I’ll be honest, as I walked in to the cinema after collecting my ticket on a dreary Friday morning, I was more excited about seeing the new Frozen Fever short than I was about seeing Disney’s live action remake of Cinderella. Clearly I was not the only one, as there were more posters for the seven minute animation on the walls of the cinema than there were the actual feature film, and a portion of the audience even left after it had finished, paying a full admission price ticket just to see the short and the short alone. For the record, Frozen Fever was fun, and it put me in a nice, cozy Disney frame of mind for the big event to follow. Would Cinderella follow suit and provide some Disney magic in feature form?
On the whole, unfortunately, no. Cinderella tells the story of, well, Cinderella. Pretty girl, check, evil stepmother, check, ugly stepsisters, check, fairy godmother, check, Prince Charming, check, glass slipper, check. We all know how the tale goes and how the tale ends, and the problem with Disney’s 2015 remake is that it offers absolutely nothing in terms of originality or innovation of the plot. In fact, in choosing to leave out the beloved music from the 1950 animated original, arguably the film’s greatest asset, the new filmmakers have succeeded in producing something that, whilst looking undeniably gorgeous, leaves something of a tedious and uninspiring taste in the mouth. Director Kenneth Branagh has opted for a very traditional approach in interpretation, and give or take a few extra scenes of character development and some added sass from the picture’s more interesting characters, namely Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) and the Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter), this modern update offers no real argument for choosing to watch it over the undeniable animated classic that proceeded it. In fact, I would go so far to say that the Walt Disney Television produced 1997 TV movie adaptation starring Brandy and Whitney Houston is an overall more enjoyable and worthwhile experience, both for its inclusion of musical numbers and for its more interesting and vibrant casting choices. Quite honestly, I do wonder whether in 2015, in the more modern age of films like Brave, Mulan and even Frozen that present much more complex and nuanced versions of female protagonists, if the classical fairytale characters like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White are relevant anymore. The huge success of Maleficent last year is arguably testament to the fact that today’s audiences, even child audiences, want something a little bit more textured than what Kenneth Branagh is offering here.
In terms of the film’s cast, it is very much a case of a few big stars performing well but ultimately failing to make up for the number of uninspired presences on screen. Lily James as Cinderella is certainly beautiful and has the innocent, vulnerable vibe down to a tee, but what she lacks is the vital touch of star quality that is needed for the character’s magical transition to really sparkle. The same too can be said for Richard Madden as Prince Charming, possessing the requisite good looks and regal stance but offering very little in terms of audience connection. Helena Bonham Carter provides a brief but enjoyable cameo as the Fairy Godmother, injecting some much needed life and pace in to the picture and giving a more modern humoured, eccentric (obviously) take on Cinderella’s magical guardian. Clearly having the most fun on screen, fun that thankfully transcends to the audience, is Cate Blanchett as wicked stepmother Lady Tremaine. Blanchett is gloriously and unashamedly camp throughout, chewing scenery whenever possible and looking divine as she does it. In truth, there is an air of the entire film being slightly beneath her, but one senses this is more to do with not having any suitable on screen sparring partners than Blanchett’s actual feelings towards the quality of the picture.
Overall, the phrase that keeps coming to mind when thinking about this new incarnation of Cinderella is ‘what’s the point’? With live action remakes of both Beauty & The Beast and Mulan in the pipeline, I question the top creative forces at Disney and wonder, seeing as one of their most recent original properties (Frozen) became the global phenomenon that it did, why they are taking a backwards step by simply regurgitating old favourites and, in the case of Cinderella, not doing anything to enhance or add to the original. Ultimately the film is a pretty but unremarkable and uninspiringly safe version of events that we as a story reading people have heard, read and witnessed hundreds of times. Think about it in terms of your favourite band, would you prefer a remix of an album you have listened to time and time again, or an album of original work from a team of artists that you admire greatly? I’ll take the latter, please.