Once upon a time, Walt Disney and his team of creative geniuses made a movie called Cinderella. In 2015, it’s still a quintessential fairy tale movie, beloved by so many and completely timeless.
When I make March Madness type brackets for Disney Animated Features, I find myself thinking about the 1950 movie in a different way. It is, hands down, one of my favorite Disney movies of all time. The castle which gets its name from the film is the picture of home to me. I mean, not that I live in it – though I wouldn’t complain – but that when I see it, I know I am home. But what is it about the movie that makes it a perennial favorite, generation after generation? The music is fine, but the Lopez duo of Frozen fame write more powerful stuff. The animation was still groundbreaking, but it isn’t anymore. The story is – obviously – a classic in its own rite – THE “rags-to-riches” story. But is it the best movie, as far as movie-making goes? Almost certainly not. If I were to pick on it (and I don’t even think I really could) I would have to say that due to the nature of the film – when it was released, its length, as examples – it certainly lacks the character and plot development that we’ve seen in more recent decades.
Enter 2015’s Cinderella. We had a chance to preview it this week, and I have to say – it blew away any expectations I had, and I can’t wait to see it again. And again.
Kenneth Branagh and his team of creative geniuses picked up where the original left off – not in plot of course, but in accomplishment. This movie absolutely captures every bit of magic and whimsy as the original. The characters we love (including Gus and Jaq) and love to hate (Lucifer, anyone?) are present and perfect. The cast is phenomenal, with Lily James and Richard Madden (Ella and the Prince) portraying the most endearing characters imaginable, Helena Bonham Carter bringing the Fairy Godmother to life in a way that is at first surprising and then feels like we have known this version of her all our lives, and Cate Blanchett sending chills down your spine as the icy cold Lady Tremaine.
I appreciate cinematography and directorial choices as much as the the next girl, but I’ll admit it takes me a few viewings of most movies to notice anything, well, noteworthy. Not so with this film. The colors, the use of spinning cameras (you’ll understand it immediately, especially in the ballroom)…. time and again I was blown away by the actual artistry of the movie.
And then the story. It’s the story you know, and so much more.
We learn so, so much more about the characters – especially Ella, the Prince, the King, Ella’s parents, and Lady Tremaine. My husband and I have had conversations about Lady Tremaine and Frollo (from The Hunchback of Notre Dame) being perhaps the most evil of all villains, because they are such “real life” monsters – but the depth of Lady Tremaine’s villainy was never on the surface in the original film. There is no question about it now, though there are also glimpses of layers from her past, her pain, her struggles. She is far from redeemed, but she is made so human – in the best and worst ways. Ella is the picture of grace, kindness, courage, and forgiveness; she is a young woman who stands firm for what she believes in and doesn’t back down in the face of evil most of us cannot imagine. Anything that could possibly be considered “lacking” from the original Disney film is more than made up for in this incarnation. It is both heart-wrenching and uplifting, funny and poignant. I expected it to be ok, and instead think it’s one of the most well-rounded family films I’ve seen in years.
Family film? Yes, absolutely.
I read an outrageous article the other day that fired me up, about the reasons a writer won’t take her daughter to see this movie. To each their own – I know plenty of amazing, incredible women and mothers who have taken their kids to see movies that I won’t let my own see, and I’m sure some people will have any number of reasons to disagree with this review. The article, though, made assumption after assumption that simply were not true. If you know me at all in real life, you know that was my beef – that the author didn’t take 10 seconds to find out any answers, just spouted off her opinion for fun. Silly bloggers. 😉
So in case you’re here trying to decide whether the movie is right for your little princess, here is perhaps the flip side of the argument – from someone who has, you know, actually watched it.
Dead Parents Life lessons. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but life can be REALLY hard. As I mentioned in my review of Big Hero 6, your child might actually be too little to have discussions with about death and tragedy. If they’re really young, of course you need to be aware that children lose parents in this fairytale. If they’re old enough to want to see it, though, might I suggest that having those hard conversations is an extremely important part of parenting? It’s difficult sometimes, sure. But it’s harder for someone to recover from a family and household where tough conversations were never had. I don’t mean that to be snarky, but because I believe wholeheartedly in the importance this kind of communication.
Mean Girl Behavior. A real girl, showing Princess-like qualities. And no violence, etc. I can’t believe I even have to say this, but I will: there are people who aren’t nice in this movie. It’s a bummer, really, that not every character in the story isn’t wonderful, but – wait, actually that’s what makes a good story. In this particular one, step-sisters are a bit like bullies, and a step-mother is absolutely evil. But unlike pretty much EVERY movie I’ve seen in ages, there is absolutely no violence, unexplained bullying, or the like that I have to try to explain away (or cover up, if that’s your MO). It’s an incredibly wholesome movie that makes good on its PG rating with absolutely no surprises. On the flip side, Cinderella is – as I mentioned above – perhaps the most princess-like character we’ve seen come from a film in a long time. She lacks the poise and fanfare of royalty, of course, but she has no shortage of qualities that I pray my daughters will learn: kindness, grace, forgiveness, courage, tolerance, loyalty… the list goes on and on.
The Passive Princess. A strong, loyal young heroine. This opinion: “Many of the modern Disney princesses (Merida, Anna, Elsa, Ariel, Belle) have shown a bit more gumption than Cinderella, who is basically waiting to be rescued, first by a fairy Godmother and then by her prince.” is clearly only possible from someone who saw the original film and didn’t give it much thought – and certainly hasn’t seen the 2015 version. In the more developed story, we learn exactly why Cinderella stays where she is – and it’s honorable. We see her forgive people who have done unimaginable things to her which, if you ask me, is probably the strongest, most difficult thing a protagonist can do. We see (in a still shortened version, yes, but it is a movie…) the reasons the Prince and Ella fall in love.
Unrealistic Body Image. Diversity. Apparently, there has been some hoopla about Lily James’ waist in this movie. In reality, the internet is a place where people rant and rave about lots of things. And look at famous cats. Not one person in my party even noticed her waist, but instead noticed the beautiful people of all sizes. Noticed the minorities that almost certainly wouldn’t have been in a court like the prince’s, given the size of his kingdom, but were there just the same and didn’t even need to do anything gimmicky to justify their appearance in the film. They were just there, as were the women with curves and the really skinny ones, because people are people.
It Might be too Grown Up. Our beloved Cinderella story, plus. At least the word “might” appeared in this one, just before “it’s fair to assume there is no more Jaq and Gus”. And the assumption that lack of woodland creatures = mature material. It turns out, Jac and Gus have a similar role (and even the same adorable “voices”) and there is no mature content, other than the aforementioned real-life conversations about death, bullying, and other hardship, which are handled with the utmost taste. This is a fairytale in the purest sense of the word, and is simply lovely and entertaining.
6. Love at First Sight is not the Only Kind. I’ll leave that one as it is, because not only is it obviously true, but I’m impressed at the addition of “the only kind”. I freely admit that the story progressed quickly. To that I can only say, “it’s a movie”. Not it’s just a movie, because movies can certainly be used to teach good things. But literally, it’s only a couple of hours long and most of the time was spent on what I think is important, worthy character development. I’m grateful Ella and the Prince at least had reasons to fall in love beyond both looking pretty 🙂
In the comments of that article, the original author was surprised people were taking her opinion “personally”. I’m not sure that it was her opinion that rubbed people the wrong way, but rather the lack of basis for such an opinion. She did end the article saying her daughter is probably a bit young but that she (the mom and author) will probably enjoy it, but the bulk of the content was simply misguided.
I hope she sees the movie, then takes her daughter to see it since her fears weren’t confirmed (unless it’s too long, which would be my only recommendation: know how long your little one likes to sit and watch a movie).
I hope that you make a decision for your family whether or not to see it – and shoot, maybe your family has zero interest. That’s cool, too. But I hope you decide because you’ve heard from people who have seen it had honest reviews to give, one way or another.
We will be seeing it again and again.
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, especially if you’ve seen the movie! If you haven’t seen it (or have no desire to), I’d love to hear from you, too – just realize that by now, lots of people have watched it in its entirety, and might catch on if you make guesses out of the blue 😉
Disclosure: I was provided tickets to see an early release of the movie from the Walt Disney Company. I was not asked or required to give a positive review; all opinions are my own.
All photos in this post are property of Walt Disney Studios.