If there’s one department showing their lack of creativity at Disney, it’s live-action. Bringing to the big screen everything from their own park rides (Pirates of the Caribbeans and Haunted Mansion) to children’s books (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) to prequels and sequels of classics (Alice in Wonderland, Oz the Great and Powerful) all with varying success. Now, they’ve turned their eye to adapting their own classically animated features. And while Cinderella is definitely better than the disastrous Maleficent, it’s far from a new family classic.
We all know the story, but there are a few changes: young Ella (Eloise Webb) lives in the home that’s been in her family for 200 years with her loving mother (Hayley Atwell) and doting father (Ben Chaplin). Now an a young adult (played by Lily James), Ella’s mother falls ill and passes, and eventually her father remarries the wicked Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) who comes along with a couple of step-sisters in Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drisella (Sophie McShera).
Soon enough, Ella’s father passes as well, leaving her all alone to deal with Tremaine and her step-sisters — until she meets Prince “Kit” Charming (Richard Madden) while he’s out on a hunt in the woods. Instantly smitten, but never knowing her true identity, Kit demands that every unmarried lady in the land be invited to the ball so that he can find out the identity of this fair maiden. Banned from attending, Ella is visited by her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham-Carter), who uses her magic to grant her a new dress, glass slippers, and carriage to take her to the ball where she runs out to make it home by midnight, leaving only her glass slipper behind for Kit to go on a quest to find her yet again.
Anyone who has ever seen Cinderella or has been alive since the 1600s knows every beat of this new version, which doesn’t do the film any favors. And the biggest obstacle working against it, is the length. No version of Cinderella needs to be almost two full hours. It’s so unnecessary. Especially considering director Kenneth Branagh (Thor, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) and screenwriter Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass, About a Boy) don’t do anything more than simply pad out the original story with long takes. Had it been kept to a skimpy 90 minutes or so, this would be far more charming. Speaking of which, it is charming. But there’s only so much it can sustain at that length.
The cast are all expertly chosen to represent their roles, especially Blanchett, who is absolutely chilling as the wicked stepmother. James does what she can with her titular role, but Cinderella has probably been officially played out after this. At least Bonham-Carter is having as much fun as Blanchett. She absolutely shines as the hilarious fairy godmother.
Be sure to make it early, or at least on time, as there is a new Frozen short called Frozen Fever, with Queen Elsa trying to prep a birthday bash for Anna, with a cold, causing hilarity to ensue. Don’t be surprised to see baby snowballs at your local Disney Store this spring. If not, there should be! Sadly, those are the best part of this whole movie-going experience.
Cinderella is in no way complete bust — aside from the hypocritical ending where it’s suddenly okay for Ella to leave her family home to be whisked away with the super-cute Prince. Talk about conflicting statements, my wife was extremely put off by this. But at least this never tries to change the story as much as Maleficent did while crashing and burning. This Cinderella is far from the be-all end-all version of the story, and there will surely be more to come. But it knows its audience, and it should play like gangbusters to the kiddie princess set. For adults, there’s really no reason to head out unless you have kids yearning to see it.