Cinderella (2015): An Old-Fashioned Heroine in Modern Times
It’s been sixty-five years since her introduction, and Cinderella prevails as the most renowned face of all the Disney princesses. Aurora might be more beautiful and Ariel more powerful, but Cinderella, adorned with her glass slippers and cute animal friends, is the princess many young girls secretly want to be.
Starting with last year’s Maleficent, Disney has been steadily releasing live action re-imaginings of their fairy tale classics. Despite lukewarm critical receptions, the film, which tells the story of Sleeping Beauty from the villain’s point of view, became a moderate hit, raking in a worldwide box office of $758,410,378 and popularizing Angelina Jolie’s extreme cheekbones as the film’s titular character. Following Frozen‘s colossal success in 2013, Maleficent‘s feminist narrative appeared to be the natural next step for Disney, and many thought that the studio would continue with the trend by releasing more progressive reboots of their many damsel-in-distress films. Hence, when it was announced that the new Cinderella adaptation will closely adhere to the storyline of its 1950’s predecessor, many became skeptical. By adopting such a dated narrative, how will the film satisfy the expectations of today’s audiences?
For those of you unfamiliar with the 1950s version, Cinderella follows the story of Cinderella (Lily James), a beautiful young girl living in a pleasant farmhouse with her loving mother (Hayley Atwell) and lordling father (Ben Chaplin). At first, all seems well in Cinderella’s life. She spends her days frolicking around the farmhouse with her parents while her servants coo at how great of a child she is. However, her happiness slowly crumbles with the passing of her mother, who unbeknownst to her, had been suffering from a mild cough. Cue the arrival of Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett), her new stepmother, and her two daughters (Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera), whose sole occupation is picking on Cinderella’s fashion sense, until her father also passes away on a trip and they’re able to torment her more openly. When a ball to find a bride for the Prince is held at the royal palace, Cinderella is banned from going by her stepmother. But not to worry! A mysterious woman appears, claiming to be Cinderella’s fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter). With a few flicks of her wand, Cinderella is given a makeover, along with a pair of sparkly glass slippers. Off to the ball she goes, winning the heart of Prince Charming (Richard Madden) in the process.
The first thing viewers will notice when they walk into Cinderella is its visual triumph. Every single scene bursts with crisp jewel tones, giving the film a truly magical look, while the set and costume designs elevate the universe into life. The visual effects are polished, blending seamlessly with the live-action, and almost none of the shots feel redundant. Considering the meager budget it had, when compared to the less stunning, but more expensive Maleficent, it’s beyond safe to say that Cinderella truly excels in the visual department. The film also boasts several strong performances, with Lily James giving a charming portrayal of Cinderella. Though she looks dissimilar to her animated counterpart, James embodies the character’s spirit perfectly and it’s difficult not to feel a glimmer of child-like wonder when watching her tattered dress transform into a vibrant blue number. Other actors, including Cate Blanchett and Richard Madden also deliver great performances, with Blanchett being a strong contender for “Best Evil laugh in a Disney Film.”
Visual achievement and strong performances aside, Cinderella remains a flawed film, with the casting of Nonso Anozie as the Captain being its most glaring pitfall. The character of the Captain was non-existent in the 1950s version, thus it can be presumed that the filmmakers had taken the liberty of adding a modern twist to the story by adding a character of a different race. But as wonderful as it is to see a person of color playing a pivotal role in a renowned whitewashed tale, the significance of Anozie’s casting raises quite a few questions. Was he cast because he simply was the best actor for the role? Or was he cast to satisfy the studio’s diversity quota? Is this the filmmakers’ way of appeasing contemporary audiences? Similar to the many characters of fellow actor of color, Djimon Honsou, Anozie’s character feels severely underdeveloped, as the Captain is two-dimensionally painted to be the stereotypical kind henchman whose only other defining trait is his physical majesty. It would’ve been wise to see the Captain expanded upon, perhaps with a mention about how he became Prince Charming’s most trusted friend, but taking into account Disney’s notorious racially-biased past, this is certainly a step in the right direction. Just imagine the look on Uncle Walt’s face if he could see Anozie in the film. That would’ve been priceless.
In terms of story, Cinderella is no Frozen or Maleficent, as it doesn’t lay any new groundwork for the studio’s feminist film repertoire. Nevertheless, to claim that the film doesn’t have an empowering message of its own would be unjust. Cinderella, like other older Disney princesses are often criticized for their over-reliance on men, but it might be worthwhile to look at her under a different light. She isn’t admirable because she ends up marrying Prince Charming. Not at all. Instead, she is a valuable role model for young girls because she manages to remain kind and courageous in the face of hopelessness. Although there’s no denying the intense dreamboat vibe Madden was exuding in the film, it’s Cinderella and her magical glass slippers the audience flocked to the cinema to see. At the end of the film, she could end up living as a spinster with Lucifer, if that’s what makes her happy. Her story is a story of survival and what the audience wants is for her to finally find the happiness she deserves.
With the live adaptations of Beauty and The Beast being scheduled for a 2017 release and Mulan being recently greenlit, it’ll be exciting to anticipate what Disney has to offer in the next few years. Will the audience tire of the reboot trend eventually? Possibly, but for now: bring them on!
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