Disney’s latest entry of Cinderella closely follows the familiar tale. A young girl named Ella (Lily James) becomes orphaned and is forced to live with her uncaring stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and stepsisters Drisella (Sophie McShera) and Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) while dreaming for Prince Charming (Richard Madden). Her only chance at hope comes in the form of her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter).
Director Kenneth Branagh, a strange choice to helm such a project considering his previous directorial efforts (Thor, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Hamlet to name a few), does not excel nor fail in directing. There does not seem to be much flair to really make the film stand out. Shots are static (except for the ball scenes) and the editing is rather bland. On top of this, some of the CGI effects look downright porous which is peculiar with Disney’s acumen.
What the film lacks in style it makes up for in lavishness. Sets are intricately designed and costumes gorgeously rendered. There are so many glowing lights and absorbing cinematography that the film is visually memorable, but narratively dull.
Overall, the film goes by rather quickly, hitting each familiar story beat calmly and without great emotional involvement. Blanchett, though perhaps miscast for being a bit too pretty for an evil stepmother, shines in a cast that does not pose a lackluster performance. Lily James contains just the right amount of bubbly energy and wanton desire, though she does seem a bit old for the role. Helena Bonham Carter provides a few laughs as the Fairy Godmother in a film sorely lacking in humor. Richard Madden as Prince Charming is, well, exactly as you’d expect him to be.
The problem with making fairy tale films with live actors however has always been the translation from simple stories into 90-minute long features. There’s just not a lot of depth and internal conflict for the characters to go through. The problem of one-note characters (the stepmother is evil, Cinderella is innocent and good) leaves the film emotionally uninteresting. Cinderella is almost too good for us to empathize with and the Stepmother is too evil for us to do so as well. Without a personal stake, Cinderella is all icing, but no cake. Some sort of internal dilemma would have greatly helped the story.
This is not to say Cinderella is a bad film. It is reasonably entertaining and sweet. But the greatest fault with the project lies in why it was even made. Do audiences really need another Cinderella movie? The film tells the exact same story exactly as we have seen it before. It does not present us with anything new or offer a different take as last year’s Maleficent (2014) did by telling a story from the villain’s point-of-view (though in fairness that is borrowed from Broadway’s Wicked) and offering a different interpretation of the story’s themes by changing the ending. Cinderella is nothing new and could have been so much more.
Just for ideas, why not a tale of Cinderella’s two stepsisters and how they look upon the world? Or a conflicted evil stepmother who must grapple with personal love, love of her children and perplexing hatred for this new stepdaughter? Or even a Cinderella-focused narrative that takes place in a different location, say India, or a different time period such as the the depression? Just something different or an interesting take would have added something to a story that we have seen over and over again.