There is something sweet and comforting about family-friendly movies. For children, it may be momentarily scary when the lights go out and darkness descends, but when the screen brightens up and the audience enters a world of vivid colour, friendly characters and happy endings, it is hard for anyone not to fall for the fantasy. Hollywood has not really changed much since its initial conception of being a ‘dream factory’ and providing escapism, and it is perhaps for this reason that the source material of the classic fairytale ‘Cinderella’ has been returned to for yet another adaptation.”
We all know the story of Ella. Kind-hearted and friendly to all people and animals, Ella’s life takes a tragic turn when her mother passes away while she is still a young girl. A number of years later, her father decides to remarry and Ella gets a new stepmother and two stepsisters called Drisella and Anastasia. When her father suddenly dies, Ella is turned into a maid, forced to do all the housework and treated cruelly by her stepmother and stepsisters. Then there is a ball, a prince, impractical shoes, and all the rest.
Lily James (Downton Abbey) and Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) are charming as our romantic leads. There are amusing cameosm and even Helena Bonham Carter makes an appearance as the fairy godmother, in spite of the unlikelihood for her to show up in a Disney movie as an extravagant character. Cate Blanchett’s role as the stepmother, Lady Tremaine, is probably the most highly-anticipated performance. She achieves both the elegance and evil of her character quite brilliantly, but is only given the chance to shine in the second half of the film. By this time though, one has already lost much interest and is simply waiting out the inevitable ending.
Despite being the man who brought us exquisite performances as Iago in Othello and Hamlet, directing the latter film, as well as helming acclaimed adaptations of Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing, Kenneth Branagh’s latest offering is really rather dull. Not everyone was a fan of Thor, but at least in that film Branagh brought a sense of drama and eloquence that could only be brought to a superhero movie by a graduate of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Here, he does nothing new, nothing interesting, hoping that adorned sets, colourful costumes and over-the-top performances will make up for what the film sorely lacks – substance.
This is a great shame given Disney’s reputation of creating enchanting stories out of old source material. Not forgetting classics like Snow White, Pinocchio and Peter Pan among others, more recently Maleficent found acclaim and box office success following its fresh take on the classic Sleeping Beauty, presenting the story though the villain’s perspective with Angelina Jolie as the captivating lead. Similarly, Frozen (and fans of the film have a short called Frozen Fever to look forward to ahead of Cinderella) brought a tale of sisterly love and feminism to Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen.
‘Cinderella’ has been adapted several times at this point. Even a more ‘realistic’ version, Ever After with Drew Barrymore and Angelica Huston, offered the same story minus the talking mice and fairy godmother. The film offered an immersive story and well-drawn characters, while A Cinderella Story brought the tale to the modern day and a teenage audience. The latter was not a particularly memorable or good film but at least there was a sense of freshness. There is more character, life, and magic in the classic 1950 Disney Cinderella animation than in the mediocre version hitting cinemas this weekend. Perhaps Disney is just not bothered anymore.