Though never a worshiper at the foot of Disney, I do understand what makes people love the films and the theme parks. Disney has a way of creating magic and bringing families together. Disney films, especially the animated films from my childhood, are the golden standard for granting little princesses’ wishes and letting young children dream of lands far away from the fairy tales’ truly violent and morbid roots. This is why the newest Disney film, Cinderella baffles me so. Why did Disney create a film without any sense of whimsy?
Starting with last year’s Maleficent, and looking forward to next year’s Beauty and the Beast, Disney is making its way through its animated catalog, cashing in on its legacy by making live-action films. A solid business model – remaking films that they know will perform well – these films have the potential to simultaneously introduce their princess tales to a younger generation and to reignite the love of Disney in their older fans. Maleficent put a new spin on Sleeping Beauty by focusing instead on the evil witch and her origin tale.
Unfortunately Cinderella offers nothing in addition to the classic story. Lily James stars as the orphaned Cinderella, serving under the heavy hand of her stepmother. Cate Blanchett does a good job with what she is given to work with as the stepmother. What she adds to it glimmers of a deeper back story but these are fleeting moments rather than a fully-realized subplot. The beautiful Cinderella tolerates her stepmother and step sisters and instead tries to be courageous and kind, as she promised her mother on her death bed.
Cinderella loves animals and in turn these house mice and farm animals are her only friends. After a brief encounter in the woods with the kingdom’s prince (Richard Madden), she is in love and it is mutual. He plans a royal ball to meet her once again, and a little help from her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter, of course) she makes it to the ball in a full coach with a memorable gown. Fleeing the ball before the prince catches her name, he then starts a kingdom-wide search for his mystery love. Nothing new here.
The plot is essentially the exact same plot as the 1950 Disney animated film, but this version is missing the fun bits. The animated film was a musical, and those musical numbers are some of the best parts of the film. The kind animated fairy godmother sang her way through “Bippity Boppity Boo” as she turned a pumpkin into a coach and mice into stallions. Then the magic was present and celebrated. Here, The Fairy Godmother does turn all of the same elements into Cinderella’s helpers for the ball, but it doesn’t feel magical. The most glaring change, however, is the complete exclusion of Cinderella’s mice and bird friends turning her dress into a gown. Without even hinting at the previous version’s joyous “The Work Song” (making a dress for Cinderella, as I remember it) Cinderella merely alters the dress on her own with no fanfare.
This all leads to the biggest overall problem with Disney’s money making equation: It deletes the musical numbers and the most magical scenes, but does not add anything back to the film. The costuming of the entire cast is beautiful and over the top, as it should be in a fairy tale, but that is the only stand-out element in the film. The already thin plot is stretched to a full 105 minutes, which leads to an often boring film. With Maleficent they removed the music and some of the quaintness, but knew enough to add in the backstory of the evil queen. Here, there is nothing added to deepen Cinderella’s mythology. Disney films can be accused of all sorts of ills, but with Cinderella, they have proven that they are capable of producing a boring film that somehow has no magic in it.
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Helena Bonham Carter
Film Length: 105 minutes
Release Date: March 13, 2015
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures