Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Lily James, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgård, Holliday Grainger, Sophie McShera, Derek Jacobi, Helena Bonham-Carter
Runtime: 1 hr 53 mins
Released By: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Opening Day: 12 March 2015
Synopsis: The story of “Cinderella” follows the fortunes of young Ella (Lily James) whose merchant father remarries following the death of her mother. Eager to support her loving father, Ella welcomes her new stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and her daughters Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drisella (Sophie McShera) into the family home.
But, when Ella’s father unexpectedly passes away, she finds herself at the mercy of a jealous and cruel new family. Finally relegated to nothing more than a servant girl covered in ashes, and spitefully renamed Cinderella, Ella could easily begin to lose hope. Yet, despite the cruelty inflicted upon her, Ella is determined to honor her mother’s dying words and to “have courage and be kind.” She will not give in to despair nor despise those who mistreat her. And then there is the dashing stranger she meets in the woods.
Unaware that he is really a prince, not merely an apprentice at the Palace, Ella finally feels she has met a kindred soul. It appears her fortunes may be about to change when the Palace sends out an open invitation for all maidens to attend a ball, raising Ella’s hopes of once again encountering the charming Kit (Richard Madden). Alas, her stepmother forbids her to attend and callously rips apart her dress. But, as in all good fairy tales, help is at hand, and a kindly beggar woman (Helena Bonham-Carter) steps forward and – armed with a pumpkin and a few mice – changes Cinderella’s life forever.
It has been some time since a fairytale has been told like it is. Compared to films that provide alternate storylines to otherwise classical fairytales (i.e Into the Woods, Maleficient, Hansel and Gretal: Witch Hunters), Cinderella is a film that sticks closely to the original story.
Told like the fairytale that it is, Cinderella begins its “Once upon a time” with young Ella (Eloise Webb), a child brought up in a well-to-do family in a peaceful kingdom. The epitome of “Happy Ever After”, Ella and her family led a picture-perfect life until the death of her mother. Bearing her mother’s parting words, “to have courage and be kind”, Ella (Lily James) grows up to be a beautiful maiden who believes in the goodness of others.
Things took a turn, however, when her father passes away shortly after marrying the window Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett). Jealous of Ella, Lady Tremaine immediately reduces her to the role of a servant – forcing Ella to serve her and her two dense and untalented daughters, Anastasia (Holiday Grainger) and Drizella (Sophic McShera). Life would have continued as such should Ella have not met the mysterious but charming apprentice, Kit (Richard Madden), in the woods. Captivated by her beauty and personality, Kit – who turns out to be the Crown Prince– decides to invite all the maidens in the kingdom to a ball in order to see Ella once again. Despite the invitation, Lady Tremaine still prevents Ella from attending the ball, that is, until the appearance of Ella’s ditzy fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter). Aided by her fairy godmother’s magic, Ella attends the ball like a princess, but with a catch: When the clock strikes twelve, the spell will end and all will revert back to normal.
Being a fairytale that is familiar to the young and old across the globe, Cinderella may come across as a mundane piece to its audience. With its mild plot and even milder protagonist, Cinderella is really a Disney film designed for children who do not mind watching films on repeat.
As usual, Helena Bonham Carter performed adequately as the whimsical “bibbidi-bobbidi” fairy godmother, creating light moments in the otherwise bland film. Although James does a convincing job as the titular character, it is Blachett’s Lady Tremaine who steals her thunder. In fact, one aspect of the film that is much appreciated is the portrayal of Lady Tremaine as more than just a cruel, jealous stepmother. Instead, Lady Tremaine’s jealousy stems from the realization that she would never compare up to Ella’s mother, making her a character that is deserving of the audience’s sympathy.
Contributing to Blanchett’s character is also three-time Oscar winner costume designer, Sandy Powell. In comparison to Ella’s softer, pastel-coloured dresses, Lady Tremaine and her girls are often shown donning gowns with darker colours and sharper edges. The amount of effort (and money) put into costume design can be seen in Ella’s ball gown and the unbelievably sparkly glass slippers. Though not breathtaking, the special effects in Cinderella should also deserve a special mention. After viewing scenes of Ella’s makeover, one can really see how films have come a long way since Walt Disney’s 1950 animation of Cinderella.
While director Kenneth Branagh’s faithful treatment of the fairytale should be applauded, it must be noted that the film essentially becomes a rehash of a story we are all familiar with. Despite Blanchett’s wonderful performance and despite the amazing costume design and special effects, Cinderella is still a mundane film that will be underwhelming to those who expect more.
(A beautiful rehash of a story we are familiar with, Cinderella is a family-friendly Disney film that kids would enjoy)
Review by Leng Mong