There may not be a studio better than Disney Pictures at repackaging an old tale and making it feel original. We saw it in 2010 with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and in 2014 with Maleficent. Disney’s newest repackaged live action adaption is the 1950’s animated classic Cinderella.
In this version of Cinderella: After the loss of her mother, Cinderella’s (Lily James) father marries a recently widowed woman in hopes of finding love again. The widow, known as Stepmother (Cate Blanchett), moves into Cinderella’s home with her two daughters Anastasia (Holiday Grainger) and Drisella (Sophie McShera).
Most of what follows is similar to the traditional Cinderella tale with a few minor changes. Cinderella’s father passes on a business trip leaving her under the care of her evil stepmother and stepsisters. Instead of treating Cinderella like family, they turn her into the house maid. Cinderella cooks, cleans, does laundry, and has a room in the attic. Her only friends are mice and a few animals that live on the property.
Out riding a horse through the forest one day, Cinderella meets Kit (Richard Madden) who’s immediately struck by her beauty. He’s reluctant to tell Cinderella he’s a prince and instead tells her he’s an apprentice at the palace. With the King (Derek Jacobi) ill, Kit must choose a wife at the Palace Ball. In an attempt to see the beautiful Cinderella again, Kit opens the ball to every maiden in the province. Cinderella, excited to see the strange man from the forest, plans to attend the ball but her cruel stepmother and stepsisters forbid her to go.
Lucky for Cinderella, she meets her Fairy Godmother the same night as the ball who makes sure she has a magical night.
For a tale that’s 65 years old, Cinderella manages to make its plot as captivating and charming as the first time the story was told. A lot of that success is due to the film’s brilliant casting – mainly Lily James’ innocent and loving Cinderella contrasted with Cate Blanchett’s blistering and vicious Stepmother.
Blanchett is exceptional as the wickedly evil Stepmother. This is the first time I can remember seeing her play a character that’s destructive on so many levels. She sells Stepmother’s absolute disgust for Cinderella with every disingenuous smile or heinous laugh. If there was an Academy Award for Best Villain, Blanchett would be number one on everybody’s ballot.
Lily James performance is equally fantastic. She’s stunning during the Palace Ball scene yet carries the grace and humility you would expect Cinderella to have. Nothing James does ever feels heavy handed or too cheesy. Actually, it all seemed quite effortless for her.This may be the role that turns James into a breakout star in 2015.
When the two leads come together, their scenes are more emotionally moving than expected. James and Blanchett have such good chemistry together with the limited screen time they have together. There’s an innocence to Cinderella’s character that comes pouring out in those moments that causes Stepmother to increase her increase her wickedness.
As if the stellar performances weren’t enough, the film looks spectacular. The ball scene where Cinderella and Kit meet for the second time is impressive, stunning, and exciting . Even though most moviegoers know exactly what happens at the ball, how how Cinderella’s story ends, and everything that happens in between, the film finds ways to keep you engaged and on the edge of your seat.
Disney is able to make old feel new and make everyone in the theater feel like kids again. With all of our children’s stories and comic book movies being ‘Nolanized”, it’s refreshing to see a film packed with a joyful energy that reminds us why we fell in love with fairy tales in the first place.