When the 2015 live-action Cinderella graced theaters this March, I weighed the pros and cons
of watching the film. I didn’t anticipate any plot
twists or three-dimensional characters, as I am well-versed in the Cinderella fairy tale.
I knew to expect a drippy and sickly sweet heroine living under the thumb of
her evil stepfamily until her similarly-dull soulmate saves her. Thrilling.
So, my decision to watch Cinderella
lay mostly in the spectacular scenery and costumes promised by the preview—along with the multitude of well-known actresses such as Helena Bonham Carter,
Cate Blanchett and Lily James. But really, I wanted to see Cinderella’s (Lily James) controversially minuscule waist firsthand.
Fairytales aren’t usually thought of as female-empowering or politically correct, but the smallness of Lily James’ waist in
the Cinderella ball scene particularly stood out to me. The controversy lay in the timeless portrayal of
princesses as physically unhealthy role models and the continuation of this
depiction of women in a 2015 live-action film.
However, director Kenneth Branagh rejected accusations of
photoshopping James’ waist or putting the actress’s health in danger to create the
tiny-waist effect. James herself credits her thinness to an extreme corset.
Amusingly, she noted that, “if you ate food it
didn’t really digest properly, and I’d be burping all afternoon.”
So though her body may have appeared
dangerously close to an hourglass, James denies any bodily harm in the process.
However, it is irksome that even in a real-life Cinderella, the
unrealistic expectations of stick figure drawings are met.
The movie did not stray from its
original 1950 screenplay in most other ways. But I have mixed feelings about Cinderella sticking so closely to the
original fairy tale. On one hand, I enjoyed that there was little over-the-top
effect, à la the recent Alice in Wonderland
(though both movies included the outrageous Helena Bonham Carter). There were special effects and magic, but they were done tastefully, and the film didn’t go
out of its way to appear wacky or Tim Burton-esque.
On the other hand, the magic of the real
fairy tale story is worn out at this point. The new Cinderella
merely strayed from the original script to make the bizarre fairy tale a
little more realistic. Prince Kit and Cinderella are introduced prior to the
ball in a romantic woodland setting, for example, allowing for their ‘love at first
sight’ experience to appear slightly more believable, but not much.
Most other scenes come across as unnecessarily
elongated, working to build romance and tension between a slightly more
interesting Cinderella and her slightly more interesting prince. And there are
a couple of new characters thrown in there, adding little intrigue for the most
part, with the exception of the Captain (Noso Anozie).
The Captain of the King’s soldiers is a new
character leading the search for Cinderella with her lost slipper. Not only
does he add spirit and heart to the film, but his character also makes the
Prince appear more likable. Despite the King’s harsh words, the Captain believes in the Prince and pushes him to marry for love and not political convenience. The Captain’s loyalty and trust paint the prince as noble and kindhearted, and with the Captain’s drive, he is able to succeed.
But this general lack of originality was
anticipated and, as I said, innovation was not why I watched the film. Though not a musical, the film relied on a beautiful sound track. The score of Cinderella made the entire second act seem like a ballet. And in this aspect, it far succeeded my expectations.
From Cinderella and the Prince’s first waltz, the stirring instrumentals carried me through until the end. Patrick
Doyle’s incredibly composed music allowed me to become much more invested
in the meager plot and perhaps even tricked me into walking away from it believing
that I had enjoyed the film as a whole.
Another highlight of the movie was its ace cinematography. The fluid camera created a feeling of soft beauty and light
magic as it flowed from a sweeping landscape to Cinderella’s laughing face.
Another beautiful shot perfectly portrayed Cinderella fleeing the castle, in which the camera’s tilted angles added to the franticness of her mad rush through the long halls and down the steps.
And the incredible scenery certainly didn’t hurt.
Most of the film took place on Cinderella’s old stone mansion and quaint farm.
Lily James was a
radiant Cinderella. Doing her best with what little character she was given
(fun game: count how many times you hear her say “courage” or “kindness”), James
lit up the screen with her elegance and charm. Her smile appeared incredibly
natural, making her instantly likable.
In a completely contrasting role, Cate
Blanchett was an exquisite evil stepmother. Like the rest of the cast and crew, Blanchett did her best with what mediocre story she had; she delivered her dull lines with cold
poise, sending a chill down the spine. In a small attempt to make her character’s
awfulness more believable, Blanchett is given a bit more of a role, and her
unpleasant daughters have a few more lines. But this was not enough to make
their flat characters more fully-formed.
Overall, Cinderella came close to being
a good film on many levels (music, costume, acting), but failed in the one that mattered because it was stuck
in the rut of the original fairy tale. I thoroughly enjoyed the soundtrack, ballroom
dresses and small touches of magic (though the mice and lizards were a little
creepy), but would never watch the film again. I can get the music on Spotify anyway.
But don’t believe me, just watch!
Sawyer Henshaw SC ’17 is an English Major from Hawaii. Believe it or not, the film columnist wasn’t allowed to watch R-rated movies until she was 17 years old.