Same Old Story in Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Cinderella’

Walt Disney Studio Motion Pictures/Courtesy

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During the past few years, Disney has added a twist to many classic fairytales and come out with progressive stories of its own such as Brave and Frozen. Despite this new direction that Disney pursues, featuring independent female leads focused less on romantic interests, “Cinderella” disappointingly stays true to its original plot.

The story is the same: Young Ella (Lily James) lives happily with her family until her mother (Hayley Atwell) dies. The new life Ella and her father (Ben Chaplin) create for themselves changes when he marries the widow Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett). After her father’s death, Ella is treated like a maid — eventually being renamed Cinderella. Her luck turns in a brief encounter with Prince Charming (Richard Madden), who, in the hopes of meeting Ella again, throws a ball for everyone to attend.

Disney has, however, outdone itself in bringing this classic — albeit antiquated — fairytale to life. Director Kenneth Branagh (Gilderoy Lockhart of Harry Potter fame) brings the magic onscreen in his Disney debut. The vibrant, vivid colors add life to the brighter parts of the tale. Lighting and specific camera angles add a different perspective to each scene. The transition from Ella’s childhood to adulthood, tragedy to acceptance, is flawlessly conveyed in a few seconds. The overall graphics and edits are masterful, making the fantasy a reality.

The characters are portrayed convincingly. Lily James brings the classic image of Cinderella to life, lending her naive, innocent and youthful look to the role. Meanwhile, Helena Bonham Carter’s narration gives a storybook feel to the movie. Contrary to the dark, twisted characters she is known for, Carter plays her role as Fairy Godmother quite well, with the right amount of quirkiness and wit. Cate Blanchett adds depth to her role as Lady Tremaine; her expressive eyes hint that there is more to the character than malevolence, while subtly maintaining austerity through her demeanor.

Despite the realistic visualization, “Cinderella” is still deeply flawed.

In its efforts to remain true to the 1950 story, Disney has failed to incorporate notable, inspirational characters. Modernizing the tale would have been appreciated by older audiences, while still providing a learning lesson and moral heart for younger viewers. Simply put, there should be more to take away from the film. Ella holds onto her mother’s advice to “have courage and be kind,” but endures so much abuse from her stepmother as a result. She rarely stands up for herself, and this can be rather frustrating.

If the sentiment by her mother’s death was not capitalized on, a more powerful lesson could have been learned. In the final moments of the film, Ella simply says to her stepmother, “I forgive you.” Ella walks out the door, signifying a new chapter in her life, figuratively and literally free from Lady Tremaine. This beautifully crafted scene had the potential to pack a punch in three simple words, if it had only ended right there. It could have shown audiences that inner peace comes with forgiveness. Instead, that lesson was shoved aside to make room for a happily ever after with Prince Charming.

That being said, actors make the most of the flat characters they are given. When Ella tries to retrieve her glass slipper, Blanchett’s nuanced portrayal and subtle hints of emotion reveal her underlying jealousy and pain stemming from feeling like an outsider. That being said, the movie is structured so that the audience still feels animosity toward Tremaine and her daughters, making what could have been a blurred line between good and evil very definitive. Subjecting these characters to these rigid boundaries of good and evil creates two-dimensional — and by extension, rather boring and unimpressive — characters.

There is no doubt that “Cinderella” will attract thousands of children and their reluctant parents to theaters. But be warned: The live action rendition stays disappointingly true to the 65-year-old plot. Despite advancements in technology, there have not been advancements in the depth of Disney characters.

 

Contact Gautami Sharma at [email protected].