Cinderella

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DIR: Kenneth Branagh • WRI: Chris Weitz • PRO: David Barron, Simon Kinberg, Allison Shearmur • DOP: Haris Zambarloukos • ED: Martin Walsh • MUS: Patrick Doyle • DES: Dante Ferretti • CAST: Lily James, Hayley Atwell, Helena Bonham Carter, Cate Blanchett

For viewers who are au fait with recent animation and fairy tale adaptations aimed at young children, Cinderella may come as something of a shock. Here, there are no winking jokes and pop culture references to keep parents entertained while their offspring awe at flashing images and oscillating soundtracks that will improve impossible-to-evade for years to come. No, what writer Chris Weitz and director Kenneth Branagh present us with here is a film that prefers to get by on its charm alone.

Charming it is. From the settings, which owe as much to the Jane Cocteau’s 1946 film La Belle et La Bete, as they do to the legacy of Marie Antoinette and Belle Epoque-era France, to Cinderella and Prince Charming, this is a film that entertains its audience by being as pleasing and inoffensive as possible.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, of course, but Cinders’ compliancy with the demands of her controlling step-mother – masterfully played here by Cate Blanchett – and idiotic step-sisters does seem questionable to modern audiences raised in the post-feminist, post-Bechdel test era. Why in God’s name does she put up with them without at least resorting to passive aggression? To honour her deceased mother’s advice to always be to kind in this situation is to allow herself to be, at the very, least used.

It is the job of Downton Abbey alumna Lily James, who plays Cinderella, then to convince viewers that her core goodness is such that in spite of such treatment her spirit will never be broken. James is an excellent choice for Cinderella possessed with the kind of pure-skinned beauty and seeming lack of guile that could very much belong to both country girl and princess, and could no doubt charm a Prince into searching a kingdom for her.

Audience members aware of the fairy tale’s original metaphorical use for the glass slipper being the perfect fit for Cinderella’s dainty feet (they have sex) will no doubt be rewarded by the breathy ecstasy exhibited by James when Scots actor Richard Madden as the Prince (or ‘Kit’ as he prefers and if you really must) places the shoe on her foot. Perfectly safe for children to watch, it’s snortingly amusing in context.

Other joys to behold are the costumes worn by Cate Blanchett in a villainous turn as Cinders’ step-mother and the outfits worn by Sophie McShera and Holliday Granger as her step-sisters. Here, Blanchett not so much channels Joan Crawford as Faye Dunaway playing Crawford in Mommy Dearest, while wearing a range of acidically-toned New Look by Dior-style dresses – she really is quite fabulous. Meanwhile, the costumes her daughters wear appear to have been inspired by chi-chi lap dogs and made from discarded Quality Street wrappers. They too are fabulous in wholly horrifying ways.

These outfits though are not the ones audience members will have been waiting for. That privilege, of course, belongs to the sparkling blue ball dress worn by James when her fairy godmother (an oddly toothy Helena Bonham Carter) transforms her for a night at the ball. The blue glittery piece of silk chiffon puff with corset waist is meant to pay beautiful tribute to the gown worn in Walt Disney’s animated version of this story from 1950, and probably does. It also looks like something Sarah Ferguson, the notoriously badly dressed Duchess of York would have worn circa 1987 but, unlike, Cinders and her Prince, we cannot have it all.

 

Alisande Healy Orme

G (See IFCO for details)
105 minutes

Cinderella is released 27th March 2015

Cinderella – Official Website

 

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Looking Back…Disney Animated Classics: Cinderella (1950)

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Ellen Murray continues her series with a look back at how Disney took a risk on releasing Cinderella in the post-war market and explains its appeal.

 

The 1940s was not a good decade for Walt Disney. WWII had made it almost impossible to export American films to the European markets and the studio was suffering for it. Despite producing a number of critically acclaimed hits throughout the decade, such as Fantasia (1941) and Bambi (1942), none had been a box-office success and Disney Animation Studios was verging on the brink of collapse. As such Cinderella, being the first full-length animated film with a three-act narrative made by the studio in a number of years, had a lot riding on it. Luckily for Disney the film was a smash, both in the box office and with the critics. The film also marked Disney’s return to the classical fairy tale – something it had not focused on since the studio’s first major success, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, in 1937. As to whether or not Snow White or Cinderella was the first official ‘Disney Princess’ is still the hotly debated topic amongst girls (and boys of course!) in the schoolyard.

Perhaps the appeal of Cinderella lies in its relatability. After all, who doesn’t dream of magically achieving a life better than the one they currently have? Some people call it the ultimate tale of class transcendence but that is a rather glib interpretation. The moral behind the tale that most people buy into, and I would count myself amongst them, is that kindness and goodness will ultimately be rewarded while greed and cruelty will simply perpetuate the same, just as Lady Tremaine’s mean disposition is reflected in her two daughters. It’s true that this is an overly simplistic moral that doesn’t really hold any bearing in the real world but it’s a pleasant one all the same and through its simplicity the base concepts of integrity are conveyed to the film’s young audience. Maybe just be prepared to suspend disbelief. You never know ladies, your shoe size may one day be indicative of whether or not the love of your life is willing to marry you, or not! Disney’s adaptation is a decisively cleaner version as well – in the original fairy tale Cinderella’s step-sisters cut off their toes in an attempt to make the glass slipper fit. Truly a gruesome twosome.

Forgoing the self-mutilation in favour of friendly animal sidekicks and song, Disney’s Cinderella still makes for a charming watch. Feminists claim that the film poses a problematic precedent for young girls – namely that Cinderella is very passive and relies on the actions of others to achieve anything. The Prince (who is never actually given a name or indeed a personality) falls in love with her simply because she is beautiful. These criticisms are legitimate but to give Cinderella some credit what little we do get from her is pretty good. She’s kind, she works hard and she manages to retain a positive attitude even with her unfortunate circumstances. I know I would become bitter if I had to sleep in a draftee attic and wear dresses made by a bunch of rodents who were also my only companions.

Much of Cinderella’s pleasantness is down to her voice actress, Ilene Woods, who manages to make something of a pretty one-dimensional character. The voice acting throughout is actually executed perfectly, particularly in the form of icon Eleanor Audley’s Lady Tremaine (Audley would later go on to voice the badass that is Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty). What makes Lady Tremaine work so well is that we all know someone like her in real life; this character is subtle yet drastically over the top and, for all her airs, is just a downright scornful bitch. She’s the perfect foil for the perfect Cinderella. For all the forced comedy in the film, courtesy of the animal characters, there’s also a surprising amount of more nuanced jokes scattered throughout. For example, when Cinderella first arrives at the palace for the ball we get a quick shot of the guards trying to get a sneaky look at the mysterious beauty’s derriere. It’s what Dara O’Briain would call ‘Something for the Dads’.

Undoubtedly, the strongest element of the film is its animation. This is Disney after all and Disney is all about producing the best. The soft colours and fluidity of the film lend it a dreamy air that suits its fairy tale origins down to a tee. The scene where Cinderella’s dress is transformed into a magnificent ball gown was said to have been Walt Disney’s favourite piece of animation produced by his studio and it’s easy to see why. Her dress looks like a floating glittery cloud. The film is also very creative with how it allows its mice characters to move around the chateau, getting some very interesting shots and angles in. The songs make for nice listening too though they are very much of the time. Seriously, try getting Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo out of your head. You can’t, can you?

Cinderella may not have been one of Disney’s most ground-breaking works but it contains enough striking imagery to retain its place in the pantheon of animated classics. It delivers on what it promises and, for many, remains the epitome of classic Disney. Let’s be honest, any film that can make glass shoes seem wearable contains a special brand of enduring magic.

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