In recent years, Disney seems to have found a new source of material for their live-action films: namely, their animated ones. It looks to be that Disney has not only made a few films based upon their animated works, they have plans for several adaptations along the way. Personally, I think that this is an idea that Disney should handle with care, based upon their first few tries. The live-action Alice in Wonderland film, for example, took what was a fun capturing of Lewis Carroll’s humor and instead made a dull and generic fantasy action film. Maleficent, while having a few interesting ideas and a good performance by Angelina Jolie, felt ultimately too odd and unsettled by both trying to be a revisionist “take that” to the original fairy tale and by trying to be a goofy family film. Both films are examples of missteps in trying to translate these works to a live-action form. However, Disney did release a film that serves as a good example of taking one of their animated classics and making a strong live-action feature from it. In this case, the film was Cinderella.
Based upon the fairy tale and Disney’s 1950 adaptation of said fairy tale, Cinderella tells the story of Ella (played by Lily James), a young girl who is raised by kind and loving parents. However, the death of her mother (who leaves her the parting wish to “have courage and be kind”) leads Ella to gaining new family in the form of the cold stepmother Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) and her selfish stepsisters. Once her father passes, Ella becomes little more than a servant, forced to take on all of the tasks of the house and even called Cinderella as a mocking insult for her soot-covered appearance. However, she tries to cling to her mother’s words and not give in to the cruelty around here. It is that attitude which hooks the attention of Prince Kit (Richard Madden), who is taken by her kindness in their brief encounter. From there, the story becomes about how Prince Kit tries to bring them together, even as the cruel actions of Lady Tremaine and the schemes of the Grand Duke seek to drive them apart.
Now, while there is plenty that I like about this film, what is most notable is the approach they had went with for adapting it. Namely, they stuck to keeping it as a traditional fairy tale. Now, there are a lot of adaptations of fairy tales that try to deconstruct its subject, offer a revisionist take, or simply indulge in irony. Most of these attempts vary in terms of quality. They did not go with that for this movie. They instead chose to stay faithful to the story, which they accomplish with complete heart and sincerity. It was honestly refreshing to see a fairy tale retelling that chose to go for heart rather than try to tell it with snark or irony. It simply embraced what it was and did so without a shred of worry. Also, by not trying to twist or overly change the events of the story, they instead focused on adding depths to the characters. For example, Cinderella is normally a passive character, with much of the story’s events happening to and around her rather than her directly pushing the plot forward. While that same dynamic may be here, they jump that hurdle by showing how the cruel treatment from Lady Tremaine and her stepsisters is getting to her, but that she is fighting to maintain a hopeful outlook and to treat others with kindness. The result is that they have taken a passive quality and instead turned it into a strength, showing a resolve in Cinderella to not give in to the sadness and cruelty that faces her now. Even Lady Tremaine is given depth, offering an understanding to her cold and cruel demeanor. That is much more interesting for a story, rather than trying to sell it on just a gimmick or some new revision.
The rest of the film is handled with the same skill and care. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, he leads a cast and crew who are game for this sincere adaptation. The performances are fun and heartfelt, from the lead actors to its supporting cast. The shots are beautiful, with striking sets and costumes that feel like a natural counterpoint to the animated version’s Technicolor visuals. The score is lush and lovely, capturing the sweeping feels of the emotions. My apologies if it seems like I am over-selling this movie, but it was a wonderful example of how to handle translating one of Disney’s animated classics to a live-action form. Namely, they kept its fairy tale heart intact, but offered their own approach by offering greater depth to its characters. To me, it was an excellent choice to take in adapting the 1950 film to live-action form. Hopefully, if they can keep the hearts intact for these other works while finding a new route to offer for their live-action forms, then Disney might have something magical to offer.
If you’re interested to see if Cinderella lives up to the praise I have for it, it will be released on Blu Ray and DVD on September 15th (which means, as of the time of this post, tomorrow).