I apologize to all my readers for the hiatus, we’ve had a bit of a dry spell with movies and my 9-5 ( 6 to 5?) takes dominance in this time of year. Have to afford all these movie tickets somehow neh? I remember my reaction for this particular films teaser with just a long tracking shot of the glass slipper and hearing that Kenneth Branagh was expected to direct. Overall though I did not have a lot of faith in the live action version of the film as Disney is hit and miss with me on their conversions. Alice in Wonderland was garbage and I enjoyed Maleficent as examples. I was cautious about this film and have made an active choice to avoid reading anything about its production including casting. I find out in the 11th hour that Helena Bonham Carter is in the role of the fairy godmother and my heart sinks a bit.
So where does Cinderella fall? Does the slipper fit and is it magic?
This might be one of the most adapted stories ever (Dracula holds the title last I checked) and has been made and remade ad nauseum for decades with varying degrees of success. In America the concept of a “Cinderella story” is a cultural norm that nearly everyone knows regardless of seeing the original animated. This is one of the Disney flagships with Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. The original three princesses that in my opinion have defined the studio as much as the Mouse has. Who does Disney hand the reigns to adapt the story for the big screen to? Chris Weitz, the man behind the box office bomb The Golden Compass and the direct of the Twilight sequel New Moon. Excuse me while I examine the water in the Mouse House and wonder what the production team was thinking. Alright, it’s been eight years since his last script, he could have gotten better right? I am not sure. The story does next to nothing new, it almost does less than nothing new and that is a feat in and of itself. Should I blame the writer if he was told to just make the original film over again?
Does blame fall on the directors chair instead? Kenneth Branagh’s career began to boost to life with Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (a veritable catapult to the mainstream), Othello, and Hamlet. With that pedigree the man should easily be able to take a fairy tale and bring it to life. He is a near expert at the period piece conversion from writing to screen with the Bard being his go to guy. Yet, these are the drama’s of Shakespeare. Not his fantasies, not his comedies. So instead of giving the writer the brunt of my disdain I send it Branagh’s way. Sure he has been nominated for the Oscar and Golden Globe a combined 8 times, but not every director is successful on every film. Again I feel the studio had some pretty tight reigns on him, yet within those constraints he still failed.
Let me be clear, had I not been seeing it with someone I may have walked out during the first act from pure boredom. I was bored and even mildly annoyed by what I was being given for too much of the movie. It was unnecessary, bloated, and significantly weaker than many of its cheaper counterparts over the decades. I know the actors here are better than they gave us and that allows me to blame the director for the greatest flaws within the film. How Blanchet moves as Lady Tremaine is right out of a stage production or comedy it is so exaggerated and over the top, but when you compare that to the others around here who are not performing the same way it sets her apart. This weakens one of Disneys greatest villains. The woman is evil. Maleficent is bad, but this woman is supposed to be a tangible evil that makes your skin crawl with only the great Tchernabog to beat her as the most evil. Did we get that? No. Blame I can lay solely at Branagh’s chair.
I am sure someone is reading this and thinking of other reviews they’ve heard or read. I am sure they think I might not like fantasy, fairy tales, or stories like this. Quite the contrary. I *love* a good fairy tale. I love the idea of a fairy godmother. I want to be the fairy tale princess. I need fairy tales in my life and they count among my favorite films. That is why this movie is such a sin to me. For the better part of the movie it is just dull. It has no magic and no life. It just seems to be for no other reason than it can be.
Surely something is good? Yes. Cinderella herself, as played by Downton Abbey’s Lily James and The King in the North – Richard Madden (thats a game of thrones reference). Madden’s smile, sans Stark beard, can light up a room. He defines a prince charming here and is hands down the best character in the movie. James for her part isn’t given a lot of actual interaction with others, but is able to move herself through the picture in a way that allows her to steal the scene most of the time she is on screen. She does have one scene where my eyebrows went up wondering what direction she was being given but she gave whatever it was her all. Blanchet is entirely wasted here. Lady bloody Tremaine and she gets to do nothing. In his supporting role Nonso Anozie (Xaro Xhoan Dazos from Qarth – another Game of Thrones alumni) is another character who is just comfortably enjoyable on screen; while Helena Bonham Carter seemed to channel Jack Sparrow as her role model for the fairy godmother, right down to eye and body motions. It was actually a bit distracting.
Along the distracting lines – the CG work. I expect better. Some was not too bad, but when it was bad it was distractingly so. Places where practical effects would have come across a thousand times better had CG used to their detriment. It doesn’t give me hope for Beauty and the Beast.
I was nervous about the film. Sure. Sadly the film met those expectations and left me bored or annoyed for the better part of its running time. I have seen many review headlines that are contrary to my opinion and I am glad that they took something from it I didn’t. Neither I nor my partner for this viewing particularly enjoyed it. We found it lacking in many respects with out enough to bring it back up to a pass. It doesn’t do anything interesting or particularly new with the story and that works against it.
If you have kids that want to see it or are curious, matinee it at best. I think the kids may be a bit antsy in all the set up in Act I.
If you were on the fence about it, I have to advise against this movie. If you need a good Cinderella story watch the film Ever After. Drew Barrymore and Angelica Huston are incredible in that movie and it works end to end.
I as always am open to understand what I didn’t see. If you do see this and don’t agree with me – tell me please. I am curious to what you saw that I didn’t. In the meanwhile, I have two more reviews to write from films this week and hopefully some more reviews in the coming weeks as we ramp up once again towards summer blockbuster season.