Family Movie Review: Cinderella (PG)

Cinderella ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernal

MPAA Rating: PG       Length: 122 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 7+. The film is a live-action remake of Disney's animated classic 'Cinderella': there are many parents who pass away, the protagonist is bullied and mistreated (and called a "hussy" at one point), adult characters drink and smoke, there is some cleavage and various heaving busoms because of the corseted costumes, a lizard who is magically transformed into a man snatches and eats a fly out of the air, and there are a few almost kisses and only one actual liplock between a married couple.

Wonderfully and whimsically adapted, Disney's latest live-action update of a classic tale, 'Cinderella,' does its origin story justice. It's a gorgeous, moving film that pairs excellently with its predecessor.

By Roxana Hadadi

If you're a Disney person, you probably have particular memories that you associate with each of their films. I always watched "The Lion King" with my father; I always watched "Beauty and the Beast" with my mother; and I always watched "Cinderella" with my grandmother. She only knew about 10 words of English, but she adored every narrative twist and turn of that 1950 classic; she hummed along to the songs; she cooed every time the fairy godmother showed up to transform Cinderella's life. And given how nicely the 2015 update of "Cinderella" has turned out, I think my grandmother, language barrier and all, would have loved this version, too.

Aside from continuing to dominate the world of animation with the likes of "Frozen" (a sequel for which has just been announced, and a related short, "Frozen Fever," actually airs before "Cinderella") and the Oscar winner "Big Hero 6," Disney is heavily expanding into live action with these remakes of their classic films. There was last year's "Maleficent"; now there is "Cinderella"; coming in the fall is a version of "The Jungle Book" directed by Jon Favreau; currently filming is "Beauty and the Beast," starring Emma Watson of the "Harry Potter" films; and it was announced this week that Tim Burton (who helped spark this craze with his mega-hit update of "Alice in Wonderland") will helm a "Dumbo" reboot.

Who knows how good any of those will be ("Dumbo" seems especially questionable), but for now, "Cinderella" will certainly do. It's a gorgeously imagined remake of the story we all know—evil stepmother, handsome prince, stroke of midnight, glass slipper—that benefits not only from exquisite production design but a strong sense of its own characters. Equal attention was parceled out by director Kenneth Branagh (of "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit") and his team to the unbelievable costumes, the appreciated nods to the original film, the character development of everyone from protagonist to prince, the sweeping cinematography, on and on and on. It's simultaneously true to the fantastical nature of "Cinderella" while also grounding it in real feelings of loss and resentment, courage and kindness, and it translates practically flawlessly.

The story is this: Ella (Lily James, of "Wrath of the Titans") grows up adored by her parents, learning to love every animal and flower and person that crosses her path, until her mother suddenly passes away, leaving her with the parting words "Have courage, and be kind." Inspired by that mandate, Ella grows into a beautiful, open-hearted, brave young woman, but she can't alone temper her father's loneliness; nevertheless, she is ready to accept her new stepmother (Cate Blanchett, of "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies") and her two stepdaughters with open arms. Except for where the stepsisters call her palatial family home a "farmhouse," and her stepmother is more concerned with smoking, gambling, drinking, and redecorating than loving her father or getting to know Ella—and when Ella's father dies on a business trip and the family is left without any income, things only get worse.

Soon Ella is relegated to the drafty attic; forced to do all the housework; and unable to have any human interaction whatsoever as her stepmother and stepsister take over the home with their vapid, terrible ways (granted, they also have some amazingly sequined, draped, structured, and patterned outfits, but still). Finally pushed to the breaking point, one day she rides out into the forest, where she unexpectedly meets Kit (Richard Madden), who tells her he's an apprentice but just so happens to be the prince. They're enthralled with each other, but his father wants him to marry a princess who will benefit the kingdom politically, and Ella doesn't think her stepmother or stepsisters would ever let her have any happiness of her own ... until the ball is announced. And the fairy godmother shows up. And the rest of the story goes how you remember it, but with enough tweaks and twists that you'll be pleasantly surprised and wholly charmed.

What Branagh and screenwriter Chris Weitz (who has also been tapped to write the upcoming first "Star Wars" spinoff film about Princess Leia, "Rogue One") do so well is their primary task: modernizing the story. It's an achievement built not only on special effects (the CGI sequences are mostly well done, although sometimes it looks like Ella's body or ballgown were altered in post-production, which is somewhat off-putting) but also on the inclusionary nature of the plot: there are people of color prominently included as townspeople, courtly advisors, nobility, and royalty; we get to see Ella's relationship with her parents and how they shaped her; the prince gets to have an actual personality; the stepmother is self-aware of her evilness in a way that makes you almost sympathetic. The Cinderella narrative is transformed here from one that is merely about her to one that actively engages her, and it's welcome and wonderful.

This couldn't have been pulled off without a well-rounded cast, though, and "Cinderella" benefits from a solid performance from James, a playful one from Madden, and an exceptional one from Blanchett, who alters your perception of the stepmother with just one line (the tragically open-ended "You are young and innocent and good, and I..."). The film places an emphasis, over and over again, on considering the world as "how perhaps it could be," and it's that clear-eyed optimism that will leave you loving this version of "Cinderella." (Well, that, and Blanchett's outfits. Not enough can be said about the outfits.)

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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