By Matt Rooney
Break out the fine china, prepare your best vestments and open the gates because Disney has finally made a live-action fairy tale worthy not only the obscene amount of gold it will make, but of being called a truly great movie. Fetch me my fancy castle slippers, post haste!
After the woefully forgettable “Snow White and the Huntsman” and the over-blown opus that was “Maleficent” I was starting to feel none of these adaptations would get it right—or even at least close to okay. But thank the heavens for sending us the genius of director Kenneth Branagh and writer Chris Weitz for throwing all that CGI shit in the garbage.
The movie overflows with a sense of elegance and enchanting grace as it flows from one scene to the next. It plays out more like a classical novel like “Pride and Prejudice” with witty and sometimes heartbreaking dialogue highlighted with practical production design and lavish costumes. But overall, it’s the movies grounded tone that will forever set it apart.
Where other modern adaptations of fairy tales try to go the dark, but still child-like route, (to disastrous results) “Cinderella” sticks to good-ol’-fashioned drama with an underlying romance and just a pinch of fantastical wonder. In doing so the movie realistically and cohesively explores the tragic backstory of Cinderella (Lily James) and her relationship with her evil stepmother (Cate Blanchett) without overblowing it with unnecessary exposition that gets lost in the mess.
James is perfectly cast as Ella (later given the nasty addition of “Cinder” by her stepsisters) who not only has an appropriately magical head of blonde hair, but also conveys the right balance of ethereal goodness overcoming the brutality of her day-to-day existence. Her life is horrible, yes, but she bests it with such love and light you can’t help but be smitten.
Even her relationship with Prince Kit (Richard Madden) breathes new life into, well, any romance story aimed at anyone under 25. From their first encounter in the woods the two exhibit the proper sense of adolescent awkwardness and love-at-first-sight wistfulness. Their chemistry is downright adorable and Branagh had the smarts to keep the feeling lingering throughout the movie. Gone is the “meant to be because they are both hot” mentality of the past.
Branagh also remembers that an equally legendary aspect of the tale is the step mother, and he let Blanchett become her with sophisticated devilishness. She lets her eyes and careful inflection of the dialogue create a femme fatale wrapped in a fairy tale. There is a particular scene where Blanchett sits in the shadows and reveals her past to Ella. The perfect blend of light and shadow recalls something straight out of “Double Indemnity” or “Sunset Boulevard”, where the female leads are given strength to match any man.
But we can’t forget this is indeed a fairy tale, and so magic and giant set pieces are required. You know, so the kids don’t fall asleep. Needless to say Disney has finally put their money to proper use in their live-action realm, letting production designer Dante Ferretti and costume designer Sandy Powell to create a refined world that blows all of the CGI ghosts pirates and Angelina Jolie’s jawbones out of the water.
From the stepmothers constant cloaking in envious and greedy green, to the immaculate detailing of the Pumpkin Carriage and the awe-inducing steps which Cinderella descends down when entering the ball there is nothing done to the upmost prestigious of detail. Add in Branagh’s eye for camera angles and you have a formula for a captivating world you just want to stare at all day. That’s probably what I’ll end up doing if I ever buy the movie (which is probable at this point).
Where the movie’s literal magic comes from, though, is in the fairy godmother played by Helena Bonham Carter, who I can’t imagine is anyone’s second choice to do anything. Though Branagh’s goal to achieve perfect grace and majesty may have caused him to tell Carter to not unleash her full oddballness, she still is able to wring out as much quirk from her brief time on-screen—the movie’s only minor flaw.
As an adult man I feel as though I have to do as much as I can to defend the fact I found this movie undeniably magical, romantic, sweeping, clever and all around delightful I also know I don’t have to. The movie doesn’t have to fight to win you over. Thanks to Branagh’s assured directing, perfect performances, Weitz’s smart, compelling script and the exquisite production value, “Cinderella” does a perfectly good job convincing anyone that it has the right to captivate you completely.
Gone are the ridiculous Burton rip-offs; so long to half-assed acting; Adios to untested directors. “Cinderella” is movie I respect. Everyone had the foresight to realize that children would be growing up with this adaptation and it’s the closest we can get to Shakespeare for children, who will grow with it as they learn to see what makes it indeed so magical. That’s how you do a fairy tale, Disney. Best not to forget.