Newest installment of Cinderella provides a fresh take on static characters
Disney’s newest version of Cinderella, directed by Kenneth Branagh, remains true to the company’s animated classic. Rather than retell the story from a different point-of-view like Maleficent (2014) or act as a sequel to the original like Alice in Wonderland (2010), Cinderella is a live-action fairy-tale that actually feels like a live-action version of the original fairy-tale. However, the film adds new background stories and fleshes out the original characters in a way that mixes fantasy with reality. The result makes the viewer leave feeling lighter and as if a “happily ever after” of their own is around the corner.
The film follows the original storyline, but allows the audience to meet and get acquainted with Ella’s (Lily James) parents (Hayley Atwell and Ben Chaplin). While the 1950 version glosses over the deaths of both Ella’s mother and father in the first 2 minutes of the film, this new version allows us to glimpse into a happy childhood with loving parents. Although the film stays true to the original storyline and eventually does kill off Ella’s parents, it is a breath of fresh air to begin a Disney film and see a happy childhood with both parents present. Much like Frozen, we see our heroine interacting with her parents and their relationship’s development. However, where Anna and Elsa’s childhood was filled with tumultuous drama, Ella’s childhood is made up of happy memories with her parents. This shift of focus is refreshing.
Much like Ella’s parents, the prince (Richard Madden) is allowed more character development as well. Rather than the basic “Prince Charming”, he is even given a real name – Kit. Kit and Ella meet in the woods prior to the ball, and this accidental meeting is actually the eventual reason Kit throws the ball. After this encounter, the movie shifts between both Ella and Kit’s storyline. The audience is allowed to fall in love with Kit and is rooting for him to find the mysterious woman from the ball and marry for love. However, this is, in part, surely due to Madden and James’ undeniable chemistry. During their encounter in the woods and the iconic dance scene, the actors maintain an eye contact deep enough to convince audiences they truly are in love.
Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) fulfills her duties as the evil stepmother in true fairy-tale fashion. However, there is a scene where she has a chance to explain herself. The audience learns alongside Ella that there is motive behind Tremaine’s thoroughly dislikable character. Still, this contrasts to Ella who, despite her difficulties, has continued to “have courage and be kind.” Lady Tremaine, although slightly more understood, proves a worthy , acting as a foil to Ella. Where Ella grew in strength and goodness through her trials, Lady Tremaine became cold and hardened.
Cinderella adds depth of reality to the fantasy world it has created by mimicking modern fashion through bright, floral prints and set design that vaguely looks like something one might find in a current-day rustic home. Ella’s ball gown, hair, and iconic glass slippers receive a major makeover and James looks stunning in a gown that prom queens dream of. Yet, the fairy-tale is still evident through CGI that doesn’t look quite real and subtle details such as the step-sisters’ over-the-top outfits.
As far as thematic material, Cinderella repeatedly proclaims a resounding “have courage and be kind” throughout the entirety of the film. While there has been some criticism that this mantra makes Ella weak and a pushover, another take paints her as almost a Christ-like figure. She turns the other cheek and sacrifices much in order to serve characters who are undeserving of her kindness. Moreover, the argument that Ella is a pushover ignores that she does, in fact, stand up to Lady Tremaine. Her strength is not found in her defiance, but rather the quiet dignity with which she carries herself.
In the end, audience members leave with a desire to exemplify the kindness and quiet strength they have seen Ella model. The combination of reality and fantasy makes the viewer believe that they, too, may be able see the world “not as it [is] but as it could be” and that goodness reaps goodness.