Movie Review – Cinderella (2015)

Released this past weekend was Cinderella, a live-action version of the story released by Walt Disney Pictures.

In 1950, Walt Disney released Cinderella as its twelfth full-length animated film.  Cinderella impressed the audiences and quickly became one of many classic animated films.  Cinderella was so popular that it inspired the fairy tale castle located in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.

And now in 2015, Cinderella has returned to the theaters.  Just like 2014’s Maleficent, this version of Cinderella is not only live-action, but it’s also different than the animated version that you know and love.

Cinderella (2015) - movie poster

Cinderella (2015) – movie poster

Directed by Kenneth Branagh, Cinderella stars Lily James in the title role of Ella (a.k.a. Cinderella), a young lady tormented by her evil stepmother.  Co-starring in the film are Cate Blanchett as Lady Tremaine, Richard Madden as Prince “Kit” Charming, Stellan Skarsgard as the Grand Duke, and Helena Bonham Carter as The Fairy Godmother.  The film’s music was created by Patrick Doyle.

Frozen Fever

The theatrical release of Cinderella included an animated short called Frozen Fever, starring everybody’s favorite characters from Frozen.  The cartoon involves a story where Queen Elsa prepares a surprise birthday part for her sister, Anna.  Sven and Olaf guard the birthday cake (an ice cream cake, of course), while Elsa goes and wakes her sister.  When Anna wakes from her sleep, she realizes that it’s her birthday, and she’s elated.  Allegedly this is her first birthday that Anna will celebrate with Elsa since the two of them were young children.

The only problem is that Queen Elsa is coming down with a cold.  Whenever she sneezes, out pop several Snowgies, little snowmen.  That doesn’t stop Elsa, and she insists that she’s not catching a cold.  Instead, Else starts singing “Making Today a Perfect Day” (yet another catchy song —– you’ve been warned!) as she leads Anna around the castle and shows her gifts.  Anna joins the singing, and Sven and Olaf do as well.  The song ends as Elsa tires and nearly falls off a ledge.  She admits that she really *does* have a cold.

In the courtyard, Sven and Olaf struggle to keep the little Snowgies (they number around a hundred near the end) from eating Anna’s birthday cake.

When Anna leads Elsa back to her room to get some rest, they enter the courtyard and Anna is surprised by the birthday party.  She’s thrilled that everybody did so much work to celebrate her special day.  Anna then takes Else to her room and says that the best birthday gift is being able to care for her sick sister.

Frozen Fever also has brief cameos by Hans and Marshmallow (the giant snow monster from the film).

The cartoon itself is short and entertaining.  There’s no doubt that fans of Frozen will love it.

Cinderella

Cinderella begins with the birth of a baby girl, Ella, to her wealthy parents.  Her parents live in a large estate out in the countryside of a peaceful kingdom.

When Ella is a young girl, her mother (Hayley Atwell) teaches her to be kind to all people, even the animals in the yard.  Even though the animals do not speak our language, they can still hear and understand people.  The girl quickly befriends all of the animals, from the geese to the tiny mice.

On day Ella’s mother suddenly contracts a fatal illness.  There’s nothing that the village’s doctor can do.  On her deathbed, her mother makes Ella promise that she will always have courage and to show kindness to others.  Her mother dies and it’s now Ella and her father (Ben Chaplin) along with the estate’s servants.

Time passes and Ella and her father’s grieving eases.  One day when Ella (Lily James) is older, her father asks Ella if it would be okay for him to seek happiness in the form of another wife.  Ella gives him her permission, and he tells her that his old acquaintance died, and he wishes to marry his recently widowed wife.

The estate becomes lively again when Ella’s father’s new wife, Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett), arrives, complete with her two daughters, Drisella (Sophie McShera) and Anastasia (Holliday Grainger).  Accompanying them is Lucifer, Lady Tremaine’s cat.  Immediately it’s clear that none of the ladies are that pleased with living at the estate, especially with its “old fashioned” decorations.

As soon as Lady Tremaine settles into the estate, she’s already throwing lavish parties and spending the family’s money.  Her spending forces Ella’s father to spend more time on the road to conduct business deals and earn more money for his family.

When Ella’s father is about to leave for his next business trip (each trip lasts a few months), Ella begs him not to leave.  She wants him to stay at the estate.  He must leave, so Ella asks him to bring her back a special gift.  She wants him to remove the first tree branch that touches him on his journey.  That way throughout the trip he’ll always see the branch and think about her, and when he returns, she’ll know that he thought about her when he was gone.  Meanwhile, Drisella and Anastasia ask for him to bring back fancy clothing from distant lands.

After her father leaves, Ella gets back into her normal routine of being cheerful around the house and helping the servants with their work.  When Lady Tremaine hears Ella refer to her as her stepmother, she tells Ella that she would prefer to be addressed as “madame.”  Of course, neither Drisella or Anastasia have to address their mother that way.  When Drisella and Anastasia complain that their room is small, Ella volunteers her large bedroom to be given her stepsisters to help make them more comfortable.  In return, Lady Tremaine recommends that Ella goes and lives in the estate’s spacious attic.  Even though the attic is dirty, bare, and very uncomfortable, Ella makes the best of it and goes on with her life.

More bad news arrives when the family learns that Ella’s father caught a cold and died during his travels.  The tree branch that he carried is given to Ella, and she knows that he was always thinking about her, just as he promised.

The death of Ella’s father is a transition point where Lady Tremaine’s darker side is revealed.  She immediately dismisses the estate’s servants in a move to save money.  Since work still has to be done to feed the family and maintain everything, and it’s clear that neither Lady Tremaine, Drisella or Anastasia are going to step up and do any work, Ella becomes the estate’s sole worker.  She does everything around the estate from cooking to cleaning to mending any fabric or article of clothing.

On one particularly cold night, Ella has to sleep downstairs next to the hearth so that the last few embers can help keep her warm.  When she wakes in the morning, her face is covered in soot and ash.  Her stepmother is shocked that somebody that dirty would be preparing and serving them breakfast.  Her stepsisters poke fun at Ella and the cinders on her face.  They give her the nickname “Cinderella,” and even Lady Tremaine calls her that name.

When Ella sets herself a plate at the table, Lady Tremaine tells her that it wouldn’t be right.  Instead, it would be better if Ella would have a meal after her chores were finished.  Ella is shocked by her stepmother’s cruelty, and flees the house and goes for a horseback ride into the woods.

In the woods, Ella is startled when she encounters a large deer.  She hears the horns of a hunting party, so she tells the deer to run away and flee.  The deer does and the hunters give it chase.  Ella then meets one of the hunters, a young man named Kit (Richard Madden).  It’s clear that the two of them immediately like each other.  Kit tells Ella that he lives in the palace, and that he’s studying as an apprentice.  When the other hunters find them, Ella leaves before telling Kit her name.

When Kit returns to the palace, we learn that he’s really the sole prince to a dying king (Derek Jacobi).  As a prince, it’s his duty right now to find a suitable princess so that the kingdom will be stable when the king dies and the prince assumes the throne.  The king tells his son that an ideal princess is one who will help strengthen the kingdom’s borders.  The Grand Duke (Stellan Skarsgard) helps push this idea.

It’s decided that an extravagant ball will be held at the palace in two weeks.  There the prince will find and choose his future wife.  Since the prince really wants to speak with the girl that he recently met in the woods, he convinces his father to allow him to invite all ladies to the ball, whether they are princesses or just ordinary women.

Ella happens to be in the local village when the announcement is made concerning the ball and that the prince will use it to select his wife.  Excited about the news, Ella races back to her family’s estate and shares the information with the others.  Lady Tremaine is thrilled about the possibility of marrying into royalty (namely for the wealth and power), and she orders Ella to race back into the village and to order three gowns from the seamstress.  At first Ella thinks that her stepmother is being kind and allowing her to go to the ball, but Lady Tremaine quickly stomps that idea.  She insists that the three dresses are for herself and her two daughters.

Back at the palace, the prince just cannot get his mind off the girl that he met in the woods.  When he’s attending his fencing practice, the Captain of the guards (Nonso Anozie), notices that the prince cannot keep his mind in focus.  He’s in love with a girl that he barely knows.

Two weeks later, everybody from around the kingdom arrives to attend the ball at the palace.  All of the eligible ladies are there to compete for the prince’s attention.  On the evening of the gown, Ella tries to join her stepmother and stepsisters by attending the ball in a gown that she made herself.  It’s really one of her mother’s old gowns, and Ella (with some help from the mice, though it’s really now shown) mended it into something for herself to wear.

Lady Tremaine stops Ella.  She claims that Ella cannot wear such an ugly gown as it would be a disgrace to the ball, and it would be too much of a distraction.  She and the stepsisters then “accidentally” rip parts of the gown, ruining it and ensuring that Ella would stay home at the estate.  This breaks Ella’s heart and runs into the gown.  She just doesn’t understand why her stepmother is being so mean and cruel towards her.

As Ella is upset, she encounters an old beggar woman sitting in the garden.  Ella remembers her mother’s lessons, and she helps the woman by giving her a cup of milk.  The beggar woman then reveals herself to actually be Ella’s Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter).  Her Fairy Godmother has been watching Ella over the years, and now it’s time to reveal herself and give Ella a little bit of help.

The Fairy Godmother uses her magic to change a pumpkin into a carriage.  The magic is done inside of a small greenhouse, and the structure itself becomes part of the carriage, making it even fancier and more elaborate.  She then uses her magic to change the four mice into four horses to pull the carriage, two lizards into two footmen, and a goose into a coachman to drive the carriage.  “I can’t drive. I’m a goose.

Up next is Ella’s turn.

Once again the Fairy Godmother uses her magic, and Ella’s mother’s gown is transformed into a fancy blue gown that’s sure to gain the prince’s attention.  Ella is concerned that her stepmother and stepsisters will recognize her, so the Fairy Godmother casts a spell to make Cinderella unrecognizable to the three of them.  When stepping into the carriage, the Fairy Godmother changes Ella’s ordinary shoes into magical glass slippers.  Just before the carriage departs, her Fairy Godmother warns Ella that the magic won’t last forever, and the spell will be broken on the clock’s final strike at midnight.

The carriage races away and quickly reaches the palace.  By that time all of the other guests have just arrived, and Ella is alone when she climbs the staircase and enters the palace.  She reaches the grand ballroom and is given an introduction.  Ella recognizes Kit and realizes that he is actually the Prince of the kingdom.  Kit recognizes Ella, and he gives her the honor of having the first dance of the ball.

Kit’s fascination with this unknown woman infuriates the Grand Duke as he’s been scheming to have Kit marry a different princess.  Lady Tremaine happens to overhear this conversation, and she promises the Grand Duke not to tell anybody.  The Grand Duke then has his people go through the invitations and announcements in order to learn the princess’s name, but nobody can find it.  It’s as if she just appeared out of nowhere.

After the first dance, Kit refuses to dance with anybody else.  He’s in love with Ella, but he still doesn’t even know her name.  He leads her outside and shows her his secret garden, a place that only he knows about.  Ella and Kit fall in love with each other, but Ella is afraid to tell him her true identity.

Just as Kit is trying to learn her name, Ella hears a clocktower strike a chime for 11:59 pm.  Knowing that the spell is only moments away from breaking, Ella dashes out of the palace and runs down the stairs to her waiting carriage.  On the stairs she loses one of her glass slippers.  There’s no time to retrieve it, so Ella boards the carriage and they race out of the palace.

Kit sends the Grand Duke after her, and the Duke and his men give chase on horseback.  They nearly catch the carriage until the spell starts to break, and one of the footmen uses his lizard tail to close a gate and stop the pursuing riders.  The rest of the spell breaks and everybody returns to their original animal form.  The carriage converts back into a pumpkin, and it crashes and breaks open, freeing Ella.

Despite her abrupt ending, Ella is elated to have attended the ball and spent the night with Kit, the prince of the kingdom.  She still has one of the glass slippers.

Ella returns to the estate just before her stepmother and stepsisters return home.  Lady Tremaine is especially upset the way that some unknown girl stole the heart of the prince.  She notices that for some reason Ella seems to be overly happy, and this makes Lady Tremaine suspicious.

That night, Ella hides the glass slipper in a secret hiding spot in the floor of the attic.  She then writes about the event in her diary so that she’ll remember it years later.

Just after the ball, the king takes a turn for the worse.  Kit visits his father one last time, and he convinces the king to allow him to marry for love, and not just to strengthen the kingdom.  The king dies and Kit assumes the throne.

After the death of the king, the Grand Duke tries to convince Kit to marry one of the other princess.  Kit reluctantly agrees to the marriage, but he still wants to find the girl that he fell in love with at the ball.  He has her glass slipper.  She must be somewhere in the kingdom.  It’s just a matter of finding her.

An announcement is made that every maiden in the kingdom is to try on the slipper.  Ella desperately wants to grab her glass slipper and take it to the palace.  She races home and returns to the attic, but her glass slipper is missing.  Sitting there in the attic is her stepmother, and she’s holding the glass slipper.

Lady Tremaine proceeds to tell Ella about her own life story, about how she first married for love.  When her first husband died, she then married for wealth and to support her two daughters.  And now that she knows Ella is the mysterious princess who stole the prince’s heart, she plans to use Ella to her advantage.  Lady Tremaine tells Ella that she will marry the prince, and she will then make herself the head of the royal family.  Lady Tremaine will then have the power to find suitable (i.e. wealthy) husbands for her daughters.

Ella refuses to take part in her stepmother’s plan.  Lady Tremaine then smashes the glass slipper and locks Ella inside the attic.

Lady Tremaine then races to the palace and presents the Grand Duke with the remains of the broken glass slipper as proof of the mystery princess’s identity.  She blackmails the Grand Duke into giving her the title of countess, and also finding worthy husbands for her daughters.  Otherwise, the kingdom will know that the mystery princess will never be discovered, and the prince will never truly be happy.

The Grand Duke agrees to Lady Tremaine’s demands.  He then takes the remains of the broken glass slipper to Kit, hoping that he would see that it’s useless to search the kingdom for a single girl.  However, seeing the broken slipper only spurs him to take action, and Kit orders for the Grand Duke and the Captain of the guards to take the remaining glass slipper and try it on all of the maidens in the kingdom.

The men leave and they travel the kingdom, visiting every home and having all of the women try on the glass slipper.  All of the woman are rejected by the magic still inside of the glass slipper.

The guards near the end of their journey when they spot one last estate in the distance.  It turns out to be Ella’s family’s estate, and Lady Tremaine is glad to welcome the Grand Duke into her home.  Both Drisella and Anastasia try on the slipper, and the glass slipper rejects both of them.

Upstairs in the attic, Ella is lost in her own thoughts and singing “Lavender’s Blue,” an old song that Ella’s mother used to sing to her when she was a young child.  The mice know that the king’s guards are downstairs.  All they has to do is hear Ella’s voice, and then they’ll find her locked in the attic.  The mice work together and manage to open a window, allowing Ella’s voice to be heard outside of the estate.

Finding the true owner of the glass slipper appears to be a lost cause until the Captain hears the soft music.  Lady Tremaine tries to convince him that nobody else is inside of the estate.  The Grand Duke knows the secret and tries to stall the Captain, insisting that it’s late in the day and they don’t have time to search the estate for a girl that allegedly does not exist.

Suddenly one of the guards removes his hood and we see that it’s Kit in disguise.  Kit also hears the singing, and he orders the Captain to find the girl.  The Captain goes up to the attic and he discovers Ella.  When he tries to take her downstairs to see the king, Lady Tremaine interferes.  She claims that as the girl’s *mother* she has the power to keep Ella inside of the attic.  Ella swears that Lady Tremaine has never been her mother, and the Captain orders Lady Tremaine to stand aside.  Whether Lady Tremaine likes it or not, Ella is being escorted downstairs to meet the king.

When Kit sees Ella, he recognizes her from the ball.  Sure enough, her foot perfectly fits the glass slipper.  Ella is eager to leave with Kit and to marry him.  Before leaving the estate, Ella looks back at her mother and forgives her.  We learn that the Grand Duke was later forced to leave the kingdom, taking with him Lady Tremaine and her two daughters.

Back at the palace, Kit and Ella are married and crowned as king and queen.

Cinderella ends with the Fairy Godmother narrating the story and telling us how Kit and Ella became the kingdom’s most beloved monarchs, ruling with the courage and kindness that Ella had promised to her mother.

FINAL THOUGHTS

So is Disney’s live-action version of Cinderella any good?

Yes, very much so.

Be sure to take note of a few key points though before you go out and see this movie.

First, this version of Cinderella is not a musical.  The only singing is when Ella’s mother sings in the beginning, and then Ella sings the same song towards the end.  That’s it.  Mice do not sing while helping Ella make her dress for the ball.  The Fairy Godmother does not sing while using her magic to help Ella.

If you sit through the end credits, you will hear Lily James sing “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” and then Helena Bonham Carter sing “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo (The Magic Song).”  It’s great that those two classic songs from 1950’s Cinderella are included in this version, but neither song has a segment for it in the movie.

Second, do not expect to find talking animals in this movie, or a whole lot of interaction with the animals.  Technically, the mice do briefly speak in something that sounds like English, but these are very quick parts and you have to listen closely.  The only time when the animals truly “talk” is when the Fairy Godmother changes them into humans to help operate the carriage.

While the mice are major characters in the 1950 version of the film, here they have quick scenes scattered here and there throughout the film.  The mice mainly serve a purpose of interacting with Ella and helping to boost her spirits when she’s feeling sad and lonely.  We know that the mice help Ella make her dress for the ball, but that’s a very short scene in this movie.  The 1950 animated version of Cinderella had a whole musical number where the mice and birds made a surprise dress for Cinderella.

It’s the same situation with Lucifer, Lady Tremaine’s cat.  He’s in the movie, but there are only one or two brief scenes when he tries to catch the mice.  Otherwise, we barely see him.

Third, this version of Cinderella is a chick flick.  It’s also not really geared towards younger children, especially young boys.  Don’t grab the kids and think that this will be just like watching the animated version of the movie.  This version is slightly darker, and there are three character deaths that serve as turning points in the story.  The death of Ella’s mother may be particularly sad for the audience.

For me, the only negative spot in Cinderella was Helena Bonham Carter’s performance as the Fairy Godmother.  She’s a little annoying in the role, and she makes the Fairy Godmother seem too quirky and amateurish.  Her version of the character definitely does not have the charm or loveable aspect of the Fairy Godmother from the 1950 animated movie.

But that’s really it.

Cinderella (2015) – movie trailer

Overall, this live-action version of Cinderella is a great adaptation of the classic fairy tale, and it’s a fantastic movie as a whole.  The scenery throughout the kingdom is especially good.  It’s definitely well-worth your time to see this movie in the theaters.  As it was mentioned earlier, the theatrical showing also includes Frozen Fever, a cartoon featuring the characters from Frozen.

Disney has another winner on its hands with Cinderella.  This is a reminder of how good, family-friendly movies should be made.

four stars

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