Though Kenneth Branagh's live-action remake of this classic fairytale is ornately prim in its aesthetics and leading stars, it ultimately lacks the charm of the original 1950 animation - making it less "Bibbidi Bobbidi" and far more "Boo".
Continuing the current trend of adapting classic fairytales into live-action fantasies, Kenneth Branagh directs this re-imagining of Cinderella – based on both the classic 1950 Disney animation and Charles Perrault’s original tale. Featuring a talented ensemble of supporting actors – including Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham-Carter and Derek Jacobi – whilst also providing a star platform for previous television actors Lily James (Downton Abbey‘s Lady Rose) and Richard Madden (of Game of Thrones fame), the film is decidedly mixed in its reinterpretation of one of the most prolific fairytales of all time.
The plot is as simple as it is well known – it is the ultimate rags-to-riches tale, in which our heroine, Ella, goes from being the put-upon ‘Cinder-Ella’ to the belle of the ball. Generally, this latest version is an attempt to imitate the animation that the studios had previously produced, but it does make some attempt to flesh out the story. One of the twists made in this adaptation, is that it explores a little into Cinderella’s life before The Wicked Stepmother came to the fray. We therefore get a glimpse of not only her Father, but also her Mother (played by Hayley Atwell). Though it is interesting to gain a fuller perspective of our heroine’s past, the dialogue in these beginning scenes is somewhat sickly (The adult characters call each other – and Ella -“My darling” or “My love” every five seconds) and such overt sweetness only becomes more and more unbearable until the inevitable happens and both parents die.
Enter Blanchett’s Wicked Stepmother – The Lady Tremaine – who is most certainly dislikeable. But unlike other villains, she is not in anyway redeemed by traits such as a rapier wit or a sympathetic past. She is despicably cruel, but any attempts to somehow exemplify her character further are lost in the pantomime of Blanchett’s performance. Her Oscar-Winning talent is so painfully wasted in the ugly cackles and horribly vapid lines that she is made to do throughout the film. Though she looks the part, her revival of the character is – through the script more than anything – reduced to an empty caricature of her far more effective animated counterpart. Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera’s respective performances as the ugly stepsisters, Drizella and Anastasia, are similarly ostentatious but do succeed in adding some comic relief to the film.
James’ portrayal of the classic Disney Princess is perhaps one of the better performances in the film. Though the constant smiling and delicate, graceful movements can get a bit annoying, the vulnerability that James evokes – particularly when interacting with Blanchett’s Stepmother – is very well played and utterly believable. Madden’s Prince “call me Kit” Charming however, is not so three-dimensional. Far from his performance as Robb Stark in Game of Thrones, Madden doesn’t seem to be fully present in this role, with his (admittedly rather pretty) blue eyes looking almost as glassy as Cinders’ slippers for most of the movie. That and all the shamelessly cliché interactions between the two – all that ‘love at first sight’, gazing into each others eyes kinda stuff – is played somewhat stiffly on Madden’s part. For romantics and people who fancy Madden, there can be no doubt of enjoyment, but for the more cynical viewer, this relationship is perhaps not as believable or as engaging as it could be.
The film – like recent others of it’s kind, such as Into The Woods and Maleficent – is narrated by Helena Bonham-Carter’s Fairy Godmother. Though it could be argued that the role of the narrator is a staple of the fairytale genre, whether or not it actually elevates the film or even helps it move along faster, is questionable. In fact, most of Bonham-Carter’s external lines often state the obvious, or add an un-needed metaphorical flurry to what is happening. When she is on-screen however, Bonham-Carter is able to convince where Blanchett can’t; playing up to the pantomime element of her character without letting it dominate her performance. Granted, her “old lady” make-up looks like a mix between Julie Walters in Acorn Antiques and David Attenborough in a dress, but in her fairy gladrags, Bonham-Carter manages to pull off the fun, if slightly dippy role of the infamous wish-maker. The film doesn’t engage with the musical elements of the original animation too much, which is a particular shame when it comes to the Fairy Godmother; Bonham-Carter’s quick and garbled “bibbidi bobbidi boo’s” are really quite dissatisfying, especially when we all know – and are hopefully awaiting – the classic song.
Chris Weitz’s script is problematic in it’s clichés, but does manage to explore how the defunct magic transforms Cinderella’s coach back into a pumpkin – with her still inside – quite interestingly. However, as a whole, the film just doesn’t imprint as warmly as the animation does. For instance, the mice in this film -unlike the cutesy Jaq and Gus-Gus in the original animation – have little to no charm in their CGI likeness; nor do they feel as important, despite being heralded as Ella’s only friends for most of the film.
In their attempts to bring the film to life, Branagh and Disney have lost a large portion of the magical poignancy that the animation gave. For all its sparkle and embroidery, the film just can’t compete with the classic. Yes, it all looks very beautiful – from the pristine costumes to the ornate detailing of the palace interior – but ultimately it just lacks far too much substance, and takes on more clichés than it needs to.
Cinderella (2015), directed by Kenneth Branagh, is distributed by Walt Disney Studios, Certificate U.