Speaking of movies with simple stories that win just by being sincere, I followed up Paddington with Cindarella, or perhaps Disney Presents Kenneth Branagh’s Cindarella, as Branagh has directed this yet-another-adaptation of the Grimm fairy tale. Having “missed” the last Jack Ryan movie and his rendering of MacBeth, the last Branagh-helmed movie I saw was Thor.
And this has some things in common with that.
To the extent that the Thor movie worked, it worked because Branagh fully embraced the comic book milieu. He didn’t try to hip it up, make it edgy or cool: He just let the comic book speak for itself. In Cindarella, the material is Disney’s classic 1950 film—moreso than the Grimm original (a la Into The Woods)—and Branagh plays it straight.
First of all, the movie opens with a solid 10-15 minutes of Cinderella’s life with her parents—both at first, then just her father—in by far the most heartbreaking rendition of the tale I’ve seen. Most interpretations tend to gloss over the happy portion of Cinderella’s childhood. Here, the audience gets to feel her fairytale beginning and share the loss with her.
The Barbarienne will not be seeing this film, at least for a while. (The other kids wouldn’t have had a problem, but the Barb is very emotional and deeply affected by this stuff.)
So, yeah, put that in, take out the musical numbers, tone down the talking mice, and give the prince and Cinderella a chance to meet briefly before the ball—make it, in fact, the impetus for the ball, and that’s your movie.
It is perhaps the least surprising movie of the past few years, including a bunch of cookie cutter superhero and horror flicks, except that it surprises by being so wonderfully square. Cinderella is good and pure, and the handsome prince “Prince” is simply charming. In a way, it makes sense having a guy who does Shakespeare do this sort of thing, because he’s used to interpreting already existing material, and knows that the interpretation can succeed on its own merits, regardless of how old the story.
The only part that felt a teeny bit off was the Fairy Godmother. She’s oddly zany. The movie breaks up the serious moments with comedy, particularly involving the mice, but the actual transformation ends up feeling almost out of place. On some level, though, it works for being so startling (even as you know it must be coming).
And it has a charm to it, as well. It’s almost as if the Cinderella’s mantra: “Be courageous and kind” was translated into the making of the movie. And that’s a good thing.
Lily James (of the upcoming Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) is suitably beautiful and sweet for the role. Hayley Atwell (Captain America) is radiant as Ella’s mother, and Ben Chaplin (The Thin Red Line, The Truth About Cats and Dogs) is wonderfully warm as her father. Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother has apparently not recovered from her quirky Burton period. (Nah, that’s not fair. She’s fine, particularly as the narrator.)
I did not recognize Cate Blanchett as the Evil Stepmother, which as bad as I am with faces I largely attribute to her almost unrelenting evil. There are a few moments, briefly, where she struggles with human emotions, but they always lose out to the evil. Great performance.
The cast is pretty high-powered even past this. Richard Madden (Rob Stark of “Game of Thrones”), Nonso Anozie (Xaro of “Game of Thrones”), Stellan Skarsgård (not from “Game of Thrones”, yet), Derek Jacobi, cameo by Rob Brydon, etc.
Great score by Patrick Doyle. Great script by Chris Weitz.