I prefer bad news first, so let’s begin with Frozen Fever. This 7 minute short that precedes Kenneth Branagh’s masterpiece retelling of Disney’s 1950 animated classic, Cinderella, is just annoying. Pandering, cheap, ridiculous premise (Elsa sneezes and snow babies pop out of her), cliché song and overall, just an obvious attempt at selling some new Frozen merchandise in the form of teeny stuffed snowmen and an Elsa dress that’s the same–but now in green! I pray this short is not indicative of what Frozen 2 is going to look like, but if the snowshoe fits…run away. Luckily, this brief, gratuitous sequel is not 90+ minutes long (yet) and the film that follows it is magical enough to almost make you forget Elsa singing, “a cold never bothered me anyway” (Get it? Cause she’s got a cold! And that’s also a line from “Let it Go.” Get it? Insert gun emoticon.) Almost.
Now, on with the show: Disney’s 2015 reboot of Cinderella is stunning, well-written, moral, sincere and inspiring. I am so excited to go see this movie again and I can’t think of the last live-action adaptation of a classic animated film I could say that about (seriously, I can’t!) Instead of eschewing what our modern culture seems to consider the “old-fashioned” values of humility, simplicity, selflessness and forgiveness that Cinderella showcases in the original story and classic cartoon, Branagh quadruples down by giving us a heroine so unlike the female role models prevalent in TV and film today, she seems like she’s from another world…or at least another time. The “secret” is that Cinderella in this film is timeless–the attributes audiences are finding so appealing (the movie is a worldwide success, already taking in over $250 million) are not fleeting or flashy, they are eternally attractive qualities that are far too infrequently seen in our selfie-stick wielding, TMZ watching pop culture today.
Ella (played by Eloise Webb and Lily James) is given a thorough, beautiful and tragic back story which provides enough development for true empathy, something lacking in the animated film. Unlike most kindred relational dynamics displayed in film today, this movie does not add a lot of angst and character flaws to our protagonist’s parents. Ella’s folks are kind and loyal to the end, with her mother giving her words of selfless wisdom and power from her premature death-bed. “Have courage and be kind,” she tells her young daughter. Imagine that! Not, “fight your way to the top,” “don’t let anyone get in your way,” or even “do what you feel is right.” This is especially profound as anyone who has struggled with those two particular commands can attest to; one often has to go against one’s innate human inclinations to be (gulp) courageous and (grrrrr) kind. So, our pervasive ideology of “look out for number one first” is completely deflated by Ella’s mother’s dying words–words that her daughter admirably adheres to throughout her difficult life and which all of us know is exactly the right way Ella (and all of us) ought to behave.
Besides being a terrific film for displaying virtue, Cinderella also exemplifies that a character does not have to be stereotypically “interesting” or “exciting” to captivate an audience. I mean that Cinderella doesn’t have any superpowers or exotic talents per se, nor is she particularly adventurous, funny or fashionable. She is a simple girl who loves her family, her pets and her home. She rises above grave tragedy without a big fuss or coming-of-age angst. Cinderella takes the abuse and humiliation poured on her by her stepmother and step sisters as her mother instructed her to–not because her mother wanted her to be a pushover, but because the only real way to beat evil is with goodness. Otherwise known as two wrongs don’t make a right. But, if they were so awful to her, wouldn’t she be right to do something about them? According to the world, yes. But, according to the higher morality written on all of our hearts–of course not! And her display of unabashed goodness is enough to hold our intrigue and fondness for her throughout the film.
The design and feel of the movie is also captivating, with everything from the lush, plant and animal-filled farm to Cinderella’s gorgeous blue dress working together in true Disney fashion. To be fair, her wicked step sisters and stepmother also have breathtaking costumes. The Fairy Godmother’s (Helena Bonham Carter) scene was pretty amazing, too, and displayed the majority of the CG in the film. I even enjoyed the subtle use of animation with Ella’s mice friends–not quite Stuart Little, but just enough to make you wonder if Ella is really able to talk to these rodents. The Prince (Richard Madden) is much more fleshed out in this film than the animated version and he is also unrepentant in his goodness. No Hans-like gotcha moments to end this film, folks. The pacing of the film is steady and didn’t feel to drawn-out or rushed at any time to me. If I had to change one bit, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Helena Bonham Carter as Fairy Godmother, but I appear to be somewhat on my own with that sentiment.
As many of you, I did not enjoy Maleficent‘s “reworking” of a classic Disney film, I didn’t appreciate Tim Burton’s “twist” on Alice in Wonderland and I downright shuddered at the idea of a live-action Dumbo. However, Cinderella is at least one example of not just remaking an old film, but raising the bar and sticking the landing. I am crossing all of my fingers and toes that the directors and producers of the upcoming renditions of Beauty and Beast, The Jungle Book, and the now guaranteed multitude of other remakes, will learn from what worked in this film. It is not a strange adaptation or a modernization moviegoers are clamoring to see–it is a film that can only be said to encapsulate and build upon the strong foundation laid down by filmmakers who knew and cared about good storytelling above all else.
Now, bibbidi-bobbidi-go see this film!