Rating: A very enjoyable C+? B-?
Summary: One of Disney’s first and more successful live action adaptations of their animation version, based on the classic Brothers Grimm fairytale.
In honor of not paying for a bloated live action cash grab, I decided to go with another one of Disney’s live action adaptations of their own work. I almost went for Jungle Book but I went with director Kenneth Branagh instead. He’s dependable. I’m not surprised by what I saw, but I am surprised by how much I liked this movie. I’ve always loved Branagh as a director- Much Ado About Nothing is one of my all time favorites. He has a clear affection for storytelling, always finds a nice spot for a long take, and provides the means for his actors to go free with their characters. I feel like I’m always seeing a good blend of old fashioned cinema techniques and modern flair.
Kind of like how The Jungle Book was more or less a test run for The Lion King, I think Cinderella was a trial for Beauty and the Beast. I might get heat for this but I think Cinderella achieves quite a lot of what Beauty and the Beast could not- and if you gave me a choice, I’d honestly rather watch Cinderella. Mostly, it’s more successful in balancing its magical sense of wonderment throughout the movie. This is probably due to the sheer amount of material each movie had to work with, but while Beauty and the Beast felt overly stuffed revision at times, I was able to just relax during Cinderella and just get swept away in the fairytale-ness of it all. Branagh knows how to let things breathe while highlighting the work of his colleagues. Also, while we’re comparing the two, Cinderella absolutely wins in romantic ballroom scenes, which deserves to be in the conversation of Branagh’s best work. Seriously. That entrance. The dress. That chemistry. Cinderella (Lily James) and her prince (Richard Madden) barely speak here, but there’s so much heartfelt emotion value in this one scene alone based on the framing, the movements, and the music. There’s such a natural flow between James and Madden that it’s almost invisible how the scene is carefully structured around her increase in confidence and the deepening bond between the two.
What’s most apparent about Cinderella is that the budget and effort were spent in the right manner. Cinderella is such a small and contained story so it’s appropriate that there’s not too much time spent on CG elements unless it’s to provide a fantasy component like the transformation sequences or to make castles appear larger. There’s not a lot of shoehorning of trying to revise the animated version or “right the wrong”- a couple of small references to the original fairy tale, but nothing to detract or distract from the heart of the story. Instead, we get more details that add to characters- vibrant, rich costumes and real, practical production elements. As a result, the environment and the characters feel fuller. This story is absolutely brought the story to life. Specifically in our titular character, her overall kindness and empathy is brought forward in various and subtle ways and it gives finally her some authority in her own story. I’ve always seen Cinderella as just a character- but James and Branagh really made me root for her as a heroine.