Once upon a time, Disney decided to further leverage its princess franchise and remake Cinderella, one of its most famous properties. (Ahem). I mean, once upon a time, there was a young woman named Ella (Lily James), who lived with her stepsisters and their mother, the Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett). Ella is forced to do all the housework, and…seriously, do I NEED to go through all of this? You all know what happens, right? Dead parents, fairy godmother (played by a gratifyingly typecast Helena Bonham Carter), glass slippers, happy ending. Let’s cut to the chase.
Kenneth Branagh’s take on Disney’s classic doesn’t do anything new, but it really doesn’t have to. We all know the story, we all know how it ends. All Branagh and writer Chris Weitz have to do is entertain us with the most enduring of all wish fulfillment fantasies, and they do it with flair. Lots of flair. Seriously. The colors pop off the screen, the music is appropriately molto espressivo, and the dresses designed by the multiple Oscar-winning Sandy Powell are divine. Branagh lays it on thick right from scene one, and that’s just the way it should be. For Odin’s sake, it has the same cinematographer as Branagh’s equally dramatic Thor.
Branagh knows, just like the rest of us, how this film is going to end. To make up for the thin plot and lost tension, he swoops the camera around at key moments and makes sure that there is always something happening in the frame. It’s an easy trick, but it’s a good one, and it works like a charm. He sticks very close to the Disney original and always adds, never subtracts, remodeling efficiently, as needed.
Weitz’s script aims to add some depth to the characters, as well, and it mostly succeeds. The most welcome change is a much needed depth to Cinderella herself, who was always something of an insufferably cheerful cipher in the animated film. Lily James interjects Cinderella with a much needed earthiness, even as she looks like the very model of a rosy-cheeked princess. In her scenes with Richard Madden’s Prince, she’s even sensual in a subtle, subversive way. Madden himself also gives a bit of personality to his role, his Prince having actual charm instead of informed charm. And he fills out those obligatory medieval tights EXTREMELY well.
But the grand dame of this proceeding is Cate Blanchett, who savors every single bit of scenery in a very proper, ladylike fashion. Her Lady Tremaine is a stage mother drag queen, played by Madonna channelling Bette Davis, and then glammed up for the gods. Like in the animated film, Tremaine’s power comes from wit and manipulation, her cruelty hidden behind a mask of gentility and etiquette. When a character asks Tremaine if she’s threatening him, she only responds with a smile and a “Yes” that is as menacing and deadly as a black mamba.
This Cinderella is as sweet and sumptuous as the richest cake, and just about as nutritious, but damn if you don’t want another piece when it’s done. Just savor the sugar rush while you can and have a bit of fun. And be home by midnight.
FBOTU Score: 7 out of 10 / B