Possibly the most surprising thing about the upcoming movie Cinderella is its lack of surprises. It’s definitely rare to find a modern, live-action movie based on a Disney classic that doesn’t have some sort of twist on the original story. Snow White became the teen drama Sydney White, Sleeping Beauty was reimagined from the perspective of the villainess in Maleficent, and classic Disney storylines and themes were thrown together and poked fun at in Enchanted. Cinderella, however, is one movie where you can expect to watch the beloved classic in all its original glory. The period, storyline and characters are all exactly as they were in the 1950 animated film.
The only additions to this 2015 version are a little more time spent exploring Ella’s “golden childhood” and a scene where she unknowingly meets Prince “Kip” while horse-riding in a forest. This formatting is not without drawbacks, however. Just like in the original feature, this Cinderella (played by Lily James) is more than a little two-dimensional and certainly an uninspiring female heroine compared to what we are now used to seeing on screen. With Kenneth Branagh directing and a screenplay by Chris Weitz, audiences are bound to have high hopes for this adaptation. After all, what’s the point of updating a wildly successful classic film if not to add something pertinent and meaningful to it? Unfortunately, the dialogue is painfully cliche with only sub-par acting to bring it to life (with the exception of Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of the evil stepmother Lady Tremaine, in which she manages to make even the clumsiest of dialogue sound like Shakespeare). Still, this isn’t a film that’s looking to change the world or go to Sundance, but as a family feature, it certainly hits the mark.
What is extraordinary about this Cinderella are the aesthetics, providing a strong argument for live-action updates of animated classics. The costumes are nothing short of breathtaking, with Lady Tremaine’s sweeping green gowns capturing the essence of the character perfectly without ever overshadowing Blanchett’s performance, and a blue ball gown for Cinderella that is sure to make any fairytale fanatic’s wildest dreams come true. Three-time Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell arguably steals the show, with sumptuous gowns and warm colors dominating the screen. Powell stated that she wanted Cinderella’s ball gown to make her look like she was floating when she moved, and the waterfall hoop skirt coupled with James’ elegance create an ethereal effect. These costumes are set against the most delicious backdrops that will satisfy even the most lavish of imaginations. The beautiful and quaint cottage of Ella’s upbringing seems, fittingly, straight out of a fairy tale, and the gold-dripping opulence of the king’s palace is a dead ringer for awe-inspiring palaces of the Russian tsars.
Perhaps the most notable element missing from this version of Cinderella is song. The original movie charmed audiences with Cinderella’s tragically uplifting ballad “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” and had us all tapping our feet and supressing huge grins during “Bibbidy Bobbidi Boo.” Undoubtedly the score is sweeping and majestic, but nothing can beat the energy of a full-blown musical.
The emotional resonance of the film is perfect for what it is. As a family film, the darker elements of parental loss and domestic abuse can’t be overplayed but are nevertheless key plot points. Though Ella does seem to recover alarmingly quickly from the successive deaths of her mother and father, the motif of the “Lavender’s Blue” song that her mother sung to her as a child throughout the movie highlights the central role they play in her life, despite their absence. The concepts of positivity, overcoming obstacles, kindness and ultimately, of course, love are the driving force behind every aspect of the production.
For the teens, and even adults, in the audience, there is still much to be enjoyed despite the fluffy dialogue and barrage of sentimentality. Besides the spectacular and breathtaking aesthetics, Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter bring their phenomenal on-screen presence, and there is the comfort and nostalgia in watching a childhood favorite quite literally come to life on the silver screen in a blaze of glory.
There is no question as to whether this new version of Cinderella can compete with, or ever surpass, the Disney original. The magic, music and originality of the 1950 film is unique, and it holds too dear of a place in audiences’ hearts to easily be replaced. Though this version doesn’t do anything wildly new, it does pay homage to Disney’s timeless classic and modernizes it somewhat for younger audiences. Nothing about it is groundbreaking, but that does not mean it is not a touching, warm and genuine picture. Ultimately, this film is unlikely to break many records, but catching it in theaters is highly recommended. The colors, costumes, scenery and cinematography are a pure delight, and everyone could use a reminder that life can be sweet, and anyone can live happily ever after.