MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Starring Cate Blanchett, Lily James
The folks at Disney have never gone wrong with princesses; the international success of 2013’s Frozen is testament to that. Just to hedge their bets, Disney doubled down and produced Frozen Fever, an 8-minute cartoon sequel that precedes this movie. Little girls get three princesses for the price of one.
But while the Frozen featurette continues the story of two sisters who care about each other more than the affections of a handsome prince, Cinderella returns to the traditional pre-feminist plot of the famous fairy tale.
Cinderella is a folk story that has been told in many ways in many countries. The Brothers Grimm have a very violent version (cited in Into the Woods) in which the stepsisters mutilate their feet in their attempts to wear Cinderella’s glass slipper. This film is based on the 17th century Charles Perrault French version, while also including many features of Disney’s 1950 animated feature, including CGI versions of the mice (Gus-Gus, Bruno and Jacques) and Lucifer, the cat.
This is the rare film review in which I do not have to introduce the basic plotline; there are few surprises to the basic story, which I appreciated. Too often modern filmmakers try to load a fairytale with references to current pop culture (Shrek 2) and subsequently decrease the shelf life of the movie.
However, there are many small pleasures in this Kenneth Branagh version that make it a delight to watch. The production design by Dante Ferretti and costume design by Sandy Powell (both multiple Oscar winners) are stunning. The CGI transformation of pumpkins and mice into carriage and horses is magical.
Lily James is a beautiful Ella (“Cinder Ella” is the nickname she gets from her stepfamily), but Cate Blanchett steals the show as the wicked stepmother, in a performance that many critics have compared to 101 Dalmatians’ Cruella deVille as well as actresses Jane Greer and Joan Crawford! Prince Kit (Richard Madden) has a close relationship to his father, the King (Derek Jacobi), and is determined to marry for love rather than fortune, which is a baby step closer to sensitivity.
There are lessons to be learned as well. Ella was taught by her mother as a girl “to have courage and to be kind” and this mantra (repeated a few too many times for my liking) makes her a moral character, even though “having courage” means bravely suffering abuse rather than standing up against it. Kindness can also be seen through the Christian theme of forgiveness; this creates a discussion point for conversation following the viewing.
This is a sweet and lovely movie that holds it own with the many other film versions available. After viewing Cinderella, I immediately wanted to rent the 1950 cartoon version, which includes several catchy songs as well as many Tom and Jerry-like chases between Lucifer and the three mice. Hopefully you may do the same.
Five halos: A faithful retelling of the popular fairytale, with clear moral teachings, suitable for the whole family
Two pitchforks: Mild cruelty by wicked stepmother and stepsisters; tragic deaths of good parents – what’s with Disney and orphans, anyway?
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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