Director Kenneth Branagh calls Cinderella a movie in which kindness is a superpower. If so, meet the world’s girliest superhero in glass shoes.
If you don’t already know the plot of Cinderella, a young girl forced into slave work by her stepfamily gets a chance at a happy ending with the help of a ball, a prince, a fairy godmother, and some clever mice. That said, if you’ve seen the original, you know how the remake will play out. No warrior princesses, no villains who are secretly misunderstood; just the story you grew up with now in live action form. And that’s far from a bad thing.
I was pleased with the acting, especially from Lily James as Cinderella. What could have been a one-note character feels real with a truly good but not quite perfect heart. She has her moments of despair and even bitterness, and when she shows off her skill with the French language, kindness has never been so sassy.
Cate Blanchett cut a nasty figure as Lady Tremaine, ambitious and manipulative yet slightly sympathetic. Richard Madden, who plays Prince Kit, was charming as all get out. Even Helena Bonham Carter’s fairy godmother was surprisingly well done, playing to her strengths with bumbling humor, never quite taking herself seriously.
The stepsisters, played by Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera, were a cartoonish joy to watch, but the real scene-stealer for me was Derek Jacobi as the king. He completely inhabits his role, and despite his few scenes, he creates a well-rounded, loveable, believable character.
If you’re familiar with Kenneth Branagh’s directing, you can see his fingerprints all over the film. He has a style I playfully refer to as “ham-and-cheesy,” a style that’s melodramatic, over-the-top, and larger than life. It’s a style that feels right at home in this larger-than-life fairytale.
Watching Cinderella feels like stepping into a fantasy kingdom, with opulent sets of castles and mansions, gorgeous dresses, and bright, sumptuous colors everywhere. The CG is at its strongest in the sweeping landscape shots, but it can’t quite seem to make the mice and lizards look real, and the magical transformations always look a bit cartoonish. Even so, the film’s visual style feels cut straight from Walt Disney’s fairytale dreams.
Patrick Doyle’s score fit the tone perfectly, a whimsical, magical melody that transports you to a world where fairy godmothers exist and dreams do come true. Sometimes it can be a bit over-the-top (every time the prince appeared, the score swelled to Errol Flynn levels of heroic fanfare), but for a fairytale, over-the-top is part of the package.
The movie’s main shortcomings are in the writing. Sometimes it hits home–Cinderella becomes more well-rounded, Lady Tremaine gets a bit of a backstory, the prince recognizes Ella without needing the shoe–but other times it misses. For example, Prince Kit is described as being good and brave, but the script doesn’t really give him a chance be much of either, or anything more than charming.
Worse yet, the story forgets to climax, easing into the ending with no tension. Without going into spoilers, Ella never has to sacrifice or work hard for her happy ending. She makes one choice that seemed pretty obviously bad to me, and then everything else just happens to her. I could argue that she does one very hard and very good thing at the very end, but by that point, she already has her prince.
But despite its flaws, Cinderella is a film full of heart, and it’s clear everyone involved put in a lot of love and effort. It may not give us anything new, but in today’s world, a little old-fashioned kindness and courage goes a long way.
Check out my comedy trailer review – Based on the Trailer: Cinderella.