—Michelle Xu and Katherine Chen—
Cinderella was the classic that saved Disney from bankruptcy in the 1950’s. The movie everyone grew up with. A timeless work of art that received critical acclaim from far and wide.
Unfortunately, when a movie achieves this much fame, it’s difficult to follow it up with something that even matches, let alone surpasses, the essence of the original. Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, can testify. And so can Cinderella III: A Twist in Time.
Just when everyone thought that Disney finally learned its lesson about making new Cinderellas, it released a new, live-action film of yet another Cinderella story. But unlike its two predecessors, this film seeks not to build on the previous ones, but to retell the original classic. Ultimately, this Cinderella successfully delivers a solid rendition of the famous tale. But beyond that, it does little to make itself truly stand out.
The plotline of the new adaptation does not have any major flaws, as expected of a recitation of a story that wasn’t flawed in the first place. Plot holes left in the original story were fixed, such as the strange fact that nobody who attends the royal ball is able to recognize Cinderella in her new gown. These details are all accounted for by the fairy godmother’s use of magic to prevent such things from happening.
While the new Cinderella sticks very closely to the original story, it does also attempt to introduce new thematic complexities in order to give the tale and the characters more depth. The film discusses social class divisions and the themes of unconditional love and forgiveness. However, the development of these themes is all too subtle, except perhaps for the last one, which is hammered into the viewer’s mind with the mindless, excessive repetition of the words, “Have courage, and be kind” throughout the duration of the movie.
This phrase helps develop the personality of the protagonist, Ella. In fact, it is the only development she receives at all. The other characters are also very one-dimensional. The film attempts to present the stepmother as an evil yet conflicted widow who experiences many hardships throughout her life, but it ultimately fails to make the viewer feel any real sympathy for her. Her ending feels like an unsatisfactory excuse to quickly get her out of the picture so that Cinderella can marry her prince.
Despite the lackluster character development, the actors perform their roles effectively. Lily James balances Cinderella’s altruism with clever sassiness. Cate Blanchett performance of the stepmother’s obnoxiously loud laugh and outbursts of conflicted rage is on point. And Helena Bonham Carter puts on a surprisingly humorous performance as the fairy godmother, even though the clumsy, bumbling personality of the godmother doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of the movie.
Most of the film’s humor seems forced. It mostly consists of pathetic slapstick jokes, with the lowest point of the film being the transformation of Cinderella’s carriage back into its original form as a pumpkin. Watching one of our favorite Disney princesses tumble and crash through the woods in a lumpy, oversized pumpkin feels like an unnecessary contrast to the dreamlike atmosphere of all the preceding scenes.
Ultimately, “Cinderella” plays it too safe, making only a few half-hearted attempts to deepen the original story. It’s a good retelling of a classic—but nothing more.