I was not excited about taking a gaggle of young girls to see this movie, and had resigned myself to sitting through it and studiously taking notes for this post. Within ten minutes, my notebook and pencil were forgotten and I was pulled in. I couldn't imagine what might be done differently to make this story, that has been told in so many ways, new and different. There have even been recent film remakes that were exceptional, so what would these folks do that no one else had done before? I wondered if Spiderman and Cinderella had the same career counselor. And yet...I was wrong. I fully and openly admit, I was completely mistaken. This version is a visual delight but the best part is that the characters come off as real people with history, depth and an emotional texture that makes the movie engaging and fresh.
I normally have just a single book to compare movies to but with Cinderella there is a vast and varied body of previous work. Cinderella has been retold in several books and other mediums over the last millennia. I can’t really compare the movie I saw yesterday with the vast body of work that makes up the linage of Cinderella, but I can give you a short history lesson and differentiate it from other recent film versions. Cinderella is a classic plot trope and has been around literally since people started telling stories.
Images are owned by Disney.
The most common attributed origin is the Brothers Grimm Tale Aschenputtel or The Little Glass Slipper (Cendrillion ou La Petite Pantoufle de verre) by Frenchman Charles Perrault. However, the oldest written version of Cinderella was commonly accepted as the story of Rhodopis, a Greek slave girl who married an Egyptian king in 7 BC. The story was put to ink by the Greek historian Strabos. The story is present in nearly every culture though without glass slippers, fairy Godmothers and mice that transform into horses. There are even ballets and operas that celebrate Cinderella’s happily ever after.
Cover image here is a public domain image.
There are some interesting variations I discovered as I researched the literary family tree of the story. In some, instead of dying, the father is a villain as well, and takes an active role in Cinderella’s descent from gentlewoman to servant. In others, there is no stepmother only true older sisters who persecute the young, beautiful, favored daughter and the parents are not addressed at all. In the Italian version, it is the stepfather who oppresses Cinderella. In the modern movie, Ever After the fairy Godmother is a man, the famed inventor and scholar Leonardo De Vinci no less.
In some stories there are up to three balls. In some, the fairy godmother is the ghost of Cinderella’s dead mother who is called by Cinderella weeping and praying at her grave, not her crying on a bench in the chateau’s rose garden. In the Chinese Cinderella (Ye Xian), the fairy godmother is actually a golden fish. There are even a few stories in Arabian Nights that echo the theme.
So what was it like?
So on to what make this version so engaging... First and foremost ,the characters are given a real backstory and emotions that make sense. The wicked stepmother is snarky, as well as mean, with a laugh like nails on a chalkboard. Cinderella is not all bubbly and optimistic as she is being oppressed. She takes it with grace and humility, and she is brave and kind but she reacts like a normal person might and is hurt, humiliated and emotionally devastated at times. The emotional depth makes her much more appealing. She is given the tattoo worthy tagline "Have courage and be brave" from her dying mother early on but never makes it appear easy to live that way. I liked that aspect of her portrayal very much.
Ever After poster by 20th Century Fox Studios.
Earlier I mentioned another popular modern film version of Cinderella, Ever After with Drew Barrymore and Dougray Scott. This current version varies from Ever After mainly because, while it is just as whimsical in spirit, it does not hold to the historical accuracy of Ever After and maintains more of its magical feel. Cinderella gives a nod to historical accuracy with its lavish sets and costumes, but there are modern, fun things that give the current turn an almost Tim Burton feel without going over the top. Speaking of magical and Tim Burton, Helena Bonham Carter is so perfectly suited in her role as fairy godmother I can’t think of anyone who could have done it better. When it comes to being a genius at quirky, I think it would be difficult for find better than Carter. She will captivate adults and children alike during her brief appearance.
While I was not overly impressed with Cate Blanchette as the wicked stepmother, the two stepsisters were not “ugly” this time around. Instead, the two were quite pretty and inversely unpleasant and shallow personality wise, strengthening the theme of outward appearances can be deceiving. They do have some great one liners for the discerning adult who is listening for them. The addition of Nonso Anozie as the prince’s captain of the guard was a stellar choice. His classical training and generally amazing stage presence make the scenes with him and the prince a pleasure to watch.
Another aspect that departed from previous film versions is the prince is given a some emotional depth, and the story is much stronger for it. He is dealing with his kingdom, the pressures of being monarch soon and the pressure to marry a princess he does not care for. After the ball he is ridiculed by his advisers for wanting to find this flighty mystery princess. He takes some of the criticism a prince might actually encounter given the situation.
*Minor spoiler alert" In this version. the king, who is a loving father and unquestionably kind and wise, is dying and we see the beloved prince lose his father. The moment is awful and sad, and it makes him far more engaging than the typical handsome face seen in other versions. And he is quite handsome in this movie. I am not sure what color blue his contacts are but somehow his eyes always seem to match his blue cravats. He carries off the dashing prince quite well. When I was searching for a still of him to include I was quite surprised to see his press shots from Game of Thrones. I am an avid GoT fan, and I did not even recognize him. His demeanor is so different and in this movie his natural accent has been allowed. He is very different visually here compared to GoT. I never found him overly appealing looks or in general on the series, but he showcases a very different side of himself in this film.
I like that the animals in this version don’t talk. The movie maintains its whimsical flare with the animals being aware and clearly not normal mice but they are not vocal. As with the Disney animated version, the mice are Cinderella's only real companions but here they are mostly portrayed as just above average slightly personified mice.
The blue dress and waist-gate. I saw nothing about Cinderella in her blue dress that made me think she was too thin or intentionally exploiting a tiny waist. She is supposed to be a half starved servant girl, and really isn’t even thin enough in full view to pull that off. The accusation that Disney depicted her as having a tiny waist on purpose can be attributed to light, shadow in the photo and a good deal of people seeking click bait. It was downright ridiculous once you saw her in motion and not the stop motion still circulating the internet. The dress is vibrant and flowing with varying shades of blue and has shimmery butterflies around the neckline and sparkles all over. It is above average and pretty but nothing to write home about until she begins to dance. Then the dress becomes everything little girls might imagine a fairy tale princess dancing the night away in. All four of the little girls with me literally gasped the first time the prince turns Cinderella and the dress flares to life. Honestly, controversy aside it is fairly modest, tasteful and simply stunning when she moves in it.
As lovely as the blue dress is, it is nearly upstaged by the ivory floral wedding dress at the end, which was a whole new flavor of amazing. I can see why it is already on demand for fall brides. This picture does nothing to show off how beautiful it really is.
To close, I will only say the shoes are more breathtaking onscreen than they are in the press photos. The costume designer for this movie deserves a medal. The effects team should be in the running for a medal as well. This version brings all the visual wonder modern CGI can bring to the magical transformation scenes. The sequences where the animals and pumpkin transform and later deconstruct are particularly well done and amazing to watch.
So what did I think?
Overall, it was exceptional. The characters were better developed than I have seen in previous versions. There are some really brilliant plot twists that make the story work better than in previous versions which I have intentionally left out to prevent spoilers. Most of this movie is a foregone conclusion plot wise but not all of it. It is visually stunning and the CGI augmentation is done with a light hand in most places and where it is obvious it is dazzling, beautifully and wonderfully so. If you have a soft spot for Cinderella stories and amazing shoes, I highly recommend the 2015 version of Cinderella.
I would even go as far to say it could be considered fodder for date night. However, considering it is a live action movie with some very dark moments, I would not recommend it on the big screen (versus home viewing later) to children younger than five or six. There were two preschoolers in the viewing I attended and both were very upset at times due to the screen content. I would say it is fine for most school age kids and more mature little ones. However, it is not as tame as the animated Disney version and contains subtle adult themes (mostly about death and greed) rendering some tense moments here and there. Overall, I would recommend it to any of my friends and family with kids with no hesitation.
So how are the critics liking it opening weekend? Pretty well.
Fandango: 5 out of 5 stars
Rotten Tomatoes has it at 117 viewers throwing fresh tomatoes with 23 throwing rotten ones, with it pulling an overall 4.3 out of 5.
Movies.com is rolling in with 4 out of 5 stars from the staff critic and 4 out of 5 stars from the general site followers.
Roger Ebert has given it 3 out of 4 stars.
Thanks for checking out The Page and Screen. Until next time happy reading and don't hog the popcorn!
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