Sometimes, the classics just do it right, and Kenneth Branagh’s retelling of the Disney classic Cinderella does it right. The perfect balance of substance and spectacle, this film reinstates the value of the sincere heart and warmth that has been softly fleeting from our culture. Susan Wloszczyna of the Roger Ebert staff says it best: “The cynical side winks, knowing smirks, throwback references and dead-pan jokes that are hallmarks of post-modern culture are being ever so politely nudged aside by an emerging re-appreciation of old-fashioned sincerity and the pleasures of simply playing it straight.” Her words ring true throughout the experience, and I for one, after giving it some thought, am glad that this film is like this. “Basically,” she concludes, “warmth is slowly becoming the new cool,” and she has a point. (Definitely check out Wloszyzcyna’s full review of Cinderella in which she also takes a quick bite out of the film’s accompanying animated short Frozen Fever, and it’s pretty hilarious.)
Not necessarily held down by reality in setting (nor plot nor characters nor…anything, really), Cinderella takes place in a nondescript kingdom, though it resembles the beautiful Western European countryside, a glory to see on screen. From there, the traditional story takes on its truest form as it showcases the themes of family, loss, memory, and acting out of kindness and courage – a few things of which I needed to be reminded. Maybe that speaks to the power of a good story well told. Sometimes, we don’t even give the old stories much credit in their didacticism. Such my initial reservation for seeing this film; I doubted that I would gain anything new from the experience. Thankfully, I was proven wrong, and burning cinders of shame were heaped upon my head.
Lily James lights up the screen as the strong and compassionate Cinderella. Holding on to the truth that her mother left her with upon her death, Cinderella strives to “have courage and be kind” to everything and everyone around her. James does well in adapting to whatever the scenes demand. Likewise, Richard Madden dons the character of Prince Charming as easily as Prince Charming dons his…well, charm. These two together prove to be perfect match for each other in acting ability (which is also why Branagh is directing them in an upcoming theatrical production of Romeo and Juliet). Cate Blanchett rocks it as Lady Tremaine (or the Wicked Stepmother) as she dances into our hearts with the categorical social graces only to reveal her darker intent later on in the film. Rounding up the main players is Helena Bonham Carter who merrily flits and flutters as the Fairy Godmother (be sure to stick around during the credits for her pleasant surprise).
To further Cinderella‘s value, careful attention was all paid to the special effects. Just the world of the film itself looked like a Renaissance masterpiece with lush, rolling green hills and quiet villages that spanned throughout. The royal palace looked just like it came out of a storybook, with heightened towers, spacious courtyards, and the elaborately luxurious ballroom. The real magic, though, comes with the Fairy Godmother’s blessing and its transformative effect it has on our eponymous lady. The pumpkin turning into the carriage is spectacular, and the animals being changed into the assistants is hilariously fun; the capstone is the majestic blue dress that the FG fashions from Cinderella’s original pink dress. Major props go to the effects teams in all these efforts.
Unfortunately, because depravity, skeptics of the film are quick to vocalize their grievances regarding the relationship between Cinderella and the Prince. Some have claimed that the film falters in its showing of a servant girl marrying the royal heir because of his money. Such accusations are nowhere near the truth since the film is neither feminist nor chauvinist but instead strives to show the relationship between Cinderella and Kit as egalitarian. In their first meeting in the woods, they are depicted as equals and regard each other as such; she doesn’t know he’s a prince, and he doesn’t know she’s a pauper. Even in the ballroom dancing, he asks her if she would “give him the honor of letting him lead her in a dance.” This again proves that the writers are trying to enforce a sense of equality; someone has to lead, someone has to follow, and when both individuals agree on who should fulfill each role, true magic happens.
So if you still have any reservations about seeing Cinderella, please: leave them in the trash can along with your ticket stub. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll wish that you had a fairy godmother of your own to make things happen. But then, you’ll realize that the real power comes through in having courage and being kind in the small situations in life. Doing that will help us have courage and be kind in the larger situations in life. This will in time help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.