Cinderella is a pale imitation of Disney's own 1950 animated classic.
It is an almost beat-for-beat a remake of the older film, with little of the mirth and magic and nostalgia that help the regressive politics of the tale go down a little easier. Worse still, it has nothing new to say about the character or story of Cinderella, coming mere months after Disney's own Into the Woods adaptation. It's a pretty, blank, boring movie.
If you've seen the older movie or are in any way familiar with the fairy tale, you'll know everything there is to know about Cinderella. The movie centers on a beautiful young girl (Ella, more commonly known as Cinderella) who sees magic in the world and makes friends with animals. She is an abused young woman who lives under the thumb of her wicked step mother and awful stepsisters. One day, she meets a prince, and stumbles upon her magical fairy godmother, and her hopes for a better life are awakened.
Cinderella suffers most from an uninspired script. This is an old story — every rags-to-riches narrative is compared to it — but there's plenty of material here for interpretation. In Disney's own Into the Woods, Cinderella's story is funny and poignant. Anna Kendrick portrayed a Cinderella who runs away from the ball not because she fears the magic spell running out, but because she's ambivalent about her relationship to a man she only just met. In the same movie, Prince charming, played with puffy bravado by Chris Pine, is a blowhard used to getting everything he wants. The fairy tale is twisted and turned on its side, examined from a more modern lens.
In this remake, nothing has really been remade so much as simply re-shot. Class privilege is touched on to some small degree — the prince insists on inviting the peasantry to the ball, and the practicalities of marrying for advantage rather than marrying for love are given some attention. But it's a gentle nod, rather than a real dive into a deeper topic, and the movie doesn't do much with it.
It's disappointing, given the caliber of talent in the film
It's disappointing, given the caliber of talent in the film. Cate Blanchett plays the Wicked Stepmother with a kind of poisoned empathy. She's a woman who has had to make difficult choices in life, and she wants the best for her goofy daughters. The Stepmother is a threatened, prideful, wounded animal and a terrible bully. Blanchett outclasses everyone else in the film, but doesn't really have much to work with from the script. Helena Bonham Carter is a delight, as usual, playing a goofy, primmed-up version of Cinderella's Fairy Godmother, and Lily James, in the title role, does her best to "have courage, and be kind," Cinderella's motto throughout the movie. She's game, and she grins at CGI mice and outrageously costumed royalty with everything she's got, but this Cinderella just doesn't belie much of an internal life.
But Richard Madden, as The Prince, may have the hardest role in the film, with big, strapping shoes to fill after Chris Pine sung his heart out in Into The Woods. Madden's big toothy grin just can't fill the void.
The best thing that can be said about Cinderella is that it's visually enchanting, with all the bells and whistles a big-budget Disney fantasy can muster. The costume design is a pretty-princess dream come true, stock-filled with frilly, impossibly gorgeous dresses and courtly attire. The production design is similarly spectacular, clashing Cinderella's depressing attic room with the lavish cable ball and pretty verdant landscapes. It's a shame there's nothing much here beyond the spectacle.
Cinderella is a story that really demands nuance in 2015, and that feature is sadly lacking in this adaptation. It's the ultimate fairy tale about escaping the serving class into the upper echelons of society. It's a story about women being awful to one another, where the only way to be "saved" is if a wealthy man takes a liking to you. When even Disney has been serving up simple stories with more interesting messages about love and gender — see Frozen, Maleficent and Into the Woods — this Cinderella just feels lazy and regressive.