We’re all familiar with the Cinderella tale—it might even be your favorite (it’s mine!). It’s a tale of a simple country girl finding her true love at one chance outing. Adapted for various mediums over the years, the rags to riches story Cinderella presents has been exhausted to death at times. But this live action update from Disney stays true to the original tale with a few well chosen (and time sensitive) updates and is refreshing with a protagonist who is willing to retain her agency and hold her own. Written by Chris Weitz (The Young World) and directed by Kenneth Branagh (Thor) the movie is delightful combination of new and old. Stunning vibrant visuals that bring the story to life and charming repartee between the characters that doesn’t sound flat or dull or tired? Could this be a dream?
We are presented a happy childhood, with a baby Ella and her parents having a picnic in the forest beside their country house; then with a young Cinderella dancing with her father (stepping on his toes, more so!) and general merry making. All is well until her mother takes ill with an illness never specified for the audience. “I want to tell you a secret that will you see you through all the trials life can offer. Have courage and be kind. Ella you have more kindness in your little finger than most people possess in their whole body.” A dying Hayley Atwell imparts this lasting lesson to a young Cinderella that sees her through her adolescence with grace and charm.
Ella’s father falls ill on the road to distant lands and she’s left with her stepmother and stepsisters. More cruel and unkind than mean, Cate Blanchett (as the stepmother), Holliday Grainger (Anastasia) and Sophie McShera (Drisella) relegate her to the attic and let go of the entire household staff to cut corners. And thus ‘Cinderella’ is born! Frustrated with the way they treat her, she runs away to the forest for a respite and runs into the Prince who is out hunting. Lily James and Richard Madden has amazing chemistry on screen and their banter in this scene – one of my favorite scenes in the movie – was simply fantastic!
Prince Charming….insert all the heart eyes emoji here because I’ve seen the movie twice and anytime Richard Madden (Prince Charming/Mr. Kit) was on the screen I swooned. A congenial regent in the making, Kit loves his father and introduces himself as an apprentice (“of a sort”) when he realized Ella doesn’t know who he is. Almost a comedy of errors in the making, they part ways and both remain infatured with each other. Facing pressure from his father and the Grand Duke (Stellan Skarsgard) to choose a bride at the upcoming ball (only a Princess will do!), as tradition demands, Kit compromises and asks that all maidens be invited.
Forbidden to attend the ball and her mother’s dress ruined by her stepsisters and stepmother, it is Cinderella’s kindness to an old lady that reveals her fairy godmother, or as Helena Bonham Carter introduces herself: “your hairy dogfather”. Highly underutilised, but still fantastic, with a “Bippity Boppity Boo” she casts a spell, not just on the mice (Gus-Gus! Jacqueline!), goose, lizards and pumpkin but the audience as well. Off goes Cinderella to the ball with her comfy one-of-a-kind magical glass slippers, sparks rise, dancing happens, the audience holds their breath in awe. Midnight comes around. The spell is broken. At one point, the audience in the theater is yelling at the Prince for not running after Ella faster than he does. The search for the mystery Princess begins and Cinderella is kept from coming forward by her wicked stepmother (for once not the truly evil, merely bitter kind) but we all know how the tale ends. Cinderella and the Prince are reunited (a thoroughly hilarious yet empowering scene in the movie!) and believe you me, cheers erupt when they do and when they finally kiss. Can we please get an extended DVD version with more kissing, Disney? PLEASE?
I remember hearing in the trailer, “where there is kindness, there is goodness. And where there is goodness, there is magic” and Cinderella has all of it in spades.
When I left the theater, I turned to my friend and said: “I went in with mild expectations and left with a smile on my face.” That smile is still still stuck to my face, friends. Have courage and be kind and go see Cinderella! Trust me, it’s magic.