March 13, 2015
The Disney studio had a long tradition of mining the trove of fairy tales and turning them into animated films which have been childhood classics for several generations. Lately, it is now mining its own trove of beloved animated classics and turning them into live action feature films. This year, one of Disney's most iconic princesses gets the live action treatment, "Cinderella."
We see young Ella growing up in a happy family with the virtues of courage and kindness deeply inculcated in her. We see her orphaned and left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother Lady Tremaine and her two lazy foolish stepsisters Drizella and Anastasia. We see how Fairy Godmother magically help Cinderella go to the ball. We see how she danced with the Prince, but had to run off by midnight, leaving one of her glass slippers behind in her haste. We see how the Prince uses the slipper to find her and live happily ever after. We see everything as we knew it by heart, but this version brings the oft-told tale to spectacular life with vivid imagery and touching emotion.
The script written by Chris Weitz faithfully follows the well-known animated Disney version of the tale released in 1950. As directed by Kenneth Branagh, there was very minimal re-imagining done here, compared to Tim Burton's version of "Alice in Wonderland" or Angelina Jolie's portrayal of "Maleficent". This film is so unabashedly targeted for the ladies and girls of the romantic type. This is a major big-production chick flick that goes all out for the all the sweet and thrilling moments it can squeeze out of the story. The charisma and chemistry of the young leads were more than sufficient to achieve this end.
I thought Lily James perfectly embodied Cinderella with her delicate face, long flowing hair, kind demeanor and natural elegance, which shone through even as a kitchen maid. Unlike when I thought Lily Allen and Kristen Stewart were totally wrong actresses for Snow White in those two separate live-action versions of that other fairy tale, I totally accept Lily James as Cinderella. Since I did not watch "Downton Abbey" (where James was a cast member), I am seeing her as a totally new movie actress having her career breakthrough with a successful portrayal of a very iconic character.
Prince Charming has a name here, Kit, and he is played by Richard Madden, Madden is quite clean cut and totally charming here, complete with that princely twinkle in his eyes. He was not immediately recognizable as his previous character of Robb Stark from the popular TV series "Game of Thrones." Fortunately for Madden, the character of the prince was expanded from how we know him from the cartoon, so we (and Cinderella) get to meet him even before the ball itself. He is no mere consort here, but also a young man with substance and humility.
The scene-stealing role of Lady Tremaine was portrayed by the always scene-stealing actress Cate Blanchett. With her over-the-top, green-hued haute couture gowns, Blanchett is definitely an eye-catching sight. The bitter cruelty of her character was given a lot more depth than how the cartoon stepmother was portrayed. Blanchett played the role with wicked delight, dripping with hateful acidity.
The cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos is so vibrant with a bright color palette that pops out of the screen. The production design of Daniel Ferretti was so opulent and grandiose in scale. The costumes of Sandy Powell were so richly designed and meticulously detailed. The musical score by Patrick Doyle envelops the film and brings us to a fairytale time and land. The visual effects of the magical transformation of pumpkin and animals to the coach, horses and staff were delightfully done in grand fashion (with the ever-quirky Helena Bonham-Carter as Fairy Godmother).
The remarkably beautiful moment where Cinderella entered the castle and danced with the Prince is a perfect scene which highlights all these masterful and award-worthy technical aspects. Her shimmering blue ballgown had a life of its own. I can see future debuts and weddings where ladies will be wanting to recreate this wondrously glorious waltz for real.
This is how a fairy tale should be told. Despite all the familiarity, they still managed a nice little surprise for the ending. Highly recommended. 9/10.
Review of the pre-feature short: FROZEN FEVER
This animated short is a trip back to Arendell on the occasion of Anna's birthday. Queen Elsa goes to all lengths to try and pull off a perfect birthday surprise for her sister. It was good to see all of the characters back. But ultimately, it basically just served as a vehicle to introduce those cute little snow critters that appear whenever Elsa sneezed. I can hear the "kaching" of the toy shop cash registers now.