Just like its title princess emerged from rags to command all attention at the prince’s ball, Disney’s new live action “Cinderella” is a beautiful gem shining amidst so many Hollywood remake failures.
The notion of Disney reinventing all of its animated fairy tales in live action formats is daunting and, in premise, feels unnecessary and force. But “Cinderella” proves that a real-life retelling of a beloved Disney classic can not only work well, but stand on its own as a stunning, emotionally charged film worth multiple viewings.
Director Kenneth Branaugh has managed to infuse “Cinderella” with a perfect balance of touching romance with just enough quirkiness and comedy to keep the film fun but always endearing – and never corny. The growing attraction between Ella and the prince plays out like watching a perfect real life courtship, no matter the time period or setting. The story, at its crux, is about two young people who have found their soul mates and there is no doubt by the end of the movie that they were meant to be together.
Richard Madden plays a rather, well, charming prince. Handsome and stately, but down to Earth and even a bit awkward, this prince quickly becomes smitten when encountering Ella in the woods in a truly believable “love at first sight” moment. Meanwhile Lily James’ Ella – ultimately embracing her demeaning Cinderella nickname – is the impressively strong one of the couple. She commands the screen, whether dressed in a bold blue ball gown or simply wearing tattered clothes covered in ash. But her looks are second to her personality, always remaining positive no matter what life throws at her, thanks to an enjoyable backstory offered in the film involving her parents, whom she cared for tremendously.
And there’s no doubt this Cinderella has her palpable hardships. Cate Blanchett’s Lady Tremaine remains a villain through and through, one that audiences will no doubt love to hate. She walks a delightful balance between playfully wicked and downright cruel, with a performance that gives much more depth to Disney’s animated character. And while her backstory gives justifiable reasoning to her cruelty, it never transformers her into an unnecessarily sympathetic character the way other recent remakes have tried to do (see: “Maleficent.”) Instead, Tremaine together with her two wonderfully unpleasant daughters (Cinderella’s legendary stepsisters) make a perfect trio.
Everything about this film is gorgeous, even including Helena Bonham Carter’s unique spin on the Fairy Godmother – a role that leaves audiences wanting more with her ever so brief appearance. It’s a nice touch that the end credits offer the actors’ own renditions of a couple of famous Disney songs from the original animated film – better to include them there then bog down the movie with an unnecessary musical interlude.
Preceding each showing of “Cinderella” is the new short “Frozen Fever,” the first big follow-up to Disney’s smash success “Frozen.” The short starts a little rocky and its original new song is a bit rough, not quite as catchy as the original film’s hits. But by the end, “Frozen Fever” serves its purpose to reunite audiences with the characters they have grown to love over the last year or so, adding some depth to Elsa while simply giving more of Anna, Olaf, Kristoff, Sven, and a few other surprises. It’s clear “Frozen Fever” was made with merchandise in mind, but is cute nonetheless.
“Cinderella” is no doubt the benchmark by which all future animated remakes will have to live up to, capturing the essence of what made the original timeless but while still adding a brilliant spin to make the film stand completely on its own. While the appeal of the “Frozen” short attached to this movie will no doubt help sell tickets, “Cinderella” itself will leave fans returning for more.