All the way back in 2010, director Tim Burton Tim Burton-ified his way through Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, an adaptation that followed in the footsteps of the 1951 Disney film of the same name. When the film grossed over $1 billion at the box office, Disney followed suit with a slew of live action adaptations of classic children’s entertainment. 2013 saw the release of Oz the Great and Powerful ($493 million box office), next came the Sleeping Beauty-inspired Maleficent ($758 million box office) and now this year, we have Kenneth Branagh’s re-telling of Cinderella (god only knows).
Cinderella keeps its story nearly the same as its 50s counterpart. Upon the death of her parents, a young Ella (Downton Abbey‘s Lily James) is forced to do endless chores and remain ever faithful to her evil stepmother, the Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett). That is, until one day out the blue her magical, kooky Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter, because of course) appears out of nowhere to turn lizards into foot servants and pumpkin into golden carriage in order to get Cinderella to the ball in style. All so she can fall for and marry a man she met one time in a forest. Yay for the patriarchy.
Surprisingly enough, the 2015 re-imagining of Cinderella isn’t really terrible. It’s just not a re-imagining. This is the film’s biggest stumble. Back story is given to Cinderella’s parents and the filmmakers throw in a bit about how “Cinder” Ella got her name (weren’t you just dying to know?), but otherwise, Branagh and screenwriter Chris Weitz essentially leave the story as is. It just begs the question of why the film exists in the first place, you know, other than the obvious financial benefits.
Money grubbing and creative stagnancy aside, Cinderella is a finely made film to some extent. Particularly notable is the work of multiple Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell, who both modernizes the look of the outfits while staying true to the original themes of the source material. Her bright and colorful work in this film is absolutely stunning and definitely deserving of commendation.
Also worth praising is Cate Blanchett, whose role as Lady Tremaine is a gay man’s dream. Her elaborate hand gestures, scowls and demonic glares are incredible fun. She somehow managed to create a character who, while absolutely ridiculous, is also finely tuned with such a skill that she never turns to scenery chewing. She successfully borders a fine line between camp and brilliance that is ultimately both satisfying and hilarious to watch. Her performance is often the film’s sole source of warmth.
Earlier this week, Disney announced a 2017 release date for their new Beauty and the Beast adaptation. This will follow Warner Bros.’ Peter Pan movie later this year, a Tim Burton-helmed Dumbo remake, a Jon Favreau Jungle Book re-hash starring Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray and, no surprise here, a sequel to Alice in Wonderland. Cinderella is great fun, and certainly entertaining enough to satisfy the mass of families who go to see it, but is that enough?
We should be grateful the cast and crew did their best with limited means, but nothing in this film is new or notable enough to warrant its existence. It feels as if it’s only a matter of time before they announce a live action version of The Little Mermaid starring Selena Gomez and Chris Pratt. That’s not progress. That’s just capitalism.