CINDERELLA Review: A Classic Fairy Tale Retelling Done Honorably Well

This Cinderella review finds all the good in it

If you’re looking for a completely re-imagined version of the animated Disney classic of Cinderella, you might as well watch something like Ever After, because it’s already been done.  And what would you do to make Cinderella more rebellious than she was in Ever After?  Turn her steampunk?  Futuristic half-Cyborg part Asian (*ahem* Cinder)?  Obviously, Disney wasn’t looking to make a complete overhaul and completely alter a successful classic.  No, they wanted to tell the classic story, give it an updated look for a fairy tale without ruining the fairy tale story.  In this Cinderella review, you’ll find that I believed they did right in this live-action retelling.

Cinderella review - castle

This latest feature film of Cinderella is about as close as you’ll get to the animated version.  Whether or not that’s what you were expecting would probably indicate how much you’ll like the film.

Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother

No doubt the movie is beautiful, both in its set design, costume design, makeup, and cinematic effects.  The “small” cottage that Cinderella and her parents raised her in is really lovely, although me being hay-fever prone would probably have a miserable time out in the gardens. Still, everything about the look of the film screams fairy tale, and not in a gaudy way.  The exterior of the castle is probably what you’d expect it to be, with nicely cut topiaries and greenery, walkways for those turnabouts people often did for exercise, and because there existed no X-Boxes or Playstations.

The costumes were absolutely magnificent in design, and more than once did I look at the character’s dress and think how awesome that would be to wear, despite having to deal with a corset or whatever else women had to deal with when it came to putting on a dress.  Sure, it wasn’t comfortable, but I was awestruck nonetheless.  Besides, how many of us wore something that didn’t quite feel comfortable yet knew it was just something too beautiful not to wear, right?

Cinderella review - the Prince
Richard Madden as the Prince

The effects were just about as expected from a Disney film.  Delightful and awesome.  As with the animated version, Cinderella’s fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) still magically makes the friendly mice, lizards, and goose the horses, the footmen, and the driver.  And although she doesn’t sing the song while doing so, she does use the phrase a couple of times, so that doesn’t change.  It’s a cute moment to see the change happening, and it brings to mind the memory of being awed when I first saw the animated version.

Of course, the backstories of all the main characters were extended a  bit more to give more depth to the characters, which was appreciated.  The Prince wasn’t droll or just a pretty face, although he was very pretty…er…handsome!  Richard Madden did just fine as the King-to-be, having to deal with the pressures of finding a wife to rule the kingdom with.  This is important for any kingdom to know that the person in charge has someone they can confide in personally and even professionally.  As well as have babies with, of course.

Cinderella review - the King
Derek Jacobi as the King

They give Prince Kit scenes in which he is able to express his will to please his father and people, but he also portrays the human side of him, that side that wants more than just a union that would strengthen the kingdom, but one that coincides with his own heart’s desire.

The King (Derek Jacobi) is better humanly played, being a well-meaning ruler and loving father, and less obsessed with having grandchildren to dote on as the animated version would have the King  be.  The addition of the conniving duke (Stellan Skarsgaard) and the friendly captain of the guard (Nonso Anozie) fill out the cast better, showing more than just the king and the prince ruling.

Lily James as Ella

Lily James as the kindhearted and beautiful protagonist of the story made for a wonderful Cinderella.  She was just what Cinderella was, all wide-eyed wonder and authentic innocence, and I didn’t feel she had to be anything more.  Call me old-fashioned if you have to, but make Cinderella into more of a back-talker or a physical fighter or a cynic just plays into the idea that all women have to be this way in order to get through life.  But it’s just as unrealistic to think that all women are to know how to fight, or how to talk back, or how to be just as cynical as those around them.  That’s not what Ella is about.  It’s about being who you truly are and being the best at it.  She’s truly kind, and truly brave, in being dealt with the circumstances handed to her. Her optimism should give girls hope that no matter what is against you, you can get through it – no, not by talking with mice or singing or fairy godmothers, don’t be cynical.  I’m just saying that’s it refreshing to be reminded that there’s still good in this world, and this story means to show that.

With that said, the major standout is Cate Blanchett in her role as the wicked stepmother, Lady Tremaine.  She, too, is given a backstory that explains her meanness, which extends to her daughters (Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger), but doesn’t excuse their treatment of Ella.  What I loved about Blanchett’s portrayal is that with all the beauty that Lady Tremaine is, her wickedness makes her ugly, and goes a long way in explaining to those paying attention that just because one is beautiful, and she is beautiful, that doesn’t automatically make them good.  And Cate does evil beauty so well, it’s absolutely fascinating.  In a way, you can almost say that the Wicked Stepmother and Stepsisters represent all the cynics in the world, and Ella represents the hope.

Cinderella review - Lady Tremaine, Drusilla, Anastasia
Holliday Grainger as Anastasia, Cate Blanchett as Lady Tremaine, and Sophie McShera as Drisella

The rest of the supporting characters, including Hayley Atwell as Ella’s mother and Ben Chaplin as Ella’s father, do nicely to fill out the rest of the cast.

If there are any criticisms I’d have to make about it, I guess I would say that a couple of scenes border on the cheesy side, one of them being the moment in which Cinderella is twirling while her dress is being changed.  That’s probably the one moment that stands out as a little too much for me.  Other than that, it really was a nicely made PG-rated live-action retelling of Cinderella, and it didn’t need to change the formula too much to be that way.

Cinderella review - dress

Might I add that both Lily James and Helena Bonham Carter both have excellent singing voices which you can hear more in the end credit songs performed by them, A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes and Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo, respectively.

My rating: B