The cynical side winks, knowing smirks, throwback references and dead-pan jokes that are hallmarks of post-modern culture are being ever so politely nudged aside by an emerging re-appreciation of old-fashioned sincerity and the pleasures of simply playing it straight… No dark themes or disturbing notions. No blatant attempts at inserting a mega dose of girlish empowerment or the slapping on of a feminist message…
Instead of letting go of the essence of “Cinderella,” Branagh boldly chose to embrace every familiar detail of this romantic fantasy: the hearth cinders that give Ella her nickname; the pumpkin that turns into a carriage; Cinderella’s rodent best friends; and, of course, the glass slippers—courtesy of Swarovski.
– Susan Wloszczyna, rogerebert.com
The power of story is to captivate; the ordinary device of story is the question “what happened next?”.
The magic of Cinderella is that despite knowing what is going to happen next and how the story is going to end, we still hold our breaths anyway. The magic here is that in telling the story in a new way, the story itself becomes new.
While Lily James and Richard Madden are portrait-perfect (a point that is clumsily emphasised in the film), Cate Blanchett is clearly the star. There was never a more compelling, contemptible, and cunning Lady Tremaine that one could love to hate. Her evil laugh is perfect, her fashion sense is diabolic (Wloscyzna: Her Lady Tremaine is… a fashion platter), her mockery is palpable. That she is elegant and alluring in her own right makes clear the distinction between beauty and goodness. Our antipathy towards her, then, is evidence of their unseverability.
In one poignant (arguably the climactic) scene, Lady Tremaine tells her own story and draws out our sympathy. Sympathy! For Lady Tremaine. It is unimaginable, and yet, Cate Blanchett nails it. The message here is subtle: evil need not elicit anger or fear; evil deserves our pity.
Elsewhere, the delivery of this sermon is less elegant. The film depicts the two wicked stepsisters as flat characters – they are airheads. The narrator-cum-fairy-godmother, played by a tipsy Helena Bonham Carter, is unequivocal: “Cinderella sometimes pitied her two stepsisters.”
But moralising and happily-ever-afters are the prerogative of Disneytales (which have pretty much acquired a genre of their own given their wholly transmuted nature from traditional fairy tales), so I do not begrudge Cinderella for this. The film opens with a mother’s wisdom, “Have courage and be kind”, and closes with a fairy-godmother’s addendum “… and a little bit of magic”. Totally Disney.
Princes and pumpkins, a strong villain, and a little magic short of a deus ex machina but enough to delight the other-worldly in us. There can be no doubt about this: Disney still has it. This is traditional storytelling at its best. It is not just the story, but the telling of the story that enchants. It is beyond wonder; it is a rediscovery of wonder.
In a faithful and magical (how can being so faithful be this magical? but then again, how can it not?) re-telling of the original classic, Cinderella sweeps both innocent and wise off their feet.
As for the haters, I leave you with CS Lewis’ pit(h)y:
But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.