“Cinderella” has always been good to the people at Disney. The 1950 animated film is one of the most popular in their canon. A 1997 made-for-TV movie helped restore “The Wonderful World of Disney” for a short time. Cinderella’s Castle is the centerpiece of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Florida and kids will line up for hours to meet the character. Even “Into the Woods,” the studio’s most recent hit from less than three months ago, featured a prominent Cinderella segment. The new live-action retelling is guaranteed to be a hit and if you have kids who are the right age, it’s equally guaranteed that you’ll be dragged to see it.
It seems silly to go over a story that pretty much everybody knows, but I feel an obligation to do so. Ella (Lily James) has lost both her mother (Hayley Atwell) and father (Ben Chaplin) and is now a glorified servant for her evil stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and ugly stepsisters (Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera). Among other injustices, she’s forced to sleep next to the dying fireplace, which covers her in soot and earns her the nickname “Cinder-Ella.” The kingdom’s prince (Richard Madden) throws a ball to find himself a wife, and Ella wants to go, but her stepmother forbids it. But because she is so kind-hearted in spite of all the mistreatment, she gets some special help from her animal friends and Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) and goes to the ball anyway.
The new movie does deviate from the animated version in a few ways, but not many. There is an early scene where Cinderella and the prince meet briefly in the woods (always the woods…). The stepmother is more confrontational with Cinderella toward with the end, which allows Cate Blanchett the chance to do some scenery chewing (eh) and sets up a scene where she gets chewed out by the Captain of the Guard (Nonso Anozie, yay!). Sadly, there are no musical numbers in this one (I know there will be people who disagree with the “sadly” part). But I think the biggest difference in this version is that the prince is a more interesting than usual. He has to make a number of decisions that are contradictory to “what’s done” in the name of following his heart, but never in a way that seems petulant or unwise. Plus there’s a twist with him toward the end that got the biggest reaction of the movie in my theater.
But then again this film is very much like the animated version. Cinderella’s personality remains largely unchanged, the comic relief animals are similar, the Fairy Godmother’s catchphrase is the same. This is not one of those updates that feels the need to turn the classic formula on its ear. It’s a straightforward retelling that frankly doesn’t do much to revitalize the story. Which is a shame because on the rare occasion that the script does take a chance, it often works. Not always (the useless storyline about an undermining Grand Duke could have been dropped), but often.
There is one audience and one audience only for this version of “Cinderella” and that’s kids who have never seen “Cinderella” before. I can picture seasoned kids being weary of it; adults don’t stand a chance. That’s not to say it’s horrible: the actors are clearly on their game and the costumes and scenery are beautiful. It’s just that this is a movie where you know exactly what you’re getting. If you’re not up for everything that you know “Cinderella” has to offer, then you are going to be bored as an unenchanted gourd.
Two Stars out of Five
“Cinderella” is rated PG for mild thematic elements. Its running time is 112 minutes.