Buy a ticket to see Cinderella in the theater and you’ll be treated to an unlikely display of Disney’s philosophical split.
The 400-Word Review: Cinderella
By Sean Collier
March 16, 2015
Before the feature begins, the animated short “Frozen Fever” — featuring characters from the 2013 megahit — displays the easy charm and narrative success that has marked the studio’s recent animated offerings. When the feature commences, you’re reminded that Disney’s live-action division is still wandering in search of its identity.
Attempts to appeal to all ages (The Lone Ranger, John Carter, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) have largely tanked. Feel-good dramas (Million Dollar Arm, Secretariat, Saving Mr. Banks) have fared slightly better, but aren’t lighting the world aflame. Effects spectacles (Maleficent, Oz the Great and Powerful) have come the closest to success, but suffered from narrative confusion.
The latest try: an earnest, unpretentious fairy tale. In Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, no attempts are made to make the film relatable to teens and grown-ups and — while the narrative focus is updated slightly for the 21st century — little embellishment on Disney’s version of the classic tale is foisted on the story. This is Cinderella as you heard it when you were young (probably also by Disney).
That means a dreamy, flawless title character (Lily James) and an oddball fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) at odds with a glam-tastic stepmother (Cate Blanchett, blessedly working far harder than she needed). Our slightly bland prince (Richard Madden) is innocuously attractive, and the helpful mice are no less adorable for their CGI origins.
The effects are delightful, rising to the high bar set by the production design; more so than even the sumptuous Maleficent, this is a beautiful-looking movie, from the costumes to the forests. It’s a fairy tale in its pure, undistilled form, and it thus demonstrates why these fables have endured.
In not trying anything fancy, then, Disney has produced an undeniably pleasant, likable film. It could serve as a model for future updates of classic properties. It is, though, brought down by the echoes of recent successes — not only via the Frozen reminder at the beginning of the evening, but Into the Woods, easily the best live-action Disney film in years. That film also had Cinderella at its center and arrived in theaters a mere 11 weeks ago. If you need evidence of Disney’s ubiquity, look no further: they make so many movies that they’re beginning to push their own properties aside.
My Rating: 7/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark