When Hollywood happily announces plans to mine our collective childhoods for new movies meant to cash in our nostalgia, it can be irritating if not a total disaster. The recent wave of gritty reboots of well-known fairy tales—from Snow White and The Huntsman to Maleficent—has too often missed the mark on what made those stories special to begin with. But Kenneth Branagh, with his long line of Shakespeare movies and flare for the theatrical, knew just how to bring Cinderella into 2015 without missing a step.
Disney’s live-action Cinderella is no gritty reboot. It’s dedicatedly true to the tale the studio first told in the 1950 cartoon, down to a chubby mouse named Gus Gus and a big blue ballgown. And yet, Branagh’s translation doesn’t feel like a tired retread. His thoughtful casting breathes a buoyancy into this potentially dark tale of child abuse, and Chris Weitz’s sparkling script gives a greater depth to once two-dimensional characters.
As a kid, it always bothered me a little that Cinderella allowed her stepmon and stepsisters to treat her like a slave. “Why would she put up with that?” little Kristy wondered with a furrowed brow, munching tirelessly on a bowl of Cookie Crisp. Well, this live-action adaptation answers that question elegantly.
Downton Abbey’s Lily James stars as the titular heroine, who is left in the care of the cruel Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett in full-on diva mode). While she and her vapid and ever-sniping daughters (Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera) carelessly trash Cinderella’s beloved home, the orphaned girl decides to maintain it in honor of her parents. In a brief moment with a friend, she confides she wants to take care of the place they loved, because she loves them. This simple character moment transforms Cinderella from a doormat to a young woman of incredible inner strength, giving us a better reason than ever before to root for her happiness.
Her Prince Charming is also given a modern makeover, which enriches their romance. The old Prince was a bit of a dope, falling for Cinderella after just one dance, then trying to seek her out not by description but by shoe size. But Kit (played by
King in the North Richard Madden) is given more time to develop his interest in his future wife, and a conflict that makes him more compelling. Like Robb Stark, Kit is urged by his advisers to marry for political allegiance, not love. Game of Thrones fans still smarting over the Red Wedding will revel that this time this heart-following royal gets his happy ending.
This is a fairy tale that is thoughtful and elegantly told, punctuated by charming CGI animals that play as Cinderella’s sidekicks. James and Madden make for a dazzling couple, conjuring a romance that is sure to have young girls swooning—and some not so young ones at that. Yet my favorite element of Cinderella was its flat-out fierceness.
The production design is a postmodern celebration of inspirations, ranging from ancient China to Jazz Age speakeasy. The costumes are similarly varied in influence. 1980s’ fishnet fingerless gloves are paired with voluptuous ballgowns. ’90s’ butterflies bobbles straight out Claire’s Accessories pepper Cinderella’s signature dress. And Blanchett is flawlessly draped in fashion that is a mix of Golden Era Hollywood and RuPaul’s Drag Race. Basically, Cinderella is breathtakingly beautiful. When Blanchett—giving us Bette Davis—would pose in a doorway looking flawless, or when Cinderella would twirl, her iridescent tulle shimmering and flowing like liquid silver, I was literally gagging on the
Reel Talk: I could watch Lily James spin in that dress on a loop for days. DAYS.
Really, I’d tell you to see Cinderella for the fashion alone. But for those that need more than the heart-stopping glamor, the film also offers an inspiring story of hope and inner strength, told beautifully by a director who knew just how to tweak a dusty old tale, and a cast that is radiant with warmth and charisma. If Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast remake promises to be half as good, I’ll buy my ticket now.
Kristy Puchko is a part of a fantasy football league that’s only focus is RuPaul’s Drag Race. No joke.