by Sherry Lipp
Anyone who is a fan of Maleficent’s alternative take on Sleeping Beauty may be disappointed in director Kenneth Branagh’s faithful adaptation of Disney’s Cinderella. It’s true Branagh’s film doesn’t break new ground, but it is very enjoyable and packs a decent amount of emotional weight, making the film enjoyable for adults as well as kids. In fact, the film might even be too intense for very young kids.
There has been a lot of praise for Disney’s Frozen for not marrying off either of the young heroines at the end of the film. Some may find the traditional Cinderella to be a step backward on that front, but it would be missing the overall point to focus just on that. In this case Cinderella’s marriage to the prince is more of a metaphor for her breaking free of expectations and finding her own path. Yes, we might want more for her than to just become a wife, but who says that’s all she ever does? There is certainly nothing wrong with finding happiness in a relationship.
If one focuses too much on the marital outcome of the story they will be missing the true heart of the story, which is dealing with loss and adversity. Cinderella’s dying mother tells her to face life with courage and kindness. While this message might seem simple to adults, it is everything to children who must learn both through trial and error; the courage to stand up for oneself, to face problems, to do what’s right, to be kind in the face of adversity. These are all big issues for children (and adults too really) and this film handles them in a way that children can relate to.
The story of Cinderella is actually a heavy one. A young girl loses both of her parents and is forced into indentured servitude to her mean step-mother and spoiled stepsisters. When she has one chance at happiness her oppressors do everything in their power to stop it from happening. Yes, it’s heavy, but Branagh adds enough of a light touch to keep it fun.
Lily James is very likable as Cinderella as is Richard Madden as the prince, but the scene-stealer may be Cate Blanchett as the stepmother. She convincingly covers her true nature with a façade of hoity-toity bravura that makes you think she is merely conceited. Just like Cinderella we are surprised at just how truly awful she is when she finally drops the façade. Helena Bonham-Carter also does a great job as the fairy godmother charged with the task of getting Cinderella to the ball.
She too thinks it’s strange to turn mice into horses and a pumpkin into a carriage, but it must be done and she does it with a bumbling delight that’s fun to watch. My only complaint is the changing of Cinderella’s dress. Cinderella is wearing her mother’s dress and asks the fairy godmother only to mend the tears her stepmother had made. The fairy godmother then says that just a few alterations would be fine and proceeds to turn it into a completely different dress. I think the message would have been stronger if Cinderella did attend the ball in her mother’s homemade dress rather than the extravagant princess dress created for her. The message was supposed to be that both she and the prince like each other for their true selves and changing the dress subverts that. For a film that deals so much in the loss of parents, wearing the original dress would have sent a stronger message.
The dress aside, the classic story is served well with good performances from a great cast.