. Though, ah man, every time I saw the King, played by Derek Jacobi, I couldn't stop thinking about Hamlet! (He's played both Hamlet and Claudius. Fun fact, when he played Hamlet in 1980 Patrick Stewart played Claudius, and I way prefer Stewart's 1980 portrayal of Claudius then when he played the role in 2009 co-starring with David Tennant, completely different portrayals. Back on topic!)
With all this being said, I've had a hard time not comparing this new version of Cinderella with Ever After, which still reigns as one of my most favorite movies of all time. Love, love, love Ever After. With that movie I prefer the interactions between Danielle/Cinderella and the Prince. There's a lot more development between these two characters leading up to the ball. The idea of Leonardo da Vinci as the "Fairy Godmother" still gives me giggles, and once again there's more character development as he interacts with both the Prince and Danielle pre/post ball.
I feel, in some ways, the greatest difference between Dinsey's 2015 Cinderella and Ever After is the notion of "Showing, not telling." This new Cinderella relies quite a bit on narration to move the story along, which made it seem like we were watching a bedtime story. For a film aimed towards children, this narrative choice fits. And, honestly, I would rather find out that our narrator is the Fairy Godmother, then coming to the end of The Book Thief and realizing the narration is coming from Death himself. Kinda disturbing.
As a note, I'm glad this wasn't a musical, though there are vocal musical elements throughout, which was nice. If you stay and watch the end credits you'll hear Lily James sing "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes" and Helena Bonham Carter sing "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo." Both songs are great! This movie could have easily been a musical, and would have worked quite well as one, only screenwriter Chris Weitz doesn't feel comfortable writing in the musical genre:
"I don't know how to write that kind of thing really, and I think that that's something that for me, it's much easier to do that with an animated film. That's why many of the Disney animated films are musicals. With live-action, sort of getting into and out of those moments of song is really super tricky."
Obviously he's never watched Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, in which Disney did a remake in 1997 with Bernadette Peters, Brandy, and Whitney Houston. Such a great show, and proof you can do a live action version of Cinderella with music. And he has obviously never seen any of the Disney animation musicals on Broadway. Technically live action as well.
Overall, I love this movie. Kenneth Branagh did a wonderful job bringing this enchanting tale to screen. I've already seen this beautiful movie twice.
(Cinderella's "glass" slipper on display at the theater. I want one!!)
MPAA: Rated PG for mild thematic elements.