I’m a little surprised to say that I kind of loved this movie, which I finally rented from Amazon so I could watch it with my daughter. We’d skipped it at the theater because we just weren’t all that excited about it at the time. I mean, it really is just a very straightforward telling of the Disney version of the Cinderella story, mice and all. It looked beautiful, but I didn’t expect much substance–or at least not enough substance to warrant spending $50 to see it at the theater.
I don’t know, though. I say that I kind of loved this movie, but it’s also not a movie that I want to watch over and over again. Sadly, it feels derivative of both of my two favorite Cinderella movies: 1998’s Ever After and 1997’s Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Some of the imagery and emotional beats in Cinderella seem lifted straight from Ever After, including the meetcute in the forest, the bickering stepsisters, the regal vamping of the stepmother, the scheming courtier, and even Ella’s final defiance and then forgiveness of her stepmother. The technicolor costumes with their bright primary colors and iridescent fabrics feel like a direct allusion to the 1997 musical, although this film definitely did not copy its predecessor’s colorblind casting practices.
Lily James seemed a little bland in the title role when I saw her in trailers, but she grows on you throughout the movie. Probably half of her job is just to pose prettily, as the film is rather light on dialogue, but James manages to craft a Cinderella who, though her mantra of “courage and kindness” and her stubbornly smiling stoicism in the face of her stepmother’s abuse get a little tiresome, also possesses enough real charm and humor that I can almost see why the prince wants to marry her before knowing her name.
Richard Madden is well-cast as the prince, who is even given a name here, or rather a nickname, “Kit.” I adore Nonso Anozie, so I was happy to see his handsome face as the captain of the guard, even though I think he’s wasted in these sort of secondary roles. Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera were fine as the stepsisters, if a little too cartoonish for my taste. Helena Bonham-Carter, of course, is an actual cartoon in real life, and thus a perfect choice for a fairy godmother; she gives a magical performance in this movie.
Finally, Cate Blanchett steals every scene she’s in. I only wish they would have done a better job of deciding if they wanted her to be an irredeemable caricature of wicked stepmother-ness or if they wanted her to be a human character that the audience is supposed to sympathize with a little. Her aesthetic and her strut say wicked, but her eyes often contradict that. It’s confusing.
Some stray thoughts:
- I could have done with a few fewer slightly anthropomorphized animals, although I’m grateful that none of them actually talked.
- I could have done with a bit less (or perhaps a bit more) blatant costume porn.
- I have a very hard time believing that is Lily James’ real waist in that dress.
- That lime green color that was on lots of things was great, but the blue dress was actually a little to bright to be really pretty.
- The butterflies on the top of it were nice though.
- I was bummed that they revealed the ballgown in trailers for the film, but I think now that it’s because the real showstopper is her wedding dress at the end, which is stunning.
Cinderella is good, but not great. I remember reading a ton of pieces when it was first in theaters that were variously declaring it to be either the pinnacle or the end of feminism, and it turns out that it’s neither, in my opinion. This Cinderella isn’t a trailblazer or an independent woman of any kind; she’s just a nice girl with a pretty dress who endures an abusive situation with grace and gets to live happily ever after because she’s a good person. And that’s enough, I think.
I don’t want to watch this movie a hundred times like I have Ever After or Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (which I can’t believe are both pushing twenty years old, by the way), but it’s a solid entry into the canon of Cinderella movies.