By Darin Skaggs
Disney has made quite the mission statement the last few years. It has taken a look at mortality in Toy Story 3, it has taken a look at themselves and the man whose name became a symbol of the whole enterprise with Saving Mr. Banks and recently taken a look at the old princess staples and turned them on its head with the “princesses” not falling in love with a boy, but appreciating love for family and friends with the fantastic Frozen and the mediocre Maleficent. It seems the Disney brand was attempting to become something so different from what it once was best known for that it would be a long time before going back to the classic ways of storytelling. Yet, with Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella the wait is over and not only is that way of storytelling is back, but it is better than ever.
Cinderella does not change much from its 1950 classic cartoon. A young girl loses her mother, the father remarries a not so good person and the father dies. Cinderella is left mistreated and turned into her stepmother’s and stepsister’s servant. She meets a handsome prince while out of the house and then runs off. A ball is held to find this girl, but Cinderella is not allowed to go. A fairy godmother helps Cinderella to get to the ball where she and the Prince have a wonderful time. Due to magically elements wearing off at midnight Cinderella has to cut the night short, but she does leave a glass slipper behind which lets the Prince test every foot in the land until he finds the girl he met at the ball that night. And they live happily ever after.
So many stories like this, even adaptations of Cinderella, could be looked at as cheesy and just not well made. This one however is absolutely fantastic. There is no deeper meaning, there are no hidden themes. All the picture wants to do is tell this story and tell it well. The only lesson to be learned here is the one repeated throughout the film first said by Cinderella’s dying mother “Have courage and be kind.” A simple lesson that could be seen as too easy, maybe a flaw in the screenplay, but that simple phrase is taken so seriously and genuinely that it really makes you feel for these two good people who just want to be together and are weighed down by others selfishness. There is no pretensions political overtone or turning the cliché Disney of old on its head. There is no fat, no lame jokes to shove in the trailer to make everybody go see it. It is pure magical filmmaking. When this film gets to the dance scene it is incredibly touching, you do feel a sense of love and affection.
That dance scene is incredibly touching, but it is also incredibly beautiful. The cinematography throughout this film is astonishing; they really know how to capture shots and especially beautiful colors. The costumes are also a real treat to view. Cinderella’s transformation is a wonderful scene. Somehow a lizard turning into a servant to help take Cinderella to the ball becomes touching and even a little emotional. This beautiful story is helped by wonderful performances by Cate Blanchete, Stellan Skarsgard and Helena Bonham Carter. Lily James, who plays Cinderella, is fantastic. She really carries the picture and plays a young girl who wants more, but is very content with what she has. She is upset when she is pushed around too much, but can also keep her chin up when life doesn’t go her way; she knows life goes on and it can still be good. Her last line to her Stepmother is both a good blow towards her and proof that she is a good person just trying to live a happy life. Cinderella is a pleasant surprise, especially with the lackluster live action Disney films that have come out in recent memory. Disney has been taking its old formula and turning it on its head, this one makes a case for what made the old classics great.