I saw this a couple of weeks back after hearing good things about it from some of my friends. I was not disappointed! I’ll put the rest of this review under a cut for details/spoilers.
Cinderella has never been my favorite fairy tale, although there are some re-tellings of it that I do like quite a bit (Mercedes Lackey’s Phoenix and Ashes, for example, is excellent and definitely my favorite of her Elemental Masters series). I enjoyed the original Disney animated version when I was younger, though I haven’t seen it for many years now.
This new version struck me as a nice mix between the original animated one, and the live-action movie of the Rodgers and Hammerstein version that was made a number of years ago starring (among others) Brandy as Cinderella, Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother, and Whoopi Goldberg as the Queen.
The new live-action one is (unlike both of the others) not a musical, although the background music is certainly informed by the original Disney soundtrack in many places. (Watching the ballroom scene, for instance, I was thinking “Hm, this sounds familiar,” and then had to roll my eyes at myself, because of course it was an instrumental version of “So This Is Love.”) The costuming and look of the town drew, I felt, quite a bit from the Rodgers and Hammerstein (hereafter “R&H”) movie, as well as the slightly more humorous (though still good-natured) approach to the Fairy Godmother and her magic. Also similarly to the R&H version, Cinderella and the Prince actually meet before the ball, if only briefly.
They did keep quite a bit from the original Disney version as well. The music, as I mentioned above, as well Cinderella and her stepsisters’ clothing and color schemes. Lucifer the cat and Cinderella’s mouse friends all make appearances, and although the mice chitter in slightly more comprehensible fashion than real mice would, they do not actually talk or sing.
So, I enjoyed those ties with both of the major movie versions of this fairy tale that have been done before. But I also liked that this movie definitely had its own feel and its own take on things. I’ll try and hit some major points.
-Backstory: I always appreciate more backstory! In this case, we see Cinderella’s early life when both of her parents are still alive, and the heartbreak for her and her father when they lose her mother (played by Hayley Atwell) to disease. Her last admonition for her daughter is to “Have courage and be kind,” which she takes (perhaps) a bit too much to heart, but overall the strength and benevolence that Cinderella develops from that advice serves her well in the end. Time passes, and her father remarries, though the marriage does not bring either himself or Cinderella the renewed happiness and family that they were hoping for. When he dies while away on business, and Cinderella is shuffled up into the attic in order to make room for her two stepsisters, the viewer goes into the “usual” part of the story with a better understanding of the characters.
-Prince Kit: The fact that “Prince Charming” has a name and a real character in this version was also delightful. (The R&H version certainly does this as well, but it is entirely lacking in the original animated version.) Kit is being pressured by his ailing father to choose a bride that will bring their small country political advantage and strength, because the King knows that he is dying and wishes to leave his son and his kingdom in a stable, safe position. Kit would, of course, prefer to marry for love, and is immediately taken with the young lady that he encounters riding in the woods whilst out on a hunt. Their compromise is that all the women of the kingdom will be invited to the upcoming ball, not just the foreign princesses that Kit is supposed to be considering. Kit’s relationship with his father was especially well portrayed. The scene where the King is starting to slip away, and Kit just curls up on the bed with him like a young boy really hit me hard; a reminder that, while they are a King and his heir who have often butted heads…they are also two people who love each other, and Kit is a young man who is about to lose his father.
-The Wicked Stepmother: Cate Blanchett was amazing in this role, and her wardrobe was stunning. This was another character that the movie did a good job giving more depth to. She is ambitious and power-hungry, desiring positions of worldly security for herself and her daughters. That much of her character is clear in most versions of the fairy tale, but this movie went a step further, to show that she is intelligent and cunning and manipulative as well. She is quite willing to blackmail one of the court officials in order to get what she wants, and I thought the scene in which she offers Cinderella what she wants – in return for a position of power for herself in the newly-crowned King’s household – was especially brilliant. She doesn’t care how she gets her way, so long as she gets it.
I think that’s most of what I wanted to say; for the most part, the story proceeds in the usual fashion, just with more and richer detail. I did very much enjoy Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother, and the magic and the costumes and ball were all beautifully portrayed. Definitely recommended for any fans of Disney and/or well-portrayed fairy tales.