Disney’s live-action version of Cinderella is a bit of a mixed bag. Sure, it could be a whole lot worse than it is, but it also could be a whole lot better. It’s inoffensive, but it doesn’t exactly justify Disney’s recent obsession with turning their animated back catalogue into live-action films. So here’s a brief lists of the things I think worked for the new Cinderella, and the things that didn’t work.
It Means Well
While a straight up adaptation of Cinderella may seem a tad superfluous, seeing as Disney’s animated version is already synonymous with the House of Mouse, you have to appreciate that the live-action Cinderella isn’t trying to make the story into something “cool” or “edgy” to try to appeal to today’s audiences. It’s not trying to be hip or sexy. It’s just Cinderella. In this day and age, that’s kind of relieving.
It’s Better than Maleficent
Disney’s last attempt at turning one of their animated films into a live-action feature, Maleficent, was a bit of a mess. There wasn’t a single plot twist that didn’t feel both predictable and forced. It never knew whether it wanted to be a charming Disney movie or something (*cue Napoleon Dynamite-style groan*) darker and edgier. And its core relationship between Maleficent and Aurora never quite worked.
Cinderella, although lacking in surprises, at least knows what it’s going for. It may be the same story of Cinderella we all know, but I’ll take that over the clunkiness (and garish visuals) of Maleficent.
A Dash of Ethnic Diversity
Cinderella doesn’t aim for a whole lot of modernization, but it does have at least one respectably modern aspect about it. The movie acknowledges some diversity in the people of Cinderella’s kingdom without ever forcibly pointing it out, making it feel like a kind of idealized fairy tale world. However, there are still some areas that could have definitely benefitted from some modernization. More on that in a moment…
Thank God for Cate Blanchett, who steals every last scene she’s in as Lady Tremaine (AKA the Wicked Stepmother). She commands every last scene she’s in. It doesn’t matter that her character is ridiculously antagonistic, Cate Blanchett makes Lady Tremaine interesting based on performance alone. Even when the film is at its shakiest, Cate Blanchett helps liven things up.
Aww yeah! Frozen! Woo! Seriously, we all know the short film Frozen Fever is the primary reason Cinderella has done so well at the box office. People can’t get enough of their Frozen fix (self most especially included), and even seven minutes back in Arendelle is worth the ticket price.
First thing’s first, I like Lily James as Cinderella. She’s charming. But although she fits the part, the part in question is still stuck in a very backwards role. I mentioned that the film makes some modernizations in ethnic diversity, yet no such improvements are even attempted on Cinderella herself.
Cinderella is still the same helpless mope she always was, if not more so. As a child, her parents teach her to “be kind and courageous.” Good advice, except once Cinderella ends up in the household of Lady Tremaine and her new, wicked stepsisters, she interprets her parents’ words as “let cruel and vindictive people walk all over you and never stand up for yourself.” There’s a great deal of difference between being kindhearted and being a pushover.
It doesn’t help that Cinderella is never given any real defining qualities other than her longing for a better life. It never seems to don on her that maybe she can be the one to make her life better. When the day is finally saved not by the heroine, but by a group of CG mice, I think it’s a sign that Cinderella needs to stop being such a sad sack. She could learn a great deal from those two sisters from Arendelle.
Character Backstories That Don’t Go Anywhere
Again, you have to applaud the effort. This Cinderella does give a couple of attempts at fleshing out some of the main characters by giving them more detailed backstories. The problem is that these backstories are all kind of forced into the movie through monologues, and the story never benefits from them. Lady Tremaine gives one such monologue, and although the delivery is great, it ends up going nowhere. Sure, it tries to make Tremaine a more sympathetic character (though it’s pretty hard to sympathize with someone so unreasonably cruel), but it ultimately doesn’t change her character, or her relationship with Cinderella. Again, at least the movie tried to add some interest to the characters, but I suppose these things are easier said (through monologues) than done.
The Underutilized Fairy Godmother
I actually enjoyed Helena Bonham Carter’s take on the Fairy Godmother. The character seemed like she knew her role as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, but she got sidetracked on her way into the story, and kind of goes through the motions to make up for lost time. It’s a fun take on the character…for about two minutes, then she never shows up again. Granted, I wouldn’t want her to just magically get Cinderella out of all her jams (I’m looking your way, Blue Fairy from Pinocchio), but she’s a fun character who disappears all too quickly.
The Sidekicks Just Don’t Work
I don’t know if it’s the CG, or if it’s merely a result of the story’s transition to live-action, but the sidekicks never won me over. The mice may be cute, but something about them just comes off as sidetracking. Without the cartoonish personalities found in the animated version, they just kind of take up time. The same goes for the goose-turned-coachman and the lizards-turned-footmen (the former being charmless and the latter unnerving). The sidekicks are one aspect of the animated version that simply don’t translate in this live-action adaptation.
So Cinderella has its share of problems, but at least it has some good points as well. I’m still not onboard the whole Disney animation-turned live-action train, but at the very least Cinderella proves that, even with its missteps, this subcategory of Disney flicks isn’t entirely hopeless.