When I heard that Disney was making a live action version of Cinderella at the 2013 D23 Expo, I wasn’t all that impressed with the idea. I’ve never been a big fan of the character (likely because I’m a guy, lol). Then they said that Kenneth Branagh was directing and that was enough to get me interested in seeing the movie. With an unknown actress in the title role, I was curious about what they were going to do with the story to make it different enough for the big screen.
The source material for the story is also relatively sparse and would make for a gruesome film.
Instead, what Disney has created is actually a film with far more depth than the story originally contained. One that is better than the source material and the animated film by a wide margin. The themes of forgiveness in the face of adversity, kindness in the face of evil and bravery in the face of abuse are well told. Lately, Disney has been taking a path of showing a villain in a different light, giving us a reason that they are being villainous. In this case, they do so very well, and instead of being something that helps us to understand the villain, it brings about more than that.
The story is that of Ella, a girl with loving parents that teach her about magical things, how to be kind to all, and to have courage. After losing her mother, many years pass and her father finds love once again. But her stepmother isn’t ever able to understand Ella’s relationship with her father. But there’s more to her stepmother than that, and it shows us the kind of person that Ella could choose to become. Both Ella and her stepmother suffer huge amounts of loss in their lives, and both of them deal with this loss in very different ways. The stepmother allows this loss to consume her and inform every self-defeating decision that she makes, adding to her unhappiness. Ella looks at what she’s losing, and takes the time to grieve properly, and looks back toward the words of her mother: be kind and have courage.
Even when Ella is asked about how she’s living, and how she is treated, by a complete stranger in the forest, she says that “they do as well as they can.” She doesn’t badmouth them, even privately.
This is also the story of a prince that is looking for a bride. His father will not live for much longer, and wants him to take a princess as his bride to aid their country. There’s a moment, however, that is very human and heartfelt between the father and son. As the father is laying in bed, very weak, the prince and he have what could be their final conversation, and the prince curls up next to his father in the bed.
Another moment that Ella handles much better than her stepmother or step-sisters is upon hearing that her father had passed away on a trip. A friend that was on the journey comes with the news, bringing Ella the branch that she had asked for, telling her that she was all her father had thought about. Ella’s step-sisters were focused on what they didn’t get, and her step-mother was more focused on their current predicament, shouting “we’re ruined.” But Ella merely takes the branch and says “that must have been very hard for you” to the man that had to deliver the news. She handles it with a subtle grace.
It was the last thing that Ella says to her step-mother that takes this film to another level, and solidifies who they both are.
One side note about the movie that often goes overlooked: Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter, Captain America: The First Avenger) plays Ella’s mother at the start of the film, showing her ability to play a very wide range of characters. I barely recognized her at first. She does an amazing job with what is a particularly small but very important role for the whole story.
I very highly recommend seeing this film. It’s playing with an animated short called Frozen Fever, so make sure to be on time. The short is well worth seeing and hilarious. It was great to see another story set in that world, now that Frozen 2 has been officially announced.