Movie Review: “Cinderella”


If Hollywood has run out of ideas to the point where it has to remake animated material in live-action form, it could hardly have picked a better piece than “Cinderella”. Lacking a supernatural or mythical super-scary monster, “Cinderella” instead features a gorgeous villain of epic sociopathic potential–one that seared “evil stepmother” onto the collective consciousness.

Borrowing heavily from the 1950 animated feature, 2015’s “Cinderella” puts a new spin on the old story of an orphan girl living in servitude who finds her path to true love and a golden ticket out of a dead-end situation. Here, the young Ella grows up in an idyllic household anchored by her sweet mother (Hayley Atwell) and kind father (Ben Chaplin).

Ella and her father

Ella (James) sees her father (Chaplin) off on his last business trip

As Ella grows into a beautiful woman (Lily James), her joyous life is interrupted by the sudden death of her mother, whose parting advice is for Ella to “have courage and be kind”. Her father eventually remarries–taking Lady Tremaine as his new wife (Cate Blanchett) and bringing along her beautiful-on-the-outside-but-ugly-on-the-inside daughters, Drisella (Sophie McShera) and Anastasia (Holliday Grainger). At first, the relationship between Ella and her step-family seems relatively innocuous; the glamorous Tremaine is generally warm in demeanor, and Ella’s materialistic step-sisters are nothing more than pretty bobbleheads. But times must change, and Ella’s father succumbs to an illness while traveling on business. Ella grieves heavily for the loss of her father, while Tremaine fears the loss of standing and income.

Lady Tremaine and her daughters arrive at the ball

Lady Tremaine (Blanchett, center), flanked by her daughters Anastasia (Grainger) and Drisella (McShera)

Concerned about the servants’ wages, Tremaine releases the staff and gently encourages Ella to assume the various roles they occupied. Ella takes most of these tasks in stride, even after suffering the humiliation of being unceremoniously relocated to the drafty abandoned tower attic and renamed “Cinder-Ella” for the ash-coated face she sports after a warming night on the kitchen floor in front of the fireplace. The catty Drisella and Anastasia cackle over their breakfast with their now-openly repellent mother, and–in her frustration–Ella dashes off on a horseback ride into the woods to clear her head.

She stumbles onto a stag hunt, where she meets a handsome man who calls himself “Kit” (Richard Madden). The two share playful banter: she insists he spare the life of the stag, and he dodges her questions about his place in the palace where he claims to live as “an apprentice”. After they part, “Kit” (the prince) returns to his father’s side (Derek Jacobi) and they plan for a grand ball at which the prince may select the bride of his choosing. The king and his grand duke (Stellan Skarsgård) plan for an all-princess affair, to seal the kingdom’s future, but the lovestruck prince agrees only on the condition that all maidens of the kingdom may attend.

The King and Prince at the ball

The King (Jacobi) and Prince (Madden) hold court at the royal ball

Ella hears of the grand ball and prepares on her own to go, even after being rebuffed by Tremaine–who wants one of her daughters to land the prince. When the lovely Ella appears in one of her mother’s dresses, ready for the ball, the Tremaine harpies rip it to shreds, leaving her a frustrated, teary mess. It’s at this point that her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) performs a magical intervention, allowing Cinderella to head off to the ball in grand style, sporting a breathtaking dress and the famed glass slippers (well, okay, pumps). She spends a lovely evening with the prince of her dreams, before she dashes off into the night (minus one shoe) to escape his seeing the fairy godmother’s spell undone. The distraught prince sends out word that whoever fits the shoe will be his bride and…well, you know how this ends. (Or perhaps you don’t.)

Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother

Bonham Carter’s Fairy Godmother prepares to work her magic on Cinderella

This movie has many things going for it, such as a fantastic cast and truly breathtaking costumes (surely worth at least an Oscar nomination, if not a win). Blanchett’s Tremaine is nearly continuously draped in green satin that fits so wonderfully it’s hard to tell if she’s wearing the satin or if it’s wearing her, and Ella’s pivotal scene dresses (both at the ball and at the end of the film) are utterly breathtaking pieces likely to inspire many a formal gown. Blanchett gleefully and evilly chews scenery, in a rare opportunity to play the baddie, while Nonso Anozie seems to equally enjoy his turn as the pure-hearted Captain. Chris Weitz’s screenplay gives Tremaine context and depth not seen in previous versions of the story while showing mercifully precious little action from the mice and cat, making this version of “Cinderella” a bit more adult-friendly.

Where things are less perfect are in things like James’ affected performance at the ball, with flourishes that likely were meant to suggest Cinderella was transformed and carried away by the magic of it all–but coming off more like an animated movie character in a live-action film who thinks she’s still in an animated movie. Madden does a decent enough job, but some of his lines are a bit too pouty or silly; he seems better suited for the grittier and less fanciful material (or perhaps he was just so good in “Game of Thrones” that it’s hard to see him a role with a comedic aspect). And as much as I love Bonham Carter, I’d like to have strong words with whoever fitted her for the oversized, overpolished teeth the Fairy Godmother sports; she talks around them no better than a vampire in a B-grade movie. This film runs 40 minutes longer than its predecessor–due partially to Ella’s backstory–and it could have been sped up at times. Still, the run time is short enough that most kids shouldn’t be squirming in their seats.

All in all, “Cinderella” is a movie that appeals well to all ages; its non-scary nature makes it a great fit for the younger set, and its strong cast is a good draw for those of us well into the double-digits of age. It’s easy enough to overlook its shortcomings, since they don’t detract enough to keep this from being anything other than what it’s meant to be: a (updated) reboot and instant classic.

“Cinderella” is preceded by “Frozen Fever”–an animated short that returns us to Arendelle just in time for Queen Elsa to give Princess Anna the best birthday ever. Unfortunately for Elsa, the “fever” referenced in the title isn’t a metaphor, and her plans are partially derailed by the wee snowmen that manifest each time she sneezes. The short is cute, and it is a precursor to the just-announced “Frozen 2” that’s entering development, although I don’t see this as the Oscar-winning material of prior shorts, like “Feast” (which preceded “Big Hero 6”). Fans of “Frozen” will surely enjoy it, thought, and truly that’s what it’s all about.

3 out of 4 stars

“Cinderella” opens nationwide on March 13, 2015. This movie is rated PG for mild thematic elements

TV is not rat poison

Back when I was pregnant with dd, I spent quite a bit of time on the online discussion boards on BabyCenter. In one sense, this was a bad thing: too many hormonal pregnant women in any confined space (even if it’s online) is still a messload of hormones trapped, waiting to blow. In several other senses, it was a great thing: I got to meet a number of really fantastic women, some of whom I’ve had the good fortune to meet in real life. The women with whom I got along the best were the ones who respected and supported my choices, even when they weren’t 100% in step with their own. They understood that every parent has to choose what they feel is best for their own family.

One argument I recall from those online boards was the vehement opposition some moms had to baby formula. Some even likened it to rat poison, in their vitriolic rants about why it was breast or bust. Of course, formula isn’t rat poison. For some parents, formula is a necessary way to get through until the baby is old enough to be on solids 24/7. While many of them have slightly varying nutritionals, each one has to meet a minimum set of standards to be okay to distributed.

And then we get to TV. The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a policy recommending no “screen time” for kids under the age of 2, based on the relationship identified between screen time and Body Mass Index (BMI). Medline provides more detailed recommendations about kids just over the age of 2, although there has to be a point at which their recommendations lose their freshness – probably by the time the kids hit their teens (at the latest). They don’t really give a cut-off for “kids”, so the harshest assumption is that they mean for readers to follow those guidelines through adolescence.

I definitely remember having a talk with dh before dd was born, discussing how we’d never be parents who let the TV raise our kids. And really, we do stick to that. So it’s funny that I’m writing this as I’m sitting in the den with ds, with “Cinderella” in the DVD player. There’s a part of me that gave in to the notion of letting the kiddos watch TV, potentially even on a daily basis, without freaking out. What we did to make sure that we could limit our own concerns, since we don’t want the kids to do what I did when I was younger (live on TV and become as sedentary as a turtle).

We bought some DVD’s and we strictly police the amount of time the kids can watch (usually 1 DVD or 1 show), whichever fits the time slot better. We also set up TiVo with season passes for PBS shows, like “Curious George”, “Dinosaur Train” and “The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That!” TV shows without ad breaks for things I don’t want them asking for – whether it be toys or unhealthy foods – just bother me something fierce. The joy of TiVo, especially with the power of ON DEMAND, is that there’s always something I can put on if they get a quick half-hour or a full-hour of time when we’re okay with them watching something.

Do I let the kid watch TV when I’m not in the room? Sure. If they’ve been good all through dinner and they’re ready for bed (in pajamas, teeth brushed, etc.), I’ll let them watch a half-hour show while I’m doing dishes. I don’t see anything wrong with that. I know the shows they put on because I put them on for them, and we don’t both queueing up things we have concerns about. Stuff with excess violence or ads automatically makes the “DO NOT SHOW” list, in our house.

Now, I know I can’t protect them from everything, but there are some things I don’t think are worth getting crazy about. TV, in limited quantities, provides them with an outlet to dream and to learn. Especially with the shows from PBS, there’s always some kind of educational message explicitly or subtly built into the delivery. Some of the other shows that the kids have taken to more recently come from Disney Jr. and were featured at a breakfast I attended at BlogHer ’12“Sofia the First” and “Doc McStuffins”. Watching these two on ON DEMAND reduces any potential for ads while still providing the kids with access to shows that have life lessons embedded in them.

At some point, I’m going to have to introduce them to the stuff that was my life blood when I was growing up, Warner Brothers cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny, the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote, Daffy Duck, and all the rest of the WB pantheon. I can’t imagine kids growing up without seeing all the silliness that involves anvils dropping on people’s heads with no real-world consequences.

And when it comes to movies, pretty much Disney is my go-to. The movies tend to be 2hrs or less (such as ds’ current favorite – “Cinderella”), and while each may have a scary moment, they aren’t typically violent or actually scary. Kids need to be given some measure of scare at some point, some challenge to that portion of their neural immune system, so they aren’t turned into complete fraidy cats later in life.

So sure, we limit their TV to typically no more than 1hr a day, 2hrs max (unless someone is sick, in which case all bets are off). And we limit what they can see by strictly controlling which shows are available to them. But we don’t keep them from TV, and I think that’s perfectly fine. It really isn’t rat poison, unless you let it be, and I don’t feel like any less of a responsible parent for letting them enjoy the fruits of someone else’s creative labors…with limits.