Friday, March 13, 2015

Movie Review #230: "Cinderella" (2015)

Ticket Price: $12.50
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hour, 52 minutes
Image Source
Ella (Eloise Webb) is a young, happy girl who enjoys being with her mother and father. One day, her mother is struck ill, and just before she dies, she reminds Ella to always be kind and courageous. After her mom dies, many, many years pass and Ella (Lily James), now much older, has grown into a beautiful young woman. One afternoon, her father informs her that he is considering marrying a widow named Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchet), which would mean two new sisters as well: Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drisella (Sophia McShera). Ella is very happy for her father and that her new stepmother and stepsisters will come to live with them. Shortly after Lady Tremaine and Cinderella's dad are married, he goes away on business and dies during his travels. Without the money from her husband's business dealings, Lady Tremaine must fire all the servants and forces Ella to perform all of their household duties from now on. When Ella meets a young man named Kit (Richard Madden) in the forest, it may change her life forever. 

As a women's studies major in college, my views on fairy tales have drastically changed since the days when I was a young tot without a care in the world. I might catch a lot of flack for this, but the truth is, for all intents and purposes, in the major, we are taught, and for a good reason, that fairy tales are essentially the devil, and in deconstructing them, we can see how and why they keep women down and in submissive roles. "Cinderella" has often been looked at as the pinnacle of anti-feminist sentiments. For myself with all movies, not just the ones put out by Disney, I have had to find a way to balance this deconstruction with being a movie reviewer and have found that the two overlap quite a bit, for better and for worse. On the one hand, it's just a movie, plain and simply for entertainment. On the other, the lessons, values and morals these stories espouse are repeated ad nauseum to future generations of young girls and women where they will resonate with us even into adulthood, potentially making us feel as if we are to be one way, only, forever. It is obvious that women still have a long, long way to go to be equal with men in all aspects of life, but this seems to be magnified in Hollywood. Looking at the last year in cinema, we were hard pressed to even think of 10 outstanding female roles, and while women obviously exist in movies, they are, unfortunately more often than not, the throwaway ones, meaning they are not always the strongest, best performances of the year.

Though we have gotten a bit off track, all of this is pertinent when thinking about Disney's latest remake of "Cinderella," a story that's been made into several films over the years told in several different ways. This particular Kenneth Branagh directed film is marketed as this live action remake of Disney's 1950's animated "Cinderella," with some media outlets going as far as to re-brand it as "the first feminist Cinderella." Though it contains many elements from that story, it's not a completely faithful adaptation of the Disney cartoon, for several good and bad reasons. We will start with the bad to get it out of the way. BigJ's biggest issue is how old Cinderella is when her father remarries. She appears well into her late teens, played by Lily James, who is in her mid twenties. This leads to her to be too old when her father dies and has to take over house keeping duties. It makes Cinderella's sorrows as a servant seem to last only a matter of months rather than a matter of years. While we as the audience still gets a sense of sadness from her situation, it feels a little different this time around. Throughout the course of the movie, for as much housekeeping as Ella has to do, except for one or two scenes, she never looks like a woman who spends her days doing housework. She looks far too well kept, even when she is dirty, which is the same problem we had with Mila Kunis' character in "Jupiter Ascending."

I personally didn't mind most of the acting and thought Lily James did a great job as Cinderella, almost breathing a little bit of new life into the character. She certainly has the look down, that's for sure. She has an innocence to her face and a bright, cheerful smile that makes her the perfect choice for this princess. Though James plays the title character, her role is almost overshadowed by the acting by Cate Blanchett, who plays the wickedly evil stepmother Lady Tremaine. By far and away, she was the best part of the movie for us. With one simply glance, Blanchett can convey so much emotion and so much power that it gave me chills a number of times. In one minute, she can be condemning Cinderella in her husky, wretched voice, but can turn around and be pleasant and overjoyed to her actual daughters in the next. There is a reason she won an Oscar a couple of years ago, she is one of the best actresses ever. Richard Madden, who we didn't know of but is apparently on "Game of Thrones," again, has his character's look down pat. Toothy smile, shiny locks of brown hair, an elegant and regal posture, Kit the prince actually has a role in this movie, and he plays his part just fine. Everyone else does the same, and it's not that they were bad, but everyone was simply standing in Cate Blanchett's much better, larger shadow. We do really like and appreciate the efforts this movie makes to change and dress this beloved fairy tale up a little. One of the biggest aspects of change is that filmmakers tried to develop Prince Kit's relationship with Ella a little more by having them first meet in the woods and talk about who they are, though this previous meeting now serves as the catalyst for the ball's entire existence. The goal of ball in this film is to simply lure Ella to the castle so they can meet again. At this royal ball, Ella and Kit escape the dance floor in favor of a walk through his secret garden, where they, once again, talk and get to know one another on a deeper level. Though they don't ever have a particularly long conversation, the undertaking filmmakers attempt to make their relationship seem less superficial than the practically non-existent relationship from animated version is commendable. Also, the fact Kit absolutely knows what Ella looks like from the start means there is never a decree that states 'whoever fits the shoe will marry the prince.' This defeats the need for people to try on the glass slipper at all, though they go through the motions anyway since it is what we know from the story.

The visuals throughout the film are beautifully executed, possibly even Oscar worthy. The biggest problem "Cinderella" will have come Oscars 2016 is whether or not people remember this movie even exists next year since it came out this March. We are certainly hoping Oscar voters don't forget this film anytime soon because its production design and costume work are impeccably, masterfully and flawlessly done. Unfortunately, we cannot say the same for the digital animals, which certainly look fake. Apart from this, the film does drag here and there. Unlike the animated version, which is a little over 70 minutes, this one is almost 2 hours long, and we don't know how many kids you know, but some can't stay still for that long. The film does lack some emotional depth, too, like a pretty dress on faceless mannequin. It's nice to look at, but there are no real magical 'wow' moments as you are never pulled in or taken over by the beauty of it all, especially since it is essentially a remake with some minor changes. Kids will enjoy all the sequences we didn't, those that felt out of place, the obviously added for children moments of lizards and pumpkins and burps and Helena Bonham Carter, and though this film is, at least in my estimation, not the feminist Cinderella, it's certainly not a bad place to start.

PS: For those of you trying to make a ~*controversy~* about Cinderella's waistline being taken in and too small, I have two thoughts for you: 1) think of the time period. Even Cinderella's stepsisters wear corsets and struggle to put them on in the film, so it's not a shocking surprise that she was wearing one, too. The fact that they struggle to wear them is also indicative that they are possibly a negative done for fashionably purposes. It's really just a costume reflective of the time period; and 2) why are we body shaming at all? If her waistline was pulled in, so what? We can't condemn fat-shaming as a society and turn around and skinny-shame, and this is coming from someone who is fat herself. Why can't the discussion about women's bodies as a whole just go the hell away?

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 83%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?
One year ago, we were watching: "300: Rise of an Empire"


  1. great review! Cinderella was my very first Disney movie (my sisters & I actually broke the VHS tape from watching so many times!)
    I know adaptations will ultimately leave parts out, but I loved this take on an old favorite. I thought it was nice to see them try to establish connection between the prince and Ella... although it felt a bit like Ever After at times.
    I agree that Cate Blanchett did control her scenes.. but I thinm that adds to the beauty of this new story. She brought a powerful Lady Tremaine & I think it was exactly what the story needed.
    Oh, & I adore Helena Bonham Carter!! and I'm soo happy they let her say "bippidi boppidi boo".. even if we had to wait for credits to hear her sing (my favorite song!!!! lol)

    1. Thank you, Ashley! I think I broke a VHS tape of this movie, too! LOL! I did like a couple of takes on this new story, some were really cool! Helena Bonham Carter, I missed the singing, awww!! Cate Blanchett has such a wickedness about her sometimes that it's really a wonder that she doesn't play every female role ever, LOL!