In recent years, Hollywood has become quite adept at transforming well-known fairy tales into something creative and unexpected. “Snow White and the Huntsmen” brought a sense of gothic grit to a famous children’s story. “Maleficent” turned a seemingly irredeemable Disney villain into a more sympathetic figure (and switched up the classic fairy tale cliche of “true love’s kiss”). The TV show “Once Upon a Time” featured a split narrative that had fairy tale characters living in a small American town under a curse.
However, Disney’s new live action “Cinderella” is a surprisingly straightforward and traditional retelling, sticking fairly close to the storyline of Disney’s own 1950s animated version. While I like many of the revisionist fairy tales we’ve seen, in this instance, the traditional tone works perfectly, and “Cinderella” is a charming, beautifully-shot family film.
I won’t spend much time describing the plot, because most of you probably know the story by heart already — the cruel stepmother, the fairy godmother, the royal ball, the glass slipper, the “happily ever after.” The film stars Lily James, best known as the character Rose from “Downton Abbey.” James gives the character a sense of sweetness and kindness without being artificially earnest; her gentle spirit is genuine. She has a nice sense of chemistry with “Game of Thrones'” Richard Madden, who plays the prince. Although technically they don’t really have much time to get to know each other (and we learned from “Frozen” that you really shouldn’t marry someone you’ve just known for a day!) ;) the romance is sweetly portrayed. Cate Blanchett is icy and elegant as the “evil stepmother; she thankfully doesn’t overplay the role, giving the character a few sympathetic touches. Holliday Grainger and fellow “Downton” alum Sophie McShera are great fun as the two over-the-top stepsisters, with entertainingly hideous costumes and constant bickering. And Helena Bonham Carter has a brief appearance as the quirky fairy godmother.
Another highlight of the film is the gorgeous set design and elaborate costumes. Bright colors pop off the screen, and Patrick Doyle’s lovely score fits perfectly with the film.
As I mentioned before, director Kenneth Branagh keeps the story fairly traditional, and in this case, it works, because while it is traditional, it certainly doesn’t feel stale. The lively performances bring a freshness to the well-known tale. Although this Cinderella doesn’t immediately come across as empowered a heroine as perhaps some of the other princesses in recent fairy tale retellings, she’s more than just a helpless damsel-in-distress pining away in a tower. She’s not a warrior but she does have courage, and determines not to give up, even when it looks like her story won’t have a happy ending. She doesn’t rely on fancy dresses, expensive carriages, or even necessarily the prince to make her happy; she finds that inside.
As much as I like some of the grittier fairy tale retellings, sometimes it’s nice to have a straightforward “happily ever after.” “Cinderella” is rather like a finely-crafted piece of cake — sweet but still with substance.
Shout-out of the week: This week’s shout-out goes to the blog “Mel Rook & The 7 Deadly Sins.” Mel has been a loyal, long-time follower and writes reviews on movies, TV and more. Check out the new feature “Spared or Spoiled” film reviews, telling you what you may have missed (and what’s better to skip!). https://melrook.wordpress.com